When in 1984 I began working with U.S. Hispanics, I was not such a
creature yet. To the best of my knowledge, I was simply a Cuban at
that time. A friend of mine who had recently arrived from Mexico,
felt the same. She saw herself as a Mexican.
Going deeply into the heart of the community as a journalist, making
new friends from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia,
Peru, Spain and other countries, I eventually became a member of this
largest minority group in the United States. But over 20 years later,
I still ask myself what a Hispanic or a Latino is. Is the Hispanic
community a nationality? Is it a religious group? Is it a racial or
ethnic group? Or as the romantic ones say, is it a sentiment?
If you are a professional trying to marketing something to Hispanics/Latinos,
answers to these questions would pay off because there are over 43
million Hispanics/Latinos in the United States with a purchasing power
of more than $800 billion a year. Almost 16 million U.S. Hispanics
are on the Internet, a cyberpopulation that outpaces those of Mexico,
Spain, Argentina and Colombia.
Obviously the Hispanic community is not a national group as it is
made up by people from 20 nationalities. It is not a racial group
since you can find White Hispanics, Black Hispanics, Asian Hispanics,
and Indian Hispanics. Although they are mostly Catholics, they are
not a religious group. You can also find other Christian Hispanics
who are not Catholics, as well as Jewish Hispanics, Muslim Hispanics,
Hispanics with African religious roots as Yorubas and Lucumies, and
Hispanics practicing indigenous rituals as Mayans and Aztecas.
Of course, you have probably met Chicanos, New York Ricans, Cuban
Americans or many other Hispanics born in the United States whose
understanding of Latin roots may be different from Hispanics who immigrate
to America. Do not take a Mexican American for a Mexican, because
they are not alike. Stop thinking of a New York Rican as if he or
she were a Puerto Rican.
If you are not a Hispanic and this is confusing to you, you are not
alone. In the early 80s a Los Angeles newspaper printed a story on
U.S. Congressman Edward Roybal, a Mexican American politician. The
paper said Roybal was a Puerto Rican. It was so annoying because we
are talking about a Spanish-language newspaper and about a story written
by a Mexican journalist.
Most experts say the Hispanic community is an ethnic group. According
to the World Book Dictionary the word "ethnic" means "having
to do with the various racial and cultural groups of people and the
characteristics, language, and customs of each..." Not enough,
but pretty close to what experts say about Hispanics. The dictionary
reminds that the word has Latin roots after 'ethnicus' and Greek roots
after 'ethnikós,' and that 'ethnos' means nation.
However, we find that most Mexicans have nothing to do with the African
roots of Caribbean nations, while most Cubans have no relation with
Mayan roots from Mexico and Central America, and most South Americans
have nothing to do neither with African nor Mayan roots. But you can
find a Mexican loving 'salsa' music; a Cuban enjoying 'fajitas,' a
delicious Mexican food; both a Mexican and a Cuban reading books by
Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez; and Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto
Ricans, Central and South Americans watching movies made by Academy
Award winner Pedro Almodovar, a Spanish filmmaker.
The point is that Hispanics coming from Latin America share a common
language, Spanish; they share a common history as their countries
were colonized for three centuries by Spain, a nation that left them
a legacy of language, traditions that mixed with indigenous customs,
a way to organize the society and do business, and a religion that
was also a reference to understand the world. Spain also colonized
Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California. So those
U.S. states had Spanish roots even before becoming Mexican states
in the early 1820s, and before becoming American states in the late
On the other hand, Hispanics of second and third generations use English
as their first language and share traditions with Anglos, African
Americans and Hispanic immigrants they live with, as part of the mainstream.
They didn't grow up with "Chespirito" on their TV sets but
with "I Love Lucy". They don't know Latin soap opera celebrities
but they are pretty aware of what Andy Garcia, Antonio Banderas and
Salma Hayek are doing in Hollywood.
Two decades after sitting for the first time in a Spanish-language
newsroom in Los Angeles, I prefer to believe that the U.S. Hispanic
community is a cultural group made up by several ethnicities. Not
racially nor ethnically but culturally homogeneous, Hispanics along
with Anglos, African Americans, American Indians and Asians are building
up a new mainstream across the United States. Corporate America knows
it, politicians know it.
If you are non-Hispanic needing to learn how to deal with Hispanics,
begin with a simple step used in 1976 by succesful businesswoman Tere
Zubizarreta, founder of Zubi Advertising. It was a wise slogan for
her company: "Erase Stereotypes."
But if you are a Hispanic taking for granted what you think Hispanics
are, do two things: first, read this article once again; secondly,
(Hernandez Cuellar is Editor in Chief of Contacto
Magazine, Contacto News
Service and Contacto
PR News. Since 1984, he has also been Metro Editor of Noticias
del Mundo, Diario de Los Angeles and La Opinion in Los Angeles, California,
contributing writer with Spain's international news agency EFE and
Instructor at UCLA's Department of Journalism and Public Relations.)
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