Commentary

Is There Such A Thing As A U.S. Hispanic/Latino Identity Or Community?

In its broadest biological definition, a community is a group of interacting organisms sharing a populated environment. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.

Even though the general perception may be that Hispanics form a natural community because they share some cultural characteristics and speak the same language, the people who live in Latin American countries don't particularly feel an attachment to such community. That is, until we come to the U.S., where we share experiences with other immigrants from Spanish speaking countries.

The resulting group of seemingly compatible peoples is in reality unequivocally heterogeneous, given that its members may come from more than 20 Hispanic countries and be of any race. Thus, we could not be expected too (and often don't) feel like we belong to a homogenous all-inclusive group, much in the same sense that White Anglo Americans may only feel a vague sense of identity with White Anglo New Zealanders.

In his 2006 essay, "A Developing Identity, Hispanics In The USA," Roberto Suro states:

"The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that in 2004 there were 40,459,196 people in the United States who identified themselves as "Hispanic or Latino." Which is it, then, Hispanic or Latino, or both? [...] "The confusion, and occasional controversy, over the name is just symbolic of a much larger question to which there is no simple answer: who are these people? Indeed, you have to ask: are they, in fact, a single person with a common identity, a common bond or common goals?

"[...] The notion that people from all these places are bound together by an overarching group identity exists more powerfully now in the United States than in Latin America. So, whether the label is Hispanic or Latino, the 'label on the label' says Made in the USA. In other words, we are dealing with a uniquely American phenomenon: even if it is based on national origins rooted elsewhere, the group identity for many Hispanics is created in the United States."

"[...] While it would be easy to overstate the potential leverage represented by the size of the Latino population, their numbers -- and standing as America's largest minority group -- are already too big to ignore. Employers, marketers and politicians increasingly seek out Latinos as workers, consumers and voters. This attention may be self-serving, but it is attention nonetheless, and probably ripe for future spin. Latinos are the rare group whose position in society is defined less by who they have been than by who they will become."

So, if in order to feel like we belong to a group and feel solidarity towards its members, acceptance, shared social experiences and an overall sense of being welcome are required agents of amalgamation, though not all present in the current construct, then the idea of a Hispanic/Latino identity, as proposed, may be a bit utopian, and even paradoxical.

Or perhaps the answer lies in what Felipe and Betty Ann Korzenny mention in their book, Hispanic Marketing: A Cultural Perspective, "Identity is a complex construct that is socially determined, thus Hispanic identity varies with the social context in which the individual interacts." "[...] The Hispanic market [or identity] is perhaps one of the greatest marketing creations of recent times. It exists because marketers have been saying it does for over 30 years. The Hispanic market can be thought about as a gigantic culturally identifiable segment of the U.S. population. However, the Hispanic market did not always exist as such in the United States."

Then, how do we effectibly reach this "constructed" but not necessarily real group?

1 comment about "Is There Such A Thing As A U.S. Hispanic/Latino Identity Or Community? ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Sebastian Aroca from Hispanic Market Advisors, May 31, 2011 at 9:47 a.m.

    Juan, thank you for your post. I think that in different words, you are trying to say that traditional acculturation models that placed the Hispanic market in boxes are becoming less relevant and that we need new ways of segmenting consumers, isn’t that right?

    While I understand acculturation is not a one way avenue, one thing is certain: the Census data is changing the way marketers look at Hispanic consumers. What changed? Well, one thing that certainly changed is the political landscape. Latinos in the New Decade are better positioned to succeed due to the cross-over between markets. We can call it “Biculturalism.” What else do the Census 2010 numbers tell us about the Hispanic Market? The end of the "General Market" maybe... to the expense of a multicultural society where Diversity is the new mindset. For companies that want to position themselves to win in the new era, it will be imperative to infuse multicultural sensitivities into their messages.

    If the Hispanic market identity is a bit utopian, then the idea of a General market must be utopian too. So what’s left then? A multicultural market with different layers and flavors, or at least that's where it seems we are heading…

    So again, as someone recently said in a Geoscape webinar, "we need to re-think, re-shape, and re-discover the market.” What do you think?

Next story loading loading..