By Alessandra Noli - Florida State University / Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication
“Alessandra, saludaaa,” my Mom would say as I was growing up, every time we ran into someone she knew and I was too embarrassed to say anything. It was not enough to just wave from afar, as I often tried to do. “Anda, dale besito,” would be what she said next, and I would drag my feet towards the person and plant a kiss on their cheek. As painful as it was for me to push through my embarrassment when I was little, this was a crucial cultural teaching. In many Latin American countries, it is considered good manners to greet individuals with a kiss on the cheek (IMS, 2014). Greeting people in this way became customary for me, a custom I then had to unlearn when I moved to the United States to pursue a college degree. Now, as I travel back and forth between the U. S. and my home country of Panama, I struggle at times trying to remember what is appropriate in each culture. I have forgotten to kiss people in Panama who then found me to be rude, and I have also accidentally kissed people in the U. S. who probably thought I was insane. Even though I have adopted many American behaviors and ideas after three years of living in the U. S., I still strongly consider myself to be a Latina. However, I also realize that I am no longer the same type of Latina as those acquaintances who never left Panama. This is a small example that echoes the reality of many Hispanics who currently reside in the U. S. The Hispanic/Latino identity has been morphing due to many converging factors, leading to a distinct cultural group which can be thought of as the “New Latino.”
According to Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the Pew Hispanic Center, the term “Hispanic” was coined forty years ago by the U. S. government to “group people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and other Latin American ancestry in government statistics” (2015). The use of this term, as well as of the term “Latino,” was implemented to categorize those individuals who traced their origin to Spanish-speaking countries, but these terms have not been completely accepted by the individuals in question. Instead, a majority of Hispanic adults (51%) surveyed by the Pew Hispanic Center in recent years stated that they prefer to identify by the country of origin of their families (Taylor et al., 2012). This contrast of label preferences shows that the identity of Latinos in the U. S. is not as clear-cut as some used to think. One might feel tempted to believe all persons who share a Latin American background can fall into the same category as it was believed forty years ago, but the reality is that the nature of the Latino identity has gone through significant changes brought about by immigration into the U. S. Nowadays, “being Latin American is not the same as being Latino in the U. S.” (Korzenny, Chapa & Korzenny, 2017).
A human being is often not the same after he or she undergoes any form of trauma. Along the same lines, it is very difficult to conclude that a Latino immigrant will remain unchanged after going through the trauma that is immigration. The act of migrating carries with it several factors that have contributed to the development of the New Latino. One of these is the interplay of social status and social interactions of the migrating Latinos, given that socioeconomic status is closely tied to migration patterns (Korzenny et al., 2017). Those who lead comfortable, affluent lifestyles in their country of origin really have no need to migrate, unless living conditions become unbearable due to instability and insecurity. Instead, as Korzenny et al. explain, the pressure of migration is a lot stronger on those who live in poverty and have barely anything to leave behind (2017). Some of these individuals even risk starvation if they decide not to migrate. This is the group that constitutes the majority of the Latinos who migrate. Due to the dire conditions in which this group lived in before they migrated, these individuals come into the U. S. without much, or even any, knowledge of consumerism.
Culture shock is another important factor that has played a role in the development of the New Latino segment. Culture shock can be defined as “a meta reaction both to strangeness and to the awkward feelings provoked by strangeness in an escalation of anxiety” (Korzenny et al., 2017). Culture shock, as the name implies, occurs when one enters a culture different than his or her own and discovers he or she does not know how to navigate it appropriately. When Latinos come into the U. S., they begin to question their host culture as well as the culture they left behind. They may observe aspects of their host culture they dislike, as well as aspects they would like to adopt. They may also re-think their own cultural customs. Inevitably, as they go through the process to acculturate and even assimilate, a new breed of Latino is born.
One last factor that has also been very influential for the creation of the New Latino is the nature of the risk-taking immigrant. The Latino who migrates is a different type of Latino just for that act, given that this cultural group does not tend to be very risk-seeking. As stated before, a Latino will usually only migrate if he or she faces extenuating circumstances such as insecurity, poverty and starvation. Korzenny et al. describe four different types of risks associated with the Latino migrant: a social risk as they migrate to a different society and let go of their old lifestyle, a physical risk that comes with the dangers of crossing the border illegally, financial risk given that migrants come into the U. S. without any guarantee that they will find a job, and a performance risk associated with their career or work position (2017).
In 2014, Hispanics made up 17.4% of the total U. S. population (Vega, 2016). This equals to a total of 55.4 million, an astounding figure that shows just how relevant it is for marketers to consider Hispanics in their current and future efforts. However, it is crucial for marketers to understand that the Hispanics in the U. S. are far different from those who never left Latin America. Socioeconomic class, culture shock, and a risk-taking nature are strong factors that have converged to create a new type of Latino. Even if born in the U. S., this New Latino is not entirely American, and is also not the same as those who never migrated. Starting with the migration of their ancestors (parents, grandparents…), the New Latino has become an entirely different segment with a unique sense of pride for their bicultural heritage. Whether it be the struggle of remembering to kiss someone on the cheek as they salute them, or just the general uneasiness that might be associated to a feeling of not belonging to one culture or the other, it is crucial for marketers to understand the delicate intricacies that compose this new segment in order to successfully appeal to it.
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