Let’s Ignore the Irony of Hispanic Heritage Month
This could be one of the most important Hispanic Heritage Months since it became a thing, first as just a week, and then later as a full-month in 1988. Fast forward to this year, it is ironic that two weeks into the federally decreed Hispanic Heritage Month meant to celebrate our culture and contributions to our country, this very government has exhausted every possible maneuver to undercount all of us. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau will effectively stop counting on the last day of September – much earlier than recommended by experts to ensure the accuracy of the count.
Speaking as an individual, the celebration of Hispanic Heritage is fraught with political, social, cultural, psychological and marketing reflection. I am a first-generation citizen of the United States born of exiled immigrant parents. When my options are not limited by a multiple-choice form, like the Census for example, I personally and primarily describe myself as Cuban-American, or American-Born Cuban.
However, when I speak as a Hispanic marketing professional I speak as, well, a Hispanic. And I do this without conflict. We should all recognize the value of what some call an “imperfect compromise” umbrella term that most of us have come to accept. And more importantly, that most of our society has come to accept.
G. Cristina Mora, author of “Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New American,” said the term “Hispanic” emerged both as a “fight for recognition” and an “administrative quandary.” The Nixon administration and the Census Bureau developed a Spanish Origin Advisory Committee made up of activists, academics and civic leaders to tackle the need for an umbrella term after consensus on critiques that the 1970 census severely undercounted what are now considered Hispanic populations.
This can easily start to feel like a Gordian challenge. Our “raza,” here in the United States is a mash-up of 22 national origins, three races, infinite mixes between them, and millions born on U.S. soil all mixing with the general citizenry of this country for dozens of generations going back hundreds of years.
I challenge anyone to come up with a more self-evident definition of our culture than “Hispanic,” even if we cannot viscerally self-describe in the term. There is no doubt that came about as an un-elegant solution to a need for a demographic, governmental, academic, and business label.
“How do we count these people?” I can imagine academics, bureaucrats, marketers and the media asking themselves back in the 1970s as they witnessed the expansion of the consumer segment and community. They needed, and we needed, a catch-all term to hand-raise us for the first time in a U.S. Census. If we could not be counted, how could we be recognized as an economic, social and political force to be reckoned with?
As a marketer and ad-man I appreciate the simplicity of the umbrella term “Hispanic.” At d2H we use the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably (except for this blog because it is about Hispanic Heritage Month after all). We sometimes fall back on the many hyphens that comprise the tapestry of our market; but only when it makes marketing sense to speak to individual segments within what is otherwise the most practical and self-evident demographic label.
While we are on the subject, we reject the term “LatinX” unless we are specifically referring to the community that initiated it. I speak of Latino LGBTQ citizens and residents who do not want to be labeled in a gender biased context – hence the “X” to replace the supposedly biased “O” in “Latino.” We need no additional reason to reject this as a universal label beyond the simple fact that it has no translation. It is not surprising that almost all Hispanics reject the term. The majority have not even heard of it.
The media, the politicians and some advertisers refer to us this way. Maybe because they think it sounds cool. But we look at “LatinX” as cultural cancel. Gender is intrinsic to our language. “X- out” gender and you coopt our culture. We, in the world of Hispanic marketing, cannot allow this.
I often wonder what we as citizens, immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants, must ask ourselves every time that we are asked to self-define our heritage. Do we want to be recognized as a community and consumer market with political and economic value – albeit at the risk of “otherizing” ourselves. Or would we have been better off staying divided and invisible?
Let’s end where we started, Hispanic Heritage Month. Let’s forget about what they call us. Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments, our contributions to American culture and society, and our language.
Let’s collectively try to impress on the general culture at large that we appreciate the politically correct attention. But what the country really needs, for its own good, is to give us positive and constructive attention. Seasonal workers notwithstanding, the vast majority of us Hispanics live here permanently. We buy products, we vote, we volunteer, we teach, we heal, we provide care, we feed, we pray in our temples, we build, we entrepreneur, we pay taxes and we lead in our communities all year long.
Let’s get past the current irony of Hispanic Heritage celebrations and take this month to focus on the prism of our commonalities and accept that ‘Hispanic” is not a denial of our individual identities but rather a banner that strengthens us all.
Marcelino Miyares, Jr. – Managing Partner – D2H Partners, LLC – 2020