- Should we accept him?
- Does he accept us?
- Does he fit?
- Or is he a misfit? misfit. misfit…
Comments : 5 Comments »
Tags: acceptance, bicultural, culture, Demographics, diversity, Identity, ideology, multicultural, race, racism
Categories : January 2013
About six years ago, I was at the U.S. headquarters of a major international corporation, located in the southeast. I was there as part of a pitch team. The advertising agency I was with was attempting to earn this corporation’s portion of their marketing business targeted to the U.S. Hispanic consumer. The executives we were presenting to were generally warm and friendly, except one guy. Let’s call him Bill.
Bill was annoyed by his corporation’s decision to invest in minority markets. Bill made it clear by his inattentiveness that he was disinterested in, if not outright offended by our presentation. We were well into an impassioned and nuanced explanation of the Hispanic experience in the United States. While we attempted to explain the many dimensions of Hispanic culture, from the colors, foods and flavors to the asymmetrical use of language and media, Bill suddenly slammed down his Blackberry on the conference room table and yelled out in his southern accent, “When do ya just become a freakin’ American?!”
(Insert long awkward silence here).
Since that fateful day, I can’t help but wonder, “What is an American and when do you become one?” Bill had clearly defined parameters in his mind as to what an American is and he was pretty adamant that Hispanics, and I suspect any minority group, are not it. Perhaps more importantly, who choses who we are? It’s a question of identity, power and control.
And as I widen the lens and witness the demographic shifts impacting politics and business I ask you, are marketers and politicians tasked with understanding who we are or out to ensure we become what they want us to be?
By the way, we won the business, despite Bill.
Comments : 4 Comments »
Tags: acculturation, assimilation, bicultural, bilingual, culture, Demographics, diversity, Hispanic, Hispano, Identity, ideology, Language, Latino, marketing, media, multicultural, Poltics, race, racism
Categories : December 2012
When I was asked to speak to an audience of small business owners at Miami Dade College this past week, my boss knew I would jump at the shot. Ya see, I fancy myself a student of public speaking and I’m a bleeding-heart that relishes the opportunity to help anyone, anytime. This was a no-brainer, except for one thing. I had to deliver my presentation in Spanish. Sure, I speak conversational Spanish, with an ill-defined accent. I can yap about music, movies and cuisine all day long, but a professional speech about growing a business? That elevated the challenge. I sorta dug that aspect of it. I was drawn to the fact that I had to stretch outside of my comfort zone if I wanted to provide useful info to this appreciative audience of business owners. So off I went, and discovered that I would learn more about the American Dream than I could ever teach about growing a business.
The audience was compromised of mostly middle-aged Hispanic immigrants with deep accents, humble but hungry to achieve in this foreign land, with its foreign language and laws. Businesses spanned the spectrum from Child Care Services, to Import/Export, to Landscaping — there were over 30 business owners present. In their eyes, I saw fear and hope, struggle but determination. I was inspired by their bravery, not just to leave their land to start anew on our land, but the extra risk they were all willing to endure to fight for their piece of the American Dream.
Later in the week, I was at work. The founder of Zubi Advertising is being inducted, posthumously, into the Advertising Hall of Fame on Tuesday in New York. The children of the founder, and current leaders of the agency, shared with us a tribute video they will unveil at the induction ceremony. It captures the essence of their mother, a Cuban immigrant, with an accent, who founded what has become one of the leading Hispanic advertising agencies in the country. Over 30 years ago, that could have been her sitting at Miami Dade College, listening to a local professional like myself. Wow.
This reminds me that we are all connected to humble and hungry immigrants, who may have been scared, but remained hopeful, may have struggled but were determined to get their piece of the American Dream, and they all had an accent, beautiful accents, from all around the world.
Comments : 4 Comments »
Tags: acculturation, bilingual, competitiveness, culture, diversity, economy, education, Language, Latino, marketing, multicultural, race, racism
Categories : March 2012, Topics - Current
So what’s wrong with conversations like these?
- They happen way too often.
- They are contradictions.
- They undermine our future.
They Happen Way Too Often
It some parts, I suspect the “they are not American like us” conversation happens rather openly. In places where “political correctness” is observed, I suspect it happens just as much, just not as loud. My name can easily switch from “Alberto” to “Al” and I can go from Spanish to Spanglish to non-accent-North American-English within the same conversation. As such, access to a broad spectrum of sub-groups and related social attitudes is part of my reality. Granted, my testimony is anecdotal; I find it troubling how often I hear folks express this viewpoint of “we’re more American” vs. “they are not American like me” based on the artificial qualifiers of “funny names” and/or “funny accents.” And yes, the way you look factors in as well.
They Are Contradictions
The same folks who claim to be more American than most too often express an attitude of exclusion towards those amongst us with so-called funny names and accents (social inequality..anyone? anyone?). Last I recall, this idea of the United States of America as this “shiny city atop a hill” and so-called “American Exceptionalism” is, in part, rooted in the vision of a place where diversity is one of our nation’s core strengths. The poem engraved in the Statue of Liberty declares, “”Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” What makes us Americans is our yearning for freedom. Period.
They Undermine Our Future
Today, our economy is fragile. Our currency is relatively weak. Our future is nebulous. The only certainty is this: the nations with the smartest, most hardworking and innovative minds will win the future. For those of us who grew up here, we believed that the smartest, most hardworking and innovative minds gathered here, in the United States of America. Looking forward, do you feel assured that this will remain the case? As it has always been, our ability to attract and keep immigrants will be our competitive advantage in an intensely competitive global-market arena…our ability to attract and keep folks with so-called “funny names” and “funny accents” is how we win.
I am grateful for this list of “Funny Americans” who currently contribute to our nation’s well-being (in no particular order):
So no matter if your name is John, Juan, Juanita, Joshua, or Jamal, I hope you and your families never stop pursuing your freedom here, in (the United States of) America.
Comments : 8 Comments »
Tags: acculturation, bicultural, bilingual, competitiveness, culture, Hispanic, Hispano, Language, Latino, marketing, multicultural, race, racism
Categories : June 2011, Topics - Current
When my family moved from North Jersey to South Florida in the late 80’s, I was a teenager. We had a new, rich, Afro-Cuban neighbor who became good friends with my Afro-Cuban mom. I recall that neighbor often saying to my mom, “Los negros somos la raza sufrida.” Translation: “Blacks are the suffered race.”
That phrase confused me. First of all, are we black? And if we are, where’s this suffering our new neighbor was referring to? I mean we both resided in this affluent, security-protected high-rise condo on the beach.
Over time, I kept thinking about that phrase as I observed the world around me. Regarding the “suffering” component of that comment, I observed that yes, no matter the part of the world being discussed; there exists a correlation between depressed socio-economic standing and the black race. The reasons for this marriage between these two factors are subject of much debate and focused study. I won’t attempt to delve deeply into it now other than to declare I find the correlation to be valid.
As for the question, “are we black?” for me, the answer is yes, at least in part (I expand on this notion in a prior post titled, “I’m Not Black, I’m Hispanic.”
Interestingly, it appears that the identification and meaning of one’s blackness is country-specific. In the United States, one-drop of black blood and you’re black by most accounts. However, throughout the world, the answer is not so “black and white.”
Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. tackles the subject of black identity in his current PBS series “Black in Latin America.” So far, he’s released video features on the Dominican Republic & Haiti, Cuba and Brazil. Here’s my simplified interpretation of how this documentary explains how blacks in these countries reconcile their racial identity:
- Dominican Republic – Due, in part, to their legacy of strife with their proudly black island neighbors, Haiti, Dominican’s generally resist the black label
- Cuba – Afro-Cubans embrace their black race, but are Cubans first and foremost
- Brazil – They proudly account for a multitude of color shades. Brazilians aspire for a color blind democracy but it eludes them.
The next two countries Professor Gates will address are Mexico and Peru (episode premieres on Tuesday, May 10th at 8 PM EST on PBS). It should be interesting to see how the narrative changes when the story of black identify is told from the prism of these Caribbean-centric nations to Central America (I realize that Brazil is non-Caribbean, but I view their cultural nuances to be more aligned with the Dominican Republic and Cuba than Mexico and Peru…I may be wrong).
Growing up in the United States, where the question of race and identity is simply boiled down to the “one-drop rule,” by studying Latin America, it is interesting to see how the story of race is characterized by such a broad spectrum of country-specific experiences. I’m intrigued to know how the story changes, or not, when we explore the history of race and identity in non-Latin America countries.
If I were to run into my mom’s old Afro-Cuban neighbor today, I’d tell her that her notion that “los negros somos la raza sufrida” is interesting, perhaps somewhat true but definitely incomplete.
Comments : 1 Comment »
Tags: bicultural, biracial, Black, Brazil, Cuba, culture, diversity, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Hispanic, Hispano, Latino, multicultural, race, racism
Categories : May 2011
Billy Joel. “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” 1989.
In this song, Billy Joel sets out to remind us that every generation faults the last for its current day’s troubles. This vicious cycle of blaming the prior generation is alive and well as much today as when that song climbed the charts over 20 years ago…but there’s something different now, I think.
In the past, this “blame game” sought to make sense of the present day woes by assigning responsibility for those troubles on the generation of yesteryear. Now, it seems the rhetoric of blame has a new target: Hispanics.
Instead of looking backwards to find the culprits for a failing economy, a weakening public education system, an overstressed healthcare system and the ongoing list of present day issues, some Americans are looking around and are uncomfortable with the amount of unfamiliar “foreigners” they see, particularly Latinos. So while many in the broader general market appreciate the influence of Hispanic culture on North America by way of cuisine, music, movies, sports and the like, I’ve observed a concern, even an instinct to blame Hispanics for our country’s challenges.
During the April 17thinstallment of NBC ’s “Meet the Press,” the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, expressed concern about America’s future competitiveness due to disturbing declines in U.S. academic performance indicators. I was struck by this concern because I know that U.S. Hispanics will make up a growing proportion of the U.S. population in the future.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports the Hispanic population has surpassed 50 million and accounted for more than half of the 27.3-million population increase in the last decade.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, by 2035, one-third of all American children and youth will be Latino, and it is projected that by 2050, one-third of the overall population will be Hispanic.
At the same time, a study by World Economic Forum reveals that U.S. competitiveness, as measured by 16 indicators, has 13 indicators on the decline when comparing 2009 to 2010.
So is there a correlation between the decline in American future competitiveness and the increase in the Hispanic population? As Hispanics continue to make up an increasing percentage of the U.S. population, how much of the burden should Latinos bear in influencing this country’s future direction? How much of this “fire” belongs to us?
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Tags: acculturation, bicultural, bilingual, competitiveness, culture, diversity, economy, education, Hispanic, Hispano, Latino, multicultural, race, racism, university
Categories : April 2011
Why do soccer fans root for the teams they do?
The World Cup offers a unique platform to witness the world sharing a common stage. Yes, there is the Olympics, but the passion related to World Cup soccer sets it apart. I appreciate soccer but would not be accused of being a fan. As such, I observe the World Cup without the emotion reserved for its fans. In terms of helping address the opening question, “Why do soccer fans root for the teams they do?” here’s what I’ve observed:
Fans choose teams to root for a whole host of reasons; from the legitimate to the fickle (you decide which is which). World Cup fans appear to root for a specific team because of:
Like the Colors
Like the food
Like the beer
Like the women/men
For me, the national pride and family heritage make sense. Those who resort to a preferred beverage or some other trivial reason makes less sense, but they’re having fun, so who cares. My particular interest is to understand the motivation of those who choose a team based on race and culture, specifically when they possess more than one race and/or culture.
As a self-proclaimed bicultural, biracial observer, I find it curious that most my Hispanic friends are claiming Spain on the eve of the final match against the Netherlands. Yes, I understand that Spain is a valid common denominator for Spanish-speaking people the world over. However, the generational degrees of separation between many Hispanics in Latin America (and U.S. Hispanics) and Spain can be considerable. If degrees of separation do not matter, then what of those same Latin Americans who can trace at least part of their ancestry to other countries, specifically Africa? Would they have supported Ghana or any other African country had they made the final? After all, you do know those dark-skinned players on Latin American teams are not just very tanned white guys, right?
And oh yeah, ¡Viva España!
Comments : 11 Comments »
Tags: bicultural, biracial, culture, race, World Cup
Categories : July 2010
This one cuts close to the bone. You see, I am proud of my Latino heritage yet none of my three sons speak Spanish. To be fair, my youngest son is only two years old so the jury is still out but between us, it doesn’t look good (my wife disagrees). My two teenage sons generally understand Spanish but neither posses enough command of Spanish to be considered bilingual nor do they express any interest to learn. I’ll frame my thoughts regarding this complicated and sensitive topic around three factors: (1) the disappointment, (2) the New Yorican, and (3) the language link.
I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in myself when my bilingual friends approach my sons in Spanish and they either can’t or are too embarrassed in their remedial Spanish to respond. I make my living as a Hispanic Marketing Communications Professional which is largely dependent on my bilingual skill set. Consequently, I cringe at the thought that I have limited my children’s career possibilities by not gifting to them the ability to command Spanish. I’m mostly disappointed in myself when my children’s ability to communicate and bond with our family is effectively crippled because abuelita (grandma) doesn’t speak English and the grandchildren don’t speak Spanish. My mom often proudly proclaims, “I made you bilingual and to that you owe your present day success.” Respectfully, my mom’s not quite right. She spoke to me in the only language she commanded (Spanish). I was raised in a country whose primary language is English. My being bilingual is the natural consequence of being born bicultural and balancing two languages since day one…but I digress. Regarding language, how have you managed your U.S. born Hispanic children? How did your parents manage you regarding language and identity?
The New Yorican
I grew up in Northern New Jersey (just outside NYC), happily coexisting with a large community of post-first generation Puerto-Rican brothers and sisters casually referred to as “New Yoricans”. The New Yorican community didn’t necessarily command Spanish like their parents and grandparents and many never stepped foot in Puerto Rico. However, what I recall most about this community of Latinos in the northeast was the enormous sense of publicly displayed pride New Yoricans expressed regarding their Puerto Rican heritage. Any charges of not being Hispanic based on the perceived requirement of command of the Spanish language or tacit knowledge of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico did not surface. For me, New Yoricans are as U.S. Hispanic as they come, regardless of how well they may or may not command the Spanish language. So if New Yoricans can be proud of their Hispanic heritage with or without Spanish, why do I place so much emphasis on language to define my own children’s degree of Hispanic authenticity? Am I alone in regarding these conflicting feelings of language and identify?
The Language Link
Language is social currency. In my experience, to the degree you can command the language of a given community is the degree by which that community accepts you. By command, I mean not only the general language, but rather all the nuances, voice inflections, rate of speech, slang and other idiosyncrasies that denote your level of cultural authenticity. As a veteran Spanish language teacher once told me, language is like a living cell that takes on the form of the environment in which it is set. This explanation is true regardless of language spoken. For example, when English is spoken in England, it differs from English in North America – English in South Carolina is not often confused with English in New York, so on and so forth. When it comes to Hispanics in North America, where Latinos from as many as 20 different Hispanic countries-of-origin reside, Spanish is dynamic and constantly in flux. As a consequence, even if your children speak Spanish in the United States, there exists the additional criteria to command a broader range of Spanish dialects in order to receive social acceptance among a diverse community of Hispanics. So is there a sliding degree of acceptance that our bicultural kids will receive, from rejected if no Spanish is spoken on one end of the spectrum to fully accepted on the other if your child fully commands Spanish in multiple dialects?
In the end, I’m emotionally conflicted on this topic. Please help me find more reasonable ground by sharing your thoughts, experiences and position on this matter. By the way, the three factors I discuss are not the only dimensions regarding this topic so please feel free to add other consideration that I have not covered.
We look forward to your contribution.
Born Bicultural USA
Comments : 94 Comments »
Tags: bicultural, bilingual, culture, diversity, Hispano, Language, Latino, race, racism
Categories : February 2010
Before we blog another word, let’s pause and send our prayers, well wishes and support to the earthquake victims in Haiti. The endless stream of haunting images coming out of Haiti reminds us of our good fortune here in the United States. I hope we’re all compelled to move swiftly and compassionately to the extent each and every one of our means allows. To donate to Haiti via UNICEF, please click here.
As for the pilot entry of Born Bicultural USA entitled, “I’m Not Black, I’m Hispanic” I thank all of those who visited, read, critiqued and commented on this initial effort. Your participation affirms that this topic and platform are viable. I encourage your continued support. I wouldn’t be a marketer if I didn’t ask you to “tell-a-friend” to stop by and visit as well. Again, thank you.
Now on to the subject of this post…
Are Hispanic-Americans “Hispanic” or “American” First?
No sé. I mean, I’m not sure.
I suspect the answer to this questions varies based on an entire set of factors which usually are influenced by your: (1) length of time in the U.S. / generational association, (2) geographic location, and (3) family conditioning.
Length of Time in the U.S.
In my observation, there’s a relationship between length of time in the U.S. and one’s inclination to claim “Hispanic” over “American” and vice versa. Generally, the further removed a Hispanic-American is from their ancestor’s immigration experience, the more likely that Hispanic-American is to claim American ahead of Hispanic. The opposite also holds true, in my observation. There are exceptions, like my New Yorican brothers and sisters who represent Puerto Rico to the fullest, even after many generations in The States. Also, Miami-Cubans, more than most on average, maintain such a Cuban-dominant orientation that the “American” part is often overshadowed.
The denser the concentration of Hispanics in any given region, the more likely that Hispanic-American group is to claim their Hispanic identity ahead of their American identity. In my experience, Miami is the Mecca in the U.S. for Hispanic identity (I suspect I’ll get some blowback on that one for having an East Coast biased from my brothers and sisters on the “Left Coast” – For the Record, I love the West Side too). As I interact with my Hispanic-American friends and family in markets where the concentration of Hispanic-American is not as pronounced as in cities like Miami, I encounter a different experience – an experience that has much more of the mainstream American norms present.
Our first education is the one we receive at home. To the degree our families conditioned us to believe we’re either “Hispanic First” or “American First” we largely carry on those beliefs into our adult lives and pass on these attitudes to our children.
As a bicultural, I often find myself defending whichever culture or nationality is being attacked. If I hear non-Hispanic Americans targeting Hispanics negatively, my Hispanic sensibilities are set-off and I’m inclined to defend the Hispanic position. The converse holds true as well. As a former member of the United States Air Force and self-identified “patriot” I respond respectfully but definitively when non-Hispanic American ideals are attacked by my Hispanic brothers and sisters.
In Miami, I encounter a relatively high number of age peers who are immigrants or first generation Hispanics who unforgivingly and proudly align their attitudes, ideology and behaviors to that of their home country. Generally, that’s fine with me. However, from this group, on occasion, I encounter comments or attitudes that are soo one-sided in favor of their home country at the expense of the United States, that I’m offended. In retrospect, I wonder if my state of offense stems from a jealousy that these immigrants have such a strong “country pride” orientation and I see soo little “Proud to be American” types in Miami. It’s much more popular to proclaim “Proud to be (enter any other country of origin not named the USA)”. While I try to figure out if my fundamental issue is jealousy or something else, Born Bicultural USA would like to hear your take.
As for my formula for answering this question, here’s one way to look at it. I pledge allegiance first to the only country that has a constitutional claim to place me physically in harm’s way (via military draft). Based on this formula, the only country legally allowed to force a uniform on my person is the United States of America; therefore, I’m American first (but not only). This is not to imply I’m not uber-proud of my family’s Hispanic heritage because I am. Say something silly about Cuba’s music legend Celia Cruz in front of me and prepare to be confronted. Ultimately, I don’t believe this question is a zero-sum equation, but rather a matter of degrees and priorities. I am no less proud to be Hispanic when chanting USA nor any less proud to be American when I am dancing Cuban salsa. I guess that’s what makes us bicultural.
Like many of the topics tackled by Born Bicultural USA, they are thorny, complicated and subject to change as we learn from each other’s perspective. I look fwd to learning from yours.
Born Bicultural USA
Comments : 8 Comments »
Tags: bicultural, bilingual, culture, diversity, Hispanic, Hispano, Latino, multicultural, race, racism
Categories : January 2010, Topics - Ongoing
Born Bicultural USA is a blog for curious thinkers to gather for a constructive and respectful dialogue on racial diversity in the United States. The purpose of Born Bicultural USA is to gain understanding through sharing.
I believe this dialogue is valuable because:
- Biculturals can feel misunderstood and even isolated
- Everyone has a fundamental desire to be understood and included
From my first breath, I encountered an existence that has been Hispanic and American, Black and White. Balancing these colors and cultures has provided a unique experience. I’ll share mine. Please share yours.
Note: You don’t have to be “Born-Bicultural” to contribute to this important dialogue. All curious thinkers of every color and culture are welcomed.
Comments : 1 Comment »
Tags: bicultural, bilingual, Black, culture, diversity, Hispanic, Hispano, Latino, multicultural, race, racism
Categories : January 2010