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The Data

Some of the data that popped during the study behind CultureFirst

The Brown Space

In 2011, we fielded a study on multicultural America (Transformers) and were surprised to learn the extent to which the Latino community felt underserved by brands. In nearly every major category, from financial services to organic foods, Hispanics were two to four times more likely than their non-Hispanic counterparts to say that they wished companies reached out to them more. Topping the list were aspirational categories such as beauty, luxury, education, and technology.

Five years later, we found something even more surprising: not much has changed.

Despite their numbers (the Hispanic population is the largest multicultural group in the U.S., is growing the most in pure scale, and is projected to grow another 86%—that’s 49 million people—by 2050), and even with national attention (Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Pope Francis are just three recent headliners) and society’s growing knowledge about Latino culture (we know that not all Hispanic people hail from Mexico), the opportunity to serve up targeted messaging in aspirational categories to the Hispanic marketplace is still not being exploited. Our survey showed that 83% of Hispanic respondents (versus just 43% of their non-Hispanic counterparts) feel there is at least one brand category that underserves them and wish those brands would reach out to them more.

Let’s not call this a white space—after all, there’s little space left in a crowded marketplace full of messages geared to the “general market”—but a “brown space” for brands. If this seems a little too convenient coming from Telemundo, take a look at the numbers below and then turn to The Inclusionaries for a deeper understanding of the visionaries who are adding some color, and a Latin twist, to mainstream America.

The Ethnicity Discussion

Of all the subjects we talked about with Hispanics across the country, from racism to reality TV, the most complex topic to tackle was a seemingly straightforward one: “How do you describe yourself?” In Detroit, this question launched a 30-minute debate about whether “Latino” or “Hispanic” was the right descriptor (winner: “Latino,” because “it’s more inclusive of all Latin cultures”). During our food tour in the New York borough of Queens, the answers were “Salvadoran,” “Puerto Rican,” and “Venezuelan.” (By the way, whether the respondent is foreign or U.S. born, country of origin or descent has historically been the first answer given.) From San Antonio to Santa Fe, Latino subcultures like Chicano, Tejano, and Mestizo ruled. And in Oakland, a young techie of Cuban heritage said she prefers “none of the above” and aligned herself with “nerd culture” (for more on hybrid and chosen cultures, turn to TCK Rising).

Cut to the data, which tells a (slightly) clearer story: cultural descriptors directly correlate to how long respondents have lived in the country. When asked, “Which one of these words do you use most often to describe your identity?” first- and second-generation Americans chose “Hispanic” (38%), followed by “Latino” (25%) and “My ethnicity” (23%). Only 16% of this group chose “American.” Conversely, fourth- and fifth-generation respondents opted for “American” first (39%), then “Hispanic” (36%), and finally “Latino” and “My ethnicity” (tied at 12%). Not surprisingly, the third-generation respondents fell somewhere in the middle, with “Hispanic” at 39%, “American” at 29%, “My ethnicity” at 20%, and “Latino” at 12%. This trend proved consistent on a 10-point-scale survey question as well. Regardless of generation, however, Hispanic respondents did come together on one point: nearly all (89%) agreed with the statement “I’m as American as anyone.” The diversity in responses illuminates the rejection of traditional labels and reflects the growing desire not to be put in a box.

Typed Out

We all know that there are more than a few stereotypes about Latino culture—for example, that all Hispanics speak Spanish (in fact, 38% of Hispanics are not completely comfortable speaking Spanish) or that Mexicans celebrate their Independence Day on May 5 (actually, Cinco de Mayo is a commemoration of the Mexican victory at the 1862 Battle of Puebla). Let’s chalk these up to honest mistakes.

But then there are those other stereotypes that also persist. And as harmless as some stereotypes may appear, others are decidedly less so. One-quarter (25%) of Hispanics we surveyed said others have assumed that they weren’t American or, worse, that they were here illegally (16%). One-fifth have faced the stereotype of being fiery (23%), lazy (18%), or unhealthy (18%). And 14% say others have assumed that they were hired help.

But perhaps the most profound stereotype reported by those we spoke with is one they face from their own culture: they aren’t “Latino enough.” Whether it’s that they’re too White, not fluent in Spanish, don’t dance, or don’t eat barbacoa and drink Big Red (a Sunday tradition in Mexican culture), a third (33%) of Hispanics we spoke with say they’ve felt wrongly stereotyped, not only by others but by people of their own ethnic group. Twenty-two percent have even experienced the effects of stereotyping within their own families.

We explore the complexities of Latino identity and ethnic stereotyping in Brownish and find that, regardless of predefined notions about what makes a person not American enough or not Latino enough, Hispanics are defining their identities within both cultures.

Parties, Pitbull and the Pope

In an effort to better understand Hispanics’ collective consciousness (see Recollectives), we reached out to 1,000 high-, mid-, and low-acculturated Hispanic respondents to ask which brands, media, people, places, and things best represented Latino culture in America. Out of 100 options, here are the top cultural cues that Hispanics endorse as representing who they really are. Spoiler: Cinco de Mayo, multigenerational households, and “Dora the Explorer” didn’t make the cut.

Marble Rye Makeover

In our survey, 90% of Hispanics and 80% of non-Hispanics agree that Latino culture highly influences at least one area of the broader American culture. Not surprisingly, food topped both groups’ lists, and music and language rounded out their top three. However, there are more than a few aspects of U.S. pop culture that could use a multicultural makeover. According to the 18- to 49-year-olds we surveyed, politics (62%), TV (41%), and movies (39%) are the top categories that respondents said cater primarily to the white majority.

There are some promising signs of change, though. Sixty-five percent of respondents believe suburbia is increasingly becoming a mix of white and brown. And 67% of Hispanics and non-Hispanics agree that social media has created a worldwide humanity movement by connecting people with other cultures. (We explore digital’s impact on cultural diversity in Otherland) Plus, more than twice as many Hispanic as non-Hispanic respondents plan to start their own businesses within the next five years (30% vs. 12%). This last statistic seems the most promising, as Hispanic-led startups will likely create the multicultural-minded businesses that serve as blueprints for future culture. Leading the charge are Hispanic millennials (33% of whom plan to start businesses by 2020) and Hispanic women, who are tapping into their strict work ethic and inclusive mindset to drive a scrappy new startup culture. Brogrammers beware! For more on this powerful cohort of Latinas who launch, turn to La Jefa.

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