How Language Influences The Latino Identity

For many Hispanics, language is an important part of their identity. Not only does it give them the opportunity to connect back to their heritage, it’s also what allows them to connect to Latinos from other backgrounds. For instance, someone whose family comes from Mexico might have different cultural traditions than someone whose family originated in Costa Rica — but the fact that they speak the same language can work to transcend those boundaries.

In an insightful piece for NPR, author Kevin Garcia writes about the fact that, although his friends in school came from all different backgrounds (Puerto Rican, Salvadorean, Cuban) and he himself is Mexican-American, their shared language “was supposed to be a way we could understand one another despite our different backgrounds.” He defines this feeling as “Latinidad” — the “understanding that Latin American communities are varied and complex, but connected by a shared language.”



Research conducted by Pew backs this up, with the organization noting that “some say that you cannot be Latino unless you happen to speak Spanish, or that someone is ‘more Latino’ if they speak Spanish than someone who does not speak Spanish but is also of Latino Heritage.”

Even though 71% of Latino adults say that speaking Spanish is not a requirement in order to consider yourself Latino, 88% of Hispanics (i.e., those living in the U.S. who have ties to Spanish-speaking countries)  — and 64% of those who do not consider themselves Hispanic but have Hispanic ancestry — consider it to be important that future generations of U.S. Hispanics are able to speak Spanish.

But, even as more U.S. Hispanics become bilingual and English-dominant, their connection to the language and their culture remains. As Garcia explains, even though he himself is not fluent in Spanish, he is still connected to other cultural traditions like being able to make tamales and “sing [his] heart out” to Selena songs. And just because someone of Hispanic heritage is not fluent in Spanish does not mean that they no longer have a connection to the language, or are entirely unable to recognize Hispanic words or phrases.

One only has to look at the continued popularity of Spanglish across Hispanic communities to see that increased usage of English doesn’t necessarily lead to the elimination of Spanish. In fact, it can be used as a tool to communicate between different generations of Hispanics with varying degrees of English or Spanish proficiency.

A survey commissioned by Facebook found that both Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanics tend to gravitate toward Spanish-language content online, both in terms of consumption and creation.

This is true not only for organic content, but also for ads. After seeing an ad in Spanish, U.S. Hispanics were 1.4 times more likely to say they wanted to buy that product compared to those who saw the same ad in English.

Perhaps most importantly, respondents’ perceptions of those brands that advertise in Spanish was more positive than their perceptions of brands who advertise in English only. But within reason — a brand that uses Spanish lazily (i.e., using Google Translate on English-language copy to produce Spanish content) can end up confusing some, and may even turn them off of the brand entirely.

Meanwhile, 62% said that using Spanglish (a hybrid of both languages) would be a good way for brands to represent multiple cultures, and it would in fact be an easy way for brands to display authenticity and an understanding of Hispanic culture and language. That being said, the survey also noted that there are those who consider Spanglish to be disrespectful — so it’s important for brands to turn to trusted partners who understand not only the intricacies of the language, but also cultural appropriateness when crafting translations.

Language is such an intrinsic part of Hispanic identity. It’s critical for brands to be careful how they use Spanish. If they’re too careless, they could end up alienating an entire group of valuable consumers. However, if they do it well, they will be in the perfect position to capture their attention -- and, most importantly, their loyalty.

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