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The Inclusionaries

The Curve, CultureFirst, 2016—A new class of Hispanic visionaries are democratizing and re-creating mainstream pop culture to make it more inclusive.

The Inclusionaries

For as long as culture has popped, there have been more than a few realms that do not reflect the ethnic spectrum of society; the mainstream typically has been reserved for whites (often through appropriation). Think of the black roots of Elvis’s rock and roll, the Latin origins of today’s white celebrity–led organic food and green movements, or the evolution of yoga in America from an Indian spiritual philosophy and physical discipline to a high-end consumer fitness product. Overall, minorities often feel unwelcome in, even excluded from, U.S. culture.

75% of Hispanic respondents agree that pop culture often seems elitist and too exclusionary.

Positioned on the edge of this divide is a new class of Hispanic visionaries—we’re calling them “inclusionaries”—who are giving the landscape of American pop culture an inclusive and democratic makeover. From barbershops and environmentalism  to Silicon Valley, Hispanics are adopting and adapting stereotypically Caucasian trends to make them more inclusive, while adding their own twist.

Hispanics are well positioned to bridge the pop culture gap because of their sheer numbers (case in point: California just tipped—the Hispanic population now surpasses the white). But they also have an innate ability to straddle cultures and identities, like cultural chameleons. Most important, Latino communities place a high value on inclusiveness: 86% of Hispanics agree that being inclusive of other races and cultures is one of their core values. When asked how inclusive they consider themselves, 40% ranked themselves 8 or higher on a 10-point scale, compared with 27% of non-Hispanics. As the author Juana Bordas put it in her book The Power of Latino Leadership: “Latino leaders leverage the power of inclusion.” Citing community values, a welcoming spirit, and inclusiveness, Bordas believes that Hispanic leaders are building “a diverse and humanistic society” for everyone.

89% of Hispanic respondents describe themselves as cultural chameleons.

Dyckman Beer Co., New York’s first Hispanic-owned craft beer company, strives to integrate the flavors of its Dominican heritage into its American-made beer. “One of the most important parts of this company is selling my culture through beer,” founder Juan J. Camilo told us. You can taste the cultural mash-up in the Café con Leche Milk Stout and other fusion offerings.

These pioneers are also creating an inclusive environment for other minority communities to join. Gabriel Jaureguiberry, the owner of Ace Barbershop in Albuquerque, has championed an all-styles-welcome philosophy that has attracted an unexpected clientele: the LGBTQ community. “Some barbershops just have weird angles, like men only or playing UFC fights. But I’m hyped that all people feel comfortable coming in [to Ace],” he said. By making room for themselves in pop culture, Hispanics are effectively democratizing the entire cultural landscape.

So why did this take so long? Economics have certainly played a part, as niche interests aren’t always cheap. Organic food and craft products can cost twice as much as conventional fare. One general assumption non-Hispanics have made is that Hispanics just aren’t interested in mainstream culture because they already have their own deeply rooted cultural tastes and traditions. Perhaps the greatest reason, though, is that certain realms of pop culture simply haven’t been served up in a way that’s particularly enticing to or inclusive of all the “others” out there. Driving this point home: 86% of Hispanics and 71% of non-Hispanics report that there is at least one area of pop culture that is exclusive of minority culture. Irene Vilar, the founder of Denver’s Americas Latino Eco-Festival (ALEF), concluded, “I think we were not part of these movements because we were disenfranchised from them.”

However, pop culture exclusivity has not resulted in disinterest in the Latino community: 77% of Hispanics say they wish brands would reach out to them more, while only 43% of their white counterparts feel the same way. Hispanics are hungry for attention, and particularly from aspirational categories: “luxury,” “travel,” and “financial services” top the list of the categories they wish reached out to them more. (For the complete list of brand categories in which Hispanics would love more attention, see The Brown Space.)

While inclusionaries could easily be seen as pop culture dissidents rather than pioneers, we believe the front-runners of this movement are breaking ground. For example, Sylvia Flores, the cofounder and CEO of the Latino-only start-up incubator Manos Accelerator, is working hard to balance out the lack of diversity in tech. And Melanie Davis, a self-described “Latina lesbian biker and media magnate” from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, is making impressive inroads in Hispanic representation in media. If that isn’t a multicultural makeover of mainstream America, then we don’t know what is. (Read more about Flores and Davis in La Jefa.)

We interviewed five inclusionaries who are changing pop culture from the ground up.

Uptown Man

Juan J. Camilo is a self-proclaimed man of Dyckman Street, a bustling thoroughfare dotted with thriving Dominican-owned businesses in Manhattan’s northernmost neighborhood. He has lived there since the age of five, when he and his mother emigrated from the Dominican Republic. And since founding Dyckman Beer Co. as homage to the street itself, he’s further cemented his persona as an uptown VIP.

Camilo started Dyckman Beer Co. after he realized that his was the only New York City neighborhood without its own craft beer company. Wanting to bring good beer to his neighborhood (and introduce his neighborhood to beer aficionados), Camilo started imagining brews “inspired by the flavors, the people, and the culture of Uptown” New York City. In the four years since, he has remained true to his vision. Café con leche flavors appear in his milk stout, and his Highbridge Summer Ale is infused with characteristically Dominican flavors such as cerezas (cherries). Even Dyckman’s packaging bears the Dominican Spanish phrase “Una Vaina Bien” (“Something Very Delicious”), and the company logo is an image of the iconic High Bridge that connects Manhattan with the Bronx. Dyckman Beer Co.’s market is also a mix of the niche and the mainstream: the brewery sells beer at 150 bars and bodegas in New York (many on Dyckman Street), as well as 18 in the Dominican Republic.

The irony? “The demographic that buys most of my beer is white people,” Camilo said. Although he is targeting Hispanics and the Dyckman Street area as his primary market, it’s the craft beer snobs who are clamoring for his imaginative flavors. “All the craft beer people are from Brooklyn, and they do the IPAs and more complex beers,” he said.

Another unexpected edge is the company’s slogan, which has taken on a life of its own on Instagram. Camilo handles Dyckman Beer Co.’s social media himself and started noticing photos of his beers showing up under #unavainabien. He partially credits this hashtag for helping to get his beers into the Dominican Republic, and has seen its global reach create interest in his beer as far away as New Zealand. So whether Dyckman remains a neighborhood beer or becomes a world-renowned brand, its innovative cultural crisscrossing, advanced by the advent of social media and globalization, is an idea whose time has come.

Latina Lunging In

Noemi Nunez didn’t plan to become a yoga instructor. After immigrating to Los Angeles from Mexico in 2005, Nunez decided to go to law school in Denver. She soon began taking advantage of the gym membership offered through her husband’s work. After attending her first yoga class, she was hooked. She sought out small studios to further her practice and was soon encouraged to become an instructor. But she didn’t take action until her mother died unexpectedly at a young age. When she recognized that her mother’s death stemmed from genetic illnesses and partially, as Nunez puts it, from the decisions and lifestyle choices that she made, Nunez’s reason for being a yogi shifted from the personal to the communal. “That’s when I promised myself that I would do something with this practice to impact the people that I care about,” she said. For Nunez, this meant Latino communities, both in the United States and in Mexico, which often lack access to alternative health options like yoga. So she got certified and got involved.

Now, Nunez is one of a small number of bilingual yoga instructors in the United States. She not only teaches classes in both Spanish and English but offers free classes in hopes of attracting those who otherwise might not participate. She also started teaching yoga in high schools, with the idea that interest could spread from a teen to the rest of the family. “Because it’s such a family-oriented culture, there’s not a lot of individual activity and self-care,” Nunez said. “And so whatever happens, happens in groups.” So she purposely built her teaching schedule in a way that made it easier on the family as a whole, offering evening time slots and family classes on weekends, all the while striving to make this Denver Hispanic community’s first experience of yoga as appealing as possible.

It hasn’t all been easy, Nunez said. “Working with the Hispanic community has been fascinating but also challenging, because of the misconceptions or lack of knowledge about what yoga means and is.” There are religious trepidations—“If I’m saying ‘om’ or ‘namaste,’ or if I’m bowing, am I bowing to a different god?”—as well as simple lack of representation within the community. To offset this, Nunez said that she is always walking the line between staying true to yoga philosophy and offering the practice in an unobtrusive way. “What’s important to me is bridging the cultures and bringing that sense of community.”

Green Peacemaker

Everyday environmentalism is for everyone, but the face of the modern green movement has been decidedly whitewashed. Indeed, only 10% of conservation groups are non-white, according to ALEF founder Vilar, a Puerto Rican native, but it’s not for lack of interest. “Every single poll in the last three years, coming from all corners, has proven that Latinos are at the forefront of climate talk, not only because they believe in it and are living it but also because of their moral values and connection to indigenous cultures,” she said. Half (50%) of Hispanics we surveyed consider themselves to be highly socially conscious (an 8 or above on a 10-point scale), compared with only one-third (33%) of their non-Hispanic counterparts. And while most Hispanics wouldn’t call themselves environmentalists, 8 in 10 believe that certain environmental issues, such as clean drinking water, should have higher priority than immigration reform, according to a recent poll conducted by the political research agency Latino Decisions. Moreover, Hispanics are disproportionately affected by bad environmental policies: half (50%) of Hispanics living in the U.S. reside in the country’s top 25 most polluted counties. Hispanics are 60% more likely to have asthma than are non-Hispanic whites and three times more likely to die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This dark statistic sparked Vilar to start ALEF in 2013 “out of a frustration and a hope” that she could make a difference. After all, Hispanic representation within the environmental movement literally comes down to a matter of life and death. But Vilar knew that in order to engage the Latino community, the festival had to seem culturally relevant and be entertaining. Dubbing ALEF the “Latino South by Southwest,” Vilar brings high-profile environmental leaders to talk on topics as diverse as fossil fuels and GMOs, as well as creative cultural leaders, including Grammy Award–winning musicians, Broadway actors, documentary filmmakers, illustrators, educators, visual artists, and chefs. Vilar’s ultimate ambition for ALEF is to galvanize the Hispanic community into environmental activism, and she is calling for specific actions to be taken to ensure better climate stewardship, land conservation, and youth engagement.

There are some promising signs that diversity in the environmental sphere is growing. “I had been sold the story that the problem was in the supply—that we didn’t have those environmental leaders out there,” Vilar said. So she set the goal of bringing together 15 Hispanic conservation leaders for the inaugural festival. Interest blew her initial expectations out of the water. And in its third edition, the festival brought together more than 1,000 Hispanic conservation advocates and policy makers, along with 5,000 attendees. “We’re fighting propaganda machines that have been stereotyping our communities,” Vilar said. When stereotypes are eradicated, the rise of inclusivity is not far behind.

“Environmental movements are not actively engaging in being inclusive. A lot of these organizations tout diversity, but they are not inclusive. To be inclusive, you have to take very radical steps.”

—Irene Vilar, founder, Americas Latino Eco-Festival


Local B-(is for barber) Boy

While barbershops are known for being community spaces, they’re not renowned for being particularly welcoming to outsiders. Whether it’s the old-school barbershop that specializes in military-style crew cuts and small-town gossip, the African American barbershop that’s as much about high-top fades as nail art, or the hipster throwback shops that push beard oil rather than straight shaves, there is something inherently cliquey about where we get our hair cut. So where are all the “others” supposed to go? A good choice is Ace Barbershop in Albuquerque, which has become a place where a diverse range of outcasts coexist happily with the in-crowd. The shop’s motto says it all: “All styles welcome.”

Gabriel Jaureguiberry found his way to Albuquerque through the music scene and says that the melting-pot quality of New Mexico suits him: he is of Hispanic, Basque, and Irish heritage. When he founded Ace in the city’s downtown 10 years ago, his original vision was to create a trendy, über-designed, retro-modern barbershop with an elitist air.

However, Jaureguiberry’s charismatic, openhearted, and easygoing character won out over façade, and the shop naturally evolved into a casual and hospitable community hub with a diverse clientele. The shop prides itself on giving affordable cuts to clients of any age, race, or gender; hiring both male and female stylists; playing eclectic music; and holding free monthly art exhibits. Says Jaureguiberry, “I’m hyped that people feel comfortable coming in.” Ace is so inclusive, even advertisers can’t pigeonhole the business’s clientele. Case in point: the shop is sent free subscriptions to both Playboy and Seventeen magazines. Ultimately, the welcoming vibe is exactly what makes the shop a success.

Brand Opportunities

REINVENT YOUR CATEGORY TO MAKE IT MORE RACIALLY AND CULTURALLY INCLUSIVE. Hispanics are naturally adding their own twist to stereotypically Caucasian trends, from yoga to environmentalism to craft beer, so brands that do this will be ahead of the game.

INCLUSIVE IS THE NEW EXCLUSIVE. The cachet of exclusive products (which have a prohibitive price or a limited-edition run) may resonate less with a generation that values community, a welcoming spirit, and the ethos of inclusion.

HISPANICS ARE INTERESTED IN YOUR BRAND OR PRODUCT. A lack of representation in many categories perpetuates the myth that minority consumers aren’t interested in them, leading to a deficit in consumption and an ongoing vicious circle. Brands that have diverse consumers will be rewarded with diverse consumers. The sectors of luxury, travel, and financial services should take particular note; they top the list of categories Hispanics wish would target them.

Read next in Shifts
La Jefa
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