Working with Latino Bloggers: The Mystery, The Myths
I am going to do something here that I rarely ever do on my blog, even when covering the issue of brand/blogger relationships: I am going to focus on a “group” of people, a group whose very definition has eluded brands and marketers for years: Latinos/Hispanics/Latins – what?
First of all, what is a Latino? Is it a race? An ethnic group?
And what is the correct terminology, or “label” for this group of people? This is important because when it comes to marketing labels, a clear “demographic identification” is needed in order to best coordinate marketing efforts.
Before I proceed with further explanations, let it be known that this is done with great effort and consideration, albeit at the risk of oversimplification. If all of this is foreign to you and a source of great confusion, don’t feel bad – as a matter of fact there are many Latinos who get it wrong all the time too.
We hate them, right? But let’s face it, they are a part of our society and have been important components to your developmental growth ever since we can remember. Woman, man, child, boy, girl, meat eater, vegan, blogger, foodie, mommy, daddy, and so on. Labels continuously change because we often use them (as many of the ones I am about to mention) to protest political, governmental, or societal identifiers. As generations change and political discourse changes with it, we often decide to take on different ways to connect with our community or our families. All of these elements help to identify who we are, what we are, and – as far as branding and marketing is concerned – what our interests most likely will be. We may hate them and we may refute some and embrace others, but they are here to stay.
So what do you call us? Well, it depends.
I am usually called “Latin” or even “Spanish” when I travel to states in Middle America. But, I am neither.
Spanish, when not referring to the language, is used to refer to someone from the European country, Spain. Though there is no doubt that the cultural and ethnic influences of my ancestors were affected by the Spanish conquerors into our Caribbean islands, Spanish we are not. Though it can be argued that if dug deep enough most of us will find some European lineage in our family, because of the violent nature of how that came to be, most will reject it all together. Others, often for elitist purposes if not directly connected to being from Spain, will embrace it wholeheartedly.
Hispanic is a term used to check a box in the census and most governmental documentation. It is used to refer to a person’s ethnicity, most specifically a person of Spanish heritage.
Chicano is a term that had lost its luster at one point, but has quickly gained notoriety again among younger generations of Mexican heritage. Mostly used on the West Coast of the US, it is also used as form of political empowerment for many.
Boricua are people originating from, or descendants of, Puerto Rico.
Latin is a term used to refer to people from Latin America – and this is where it gets tricky folks because not everyone from Latin America is Hispanic – meaning, they are not of Spanish heritage, or are even most likely to speak the Spanish language.
Latino, like Chicano, is a term most used to refer to ourselves – most of us being those who would be coined as being Hispanic by the government. This term became popular among my generation in communities and college campuses as a way to reject the governmental label of “Hispanic”. Many of Iberian heritage are more likely to embrace the term than those of European descent.
As confusing as this all may seem to you, one thing is clear: our inability to speak the Spanish language is not a dis-qualifier of our ethnicity – which is what all of these labels reference. I feel that it is important to note this as it seems to be a great topic of debate not only among non-Latinos, but even among our community and it’s an argument that serves no purpose other than to divide and create conflict.
Use the labels to help determine the nuances of your campaign. Messages, wording, and symbolism changes from one group to another – meaning can be lost, or misinterpreted. When looking to market to this or any ethnic group, make language an issue only if it is imperative to your branding or marketing strategy, but never make it an issue in trying to determine the legitimacy or validation of someone’s ethnic background or worth. In other words, never use language as a measure to whether or not someone is “Latino-enough” to work with. Keep in mind that though we share cultural commonalities and even languages, many differences still exist, differences that when understood and identified can serve as great elements to help reach a broad Latino audience.
What About Spanish, anyway?
My darling friend Ana Flores, of Spanglishbaby.com said it best:
“When people complain why SpanglishBaby isn’t in Spanish when we’re encouraging Spanish, we say that it’s in-culture because we want to reach a wider audience. Us promoting Spanish and learning a second language, doesn’t mean we believe that speaking the language makes you Latino. Living it and embracing the culture does.“
In other words, there is great value in working with anyone, in any medium or space, any career, any business who can speak more than one language. In this global economy and community, the knowledge can serve as a great asset to anyone wanting to reach a wider audience, improve communication, and connect on a more “personal” level with others. However, the ability to speak the language itself is not what solidifies the ethnicity of the person speaking it, or not.
An Irish-Scott from Wisconsin who is fluent in Spanish because of his studies is not a Latino. A Dominican from Washington Heights who can’t speak a word of Spanish is not less Latino then I am who learned to speak the language at 9 years old.
What marketers need to realize, if they haven’t already, is that an increasing number of Latinos, Boricuas, Chicanos, etc. don’t speak Spanish. We don’t watch Spanish television. We don’t listen to Spanish music – unless we are at a family gathering – and even then only sometimes. We don’t write it, think in it, or read in it. Even those who are fluent in the language.
I speak, read, and write fluent Spanish, something I am very proud of but it isn’t my first language and I couldn’t tell you who the hottest new thing is in that market – unless they were in an American movie or television show. Spanish-language campaigns don’t interest me, nor a lot of people of my generation and above. We haven’t rejected our heritage, we have simply assimilated to our bi-cultural upbringing, embracing not only the family’s heritage but also the one we have grown up in.
Now, this doesn’t mean I can’t be of value in your Latino focused campaigned. I identify as Dominican, when not identifying as a New Yorker, when not identifying as being from Brooklyn. I was very influenced by my grandmother, mother and other women growing up and my Dominican background. I can cook a mean rice and beans, and many other Caribbean dishes. I can dance a mean merengue, salsa, and bachata.
I know the history of my parent’s country and I understand its people, both on the island and in this country. When with my Latino friends I can easily go from English to Spanish (often in slang), and sometimes I use both…in other words, I prefer to speak Spanglish, which can easily be identified as the language the media has failed to embrace, and thus has fail to connect to us with.
Understanding that marketing to Latinos does not equate to obligatory Spanish-only marketing, but rather a presentation of our culture in many other ways is key to connecting with the newer generations of Latinos in the US. Understanding and embracing the concept of Spanglish as a marketing strategy is a better approach than Spanish-only when looking to connect with younger generations of Latinos, especially those born and/or raised here.
I would love to see more Latinos on television, more representation of our foods, and beliefs, and celebrations in marketing campaigns around me – but I don’t need to see or hear it in Spanish for it to feel personal and appealing – nor does the person have to be shaking a maraca or playing a guitar in the process. Making an effort to understand the interests of new generations of Latinos – as opposed to going through the motions of older practices will help break barriers and improve visibility for your brand. Seeing ourselves represented matters, having it in Spanish does not. Latinos who work well and easily in any group and have a broader reach are often more relatable, so keep an open mind in your search.
What about Race?
I will emphasize yet again – all of the above has everything to do with ethnicity and culture and nothing to do with race. Defining us by race is a harder task than defining us by ethnicity. Racially speaking we are such a big mix, and even when made up of multiple races, we tend to latch on to one and go with it. It is also the reason why we are sometimes harder to identify visually. I can easily and comfortably identify with being black, though blacks themselves have rejected me as such. To even make the mention of my white heritage is to risk being called “elitist” if not “sadly in denial”.
Brands and marketers love the “look” in their campaigns, and the “look” may be appealing, but it’s not definitive of us all. Like any great campaign, diversity in representation of any group is what will lead to the most successful approaches.
For example, one of the reasons I detest Spanish-language television and many Spanish-language or even Spanglish magazines is because they may sound like me, but none of them look like me. Slap an English voice box on those suckers and I might as well be watching Good Morning America on NBC, instead of Despierta America in Univision.
Don’t go for the stereotypes, because they are limited and have been what has inhibited success in Latino outreach efforts thus far. Diversity in representation that goes beyond language is key, no matter what your demographic.
I challenge the marketers and brands reading this to break the barriers and images set before them thus far and reach out to the diversity within our community when launching new campaigns and messages.
As the fasted growing demographic in the United States, we have a lot to offer beyond what you so far demonstrated to know. This isn’t a “new” thing. It’s been going on for years, and we are so eager for you all to catch up so we can successfully work together while simultaneously, eliminating stereotypes.
Things to Never Do
- Never ask a blogger to be “more” Latino – sound more Latino, act more Latino, or any other nonsense. Some will force the issue to gain your interest, and we hate them for it – and in turn will hate your brand too.
- If the blogger doesn’t normally blog in Spanish, either accept that, find someone who does, or ask them if they would feel comfortable in doing so before assuming they suddenly will – and make sure they can do so fluently!
- If you really, really want someone who speaks Spanish for your story or brand, make sure they speak it well and are articulate and fluent.
- If the blogger has a niche, respect that. Don’t assume that because they are Latino they will be interested in blogging about everything and anything Latino influenced. In other words, I don’t care what language I am pitched in if it doesn’t fit my blog in English, it won’t fit my blog in Spanish either.
- Never assume that one Latino will represent all Latinos. Assume that they may be relatable to most, but representative of all? It will never happen.
Like with anything, no matter who you are trying to partner with, no matter who you are trying to reach, my advice that you vet, vet, vet remains. Like anything in Social Media, there are many people out there who attach themselves and their brands to labels and stake claims to entire communities and groups in order to attract the interest and financial resources of marketers and businesses. I can tell you without hesitation that even I wouldn’t attach my name to many of them, let alone my reputation. It is lazy to simply pick and choose based on any label anyone carries and the standard practices of vetting before you invest still stand. Hopefully this information will give you a good start.
Note: all these labels, identifiers, whatever you want to call them are American born and used. If you go to the Dominican Republic and ask a Dominican “what they are” they will say that they are, well, Dominican, maybe identify what region, but “Latino” is not a term we use on the island. Simple as that.