Hispanic Influence since La Vida Loca.

BY Angela Rodriguez, Director of Strategic Insights at Alma

While some may point to the 2000 Census as the tipping point that brought Hispanics to the forefront of the American consciousness, I’d like to think it was Ricky Martin’s show-stopping performance at the 1999 Grammys and his subsequent #1 hit La Vida Loca that actually first made Hispanics appealing to Americans and proved to Hispanics that they no longer needed to be a silent minority.

The Census merely proved what pop culture already knew: that Hispanics were many, not going away, and were a vital and vibrant part of the fabric of America. Since then we have seen a surge of pride by Hispanic Americans in their culture, and more importantly, a willingness to share that culture at all times. Latino pride emerged. Visible in a way that was neither defiant nor provocative, it simply was.

Hispanics who were coming of age at that time retro-acculturated; that’s not to say they let go of being American, rather they brought in more and more elements of their Hispanic culture that they had not previously incorporated into their lives. And they did it in a more open way. You could say that their public, more American faces and their private, more Hispanic faces became one. For the first time it was OK, sexy even, to be Hispanic. These new versions of Hispanics, and those who have grown up since, are what we at Alma call Fusionistas.

Fusionistas consider themselves to be 100% American and 100% Hispanic. A subset of the bicultural Hispanic young adult segment that we identified in 2009, they are the mostly U.S.-born children of immigrants. Fusionistas are influencing American culture and pop culture in ways both expected and unexpected. From how America eats to how it dances, variations on Salsa are prevalent. From how America learns to what America listens to, these days both happen in English and Spanish. After all, who hasn’t at least learned the exclamation, ¡Dale! given that both Pitbull and Dora frequently say it?

Hispanics are part of the most multicultural moment in America ever and when we look at the youngest members of society and see that 1 in 4 kids is Hispanic, we know that their influence will only grow. Even as Hispanics take on more and more American values, especially the value of independence, they will still be pushing out their more traditional values through their children.

The dedication of Hispanic mothers to their children’s upbringing and schooling will be felt through a generation of Latino kids who have been educados (raised right) like their own parents were: traditionally, with respect for elders, putting family first. Who work for the good of the many, not just excelling for themselves; who are reaching for an American dream that they, unlike their Non-Hispanic peers, have not yet grown cynical of.

But they will also be educated (formally schooled) like no group of Hispanics before and like their parents can only dream of. This new group of educated Hispanics, who are attending college at ever increasing rates, collectively will have greater purchasing power than any generation of Hispanics to date. They will truly be able to live the American middle-class consumerist lifestyle that their parents aspire for them to have.

It’s impossible to predict the future but my gut tells me that they will carry with them, and pass on, parts of Hispanicity that they cannot survive without: the food, the music, traditions and important pieces of their culture. And I can imagine that their own children may not be as fluent in Spanish as they are, they will likely be as into football as futbol, that they will be more independent and expect more for themselves than previous generations of Hispanics.

But there are other things that we cannot even guess at: What will La Vida Loca look like in the future? Will the Hispanic influence make American culture as a whole a little bit more traditional, will we see a resurgence of “old world” values among the population as a whole? Will we see all families be a bit more strict, individuals a bit more group oriented? Above all, will Hispanics -Latinas in particular- lose the quintessentially Latino imperative of familial closeness as they become more American or will American families as a whole become more family focused as Hispanics exert their influence?

This last question is of particular interest to me and I’ll be exploring it more in-depth soon. Keep an eye out!

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