One extremely difficult but fundamentally important piece of information is coming to an understanding that “Hispanic” is a loaded term and changes meaning frequently. Acculturation is a process in which members of one cultural group adopt the beliefs and behaviors of another group, and although acculturation is usually in the direction of a minority group adopting habits and language patterns of the dominant group, acculturation can be reciprocal. In other words, the dominant group also adopts patterns typical of the minority group. What this means is that a business strategy based on fixed notions of acculturation is likely to fail because it assumed too much social and cultural rigidity. A brand or product must be understood on the explicit level of shared cultural patterns as well as the implicit level of fluid identity.
Most Latino families are first and foremost Mexican-American or Chicano families, Cuban-American families, “Nuyorican” families, Dominican families, Honduran families, or Peruvian or other such immigrant or ethnic families. Each of us is like a cluster of related (or even unrelated) identities that correspond to the wide-ranging roles through which we live our lives. Because identity is also situational, it means people work within a set of roles and ways of living life that are “mediated” or created in social interaction with other people playing roles and living their lives.
For the greater majority of Hispanics, families are ethnic families above all else, defined more often by locality than pan-Latino monikers. Their ethnicity is as much Anglo-American as it is Hispanic. This is not to say that there might be a time when social conditions create a post-ethnic Hispanic community. It simply isn’t there yet. In response to these forces and opportunities, Hispanics create and maintain multiple identities, sometimes identifying with their homeland culture, at other times with the United States, and yet at other times with a vague pan-Latino born of circumstance.
For the marketer, this means that there are no purely Hispanic products, and few “Hispanic” brands. When we come to understand these sorts of subtle issues, we then start talking about doing legitimate marketing. Until then, companies will miss the mark.