June 09, 2007

Why write an article on Hispanic identity, now? The answer to this question is not difficult: it has to do with demographics. And demographics are they key to economic and political power for any group.

There are obvious pragmatic reasons why companies in the United States have been investing in this segment at a record rate. Census data has shown that the U.S. Hispanic market is the largest ethnic group in the country, comprising roughly 14 percent of the overall population and with more than $850 billion in purchasing power. By 2050, the Hispanic 'segment' is projected to make up a quarter of the U.S. population, displacing the white population as the majority in many American cities.

In actuality, this scenario is happening already on a smaller scale. In Los Angeles and Miami, for instance, the leading television and radio stations are Spanish-language, bumping historically strong English-language stations to number two and three positions. For the Hispanic marketing industry, this is great news. American companies spent more than $5.5 billion targeting U.S. Hispanics in 2006 and the future, as one would expect, looks brighter than ever.

The Creation of a Homogeneous Segment

It's amazing to think that almost thirty-years ago, Hispanics were not directly accounted for by the U.S. Census. That's not to say that there weren't any Hispanics or Latinos living in the United States; it was that the U.S. government had not yet identified this sub-group of the population in concrete terms.

The U.S. government played a significant role in creating a segment, which many in the Hispanic marketing industry today are effectively reaching. Hispanic marketing professionals, on the other hand, were instrumental in conceptualizing this segment based on the perceived similarities in language and culture. It was not a deliberate strategy, at first; it was done based on their worldview.

The truth is that U.S. Hispanics are far from being homogeneous. Consider the following countries, all of which are regarded as Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Ecuador. Spanish is the language spoken in three of these countries (Argentina, Mexico and Ecuador), while Portuguese is spoken in Brazil. In Argentina, the population is primarily Caucasian and of European descent; in Ecuador, the population is primarily Amerindian; and, in Brazil, most of the population is of African origin. The economies, geographies, religions, and educational levels are quite different and so are many aspects of these cultures. So, what qualifies them to make up a single, unified market that bears one name: the U.S. Hispanic market? Could it be that they all live in the United States now and share a common history, here?

The problem with establishing a specific Hispanic identity is how we have gone about investigating it. The term 'identity' is a transliteration of the Latino identitas, meaning, sameness. As a result, the notion of identity is related to the notion of similarity. That is to say that the construct of identity is based on similarities and not differences. Promoting cultural with-in group homogeneity and between-group heterogeneity have been important factors in shaping the perceptions of the U.S. Hispanic market, which in turn have shaped the art and science of Hispanic marketing.

Moving forward, broadening the definition of what constitutes 'Hispanic identity' is needed. There is much to say about synchronic identity, which can help describe the identity of U.S. Hispanics with respect to time. Furthermore, we must better understand the cultural identities within-group and not just simply establish one single cultural identity and contrast it to the Anglo-Saxon population. We must begin to address the complexity and inherent diversity within the U.S. Hispanic population to better serve the needs of this growing demographic.

By Jake Beniflah
Hispanic Business Magazine
Courtesy of http://www.hispanicbusiness.com


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