NPR

Data Reveal Complex Picture Of Hispanic-Americans

A Hispanic woman walks down a street in Union City, N.J. In a new study, the Pew Hispanic Center asked Hispanic-Americans how they identify themselves. (Getty Images)

Just over half of Americans of Spanish-speaking origin have no preference between the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino," according to new data from the Pew Hispanic Center.

Of those with a preference, 33 percent preferred "Hispanic," versus the 14 percent who said "Latino" better describes them.

How Hispanic-Americans identify themselves is only one aspect of the detailed picture provided by the Pew study released Wednesday. The Pew Center asked a sampling of the 50 million Latinos around the country questions about culture, social attitudes and life in the U.S.

The survey began with a simple question: "What do you call yourself?"

When it comes to identity, Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, says it's not the name that counts, but where you're from.

Virtually all Hispanics think that U.S. Hispanic immigrant adults should learn English.
Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director, Pew Hispanic Center

"More than half of Hispanics overall say it's the name of the country of origin of their families or their ancestors — names like Mexican, Dominican or Cuban, for example," Lopez says, that matters most.

And that association with country of origin is highest among immigrant Hispanics.

But whether respondents were first-generation immigrants or third-generation descendants of immigrants, there was agreement on one thing: the importance of language.

"We found that virtually all Hispanics think that U.S. Hispanic immigrant adults should learn English," Lopez says.

But researchers "also found that when we asked Hispanics about the importance of Spanish, virtually all of them say it's important that future generations speak Spanish."

In other words, English fluency should not come at the expense of that important cultural link to their country of origin.

Marketing expert Laura Martinez writes and blogs about Hispanic consumer interests. She says one of the biggest misconceptions among marketers involves language.

"Still, a lot of people think all Hispanics speak Spanish, or all Hispanics speak Spanish only," Martinez says.

In an effort to reach out to that population, that assumption has led many companies to make marketing missteps, Martinez says — like the very popular "Yo quiero Taco Bell" ads, featuring a hungry Chihuahua.

To Taco Bell's credit, Martinez says, the fast-food chain's marketing philosophy has evolved. The current campaign is offering everyone "mas for their money" — more for their money.

The blending of cultures is a strong theme throughout the Pew study results. Lopez points to data that younger Hispanics are marrying outside their ethnicity at rates higher than the general population.

"We're seeing, in many respects, Hispanics who are newlyweds marrying someone who is not Hispanic," Lopez says. "And that Hispanics and Asian-Americans are the ones most likely to do that, compared to any other group."

More than 80 percent of Hispanics interviewed said they'd have no problem if their children married someone from a different heritage, whether or not that person was Hispanic.

That openness to other cultures is also reflected in popular culture, as in ABC's Modern Family. In the sitcom, a Colombian-born character, portrayed by actress Sofia Vegara, is married to non-Hispanic Ed O'Neill. The cross-cultural lines often become tangled as the two interact on screen.

In the end, says Martinez, it's all about inclusion. She says marketers like Nike and Apple are successful because they don't lean on ethnicity, but rather show a mosaic of races and ethnicities using their products.

Businesses that don't figure out how to approach Hispanics correctly may find that's an expensive mistake, Martinez says.

"Think about it," she says. "We're talking about a population of 50 million people. This is a market that's growing. They're buying cars, they're getting mortgages, they're sending their kids to school," she says.

And they're doing it with companies and services that understand their myriad interests and cultures.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

A new survey released today gives fresh insight into the nation's growing Spanish-speaking population. There are now 50 million Latinos in the U.S., making up 16 percent of the total population. The Pew Hispanic Center asked a sampling of them questions about culture, social attitudes and life in the U.S.

And as NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, the survey began with a simple question.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: What do you call yourself? The Pew study asked people of Spanish descent from around the country whether they preferred Hispanic, which the Census Bureau uses, or Latino. Fifty-one percent said they had no preference one way or the other. For those who did, 33 percent preferred Hispanic to Latino's 14 percent. Mark Hugo Lopez, the center's associate director, says it's not the name. It's where you're from that counts.

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: More than half of Hispanics overall say it's the name of the country of origin of their families or their ancestors, names like Mexican or Dominican or Cuban, for example.

BATES: And Lopez says country-of-origin association is highest among immigrant Hispanics. But whether respondents were first-generation immigrants or third-generation descendants of immigrants, there was agreement on one thing.

LOPEZ: So in our survey, we found that virtually all Hispanics think that U.S. Hispanic immigrant adults should learn English.

BATES: But, says Lopez, they don't want that English fluency to come at the expense of an important cultural link.

LOPEZ: We also found that when we asked Hispanics about the importance of Spanish, virtually all of them say that it's important that future generations speak Spanish.

BATES: Laura Martinez is a marketing expert who writes and blogs about Hispanic consumer interests. She says one of the biggest misperceptions marketers make involves language.

LAURA MARTINEZ: Still, a lot of people say that all Latinos speak Spanish, or all Latinos speak Spanish only.

BATES: In an effort to reach out to an undertapped population, that assumption led to missteps like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BATES: To Taco Bell's credit, Martinez says, their marketing philosophy has evolved to something a little different. The current campaign is offering everyone mas for their money, which needs no translation. Blending cultures is a trend seen throughout the Pew study. Mark Hugo Lopez points to data that younger Hispanics are marrying outside their ethnicity at rates higher than the general population.

LOPEZ: So we're seeing, in many respects, Hispanics who are newlyweds marrying somebody who's not Hispanic. And that Hispanics and Asian-Americans are the ones most likely to do that compared to any other group.

BATES: More than 80 percent of Hispanics interviewed said they'd have no problem if their children married someone from a different heritage, whether or not that person was Hispanic. That's reflected in popular culture. Consider actress Sofia Vergara in the ABC sitcom "Modern Family." Sometimes the cross-cultural lines there become tangled as in this scene when her character chastises her onscreen husband for pooh-poohing her need to make offerings to her dead grandmother.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MODERN FAMILY")

ED O'NEILL: (as Jay) What? Are you still mad at me?

SOFIA VERGARA: (as Gloria) Yes. You have to apologize for making fun of my culture, my beliefs, my chuncullo, my abuela.

O'NEILL: (as Jay) I'm sorry. If you think your grandmother is here with us, I respect that. Now, come here.

BATES: In the end, says marketer Laura Martinez, it's all about inclusion. She says marketers like Nike and Apple are successful because they don't lean on ethnicity but show a mosaic of races and ethnicities using their products. Businesses that don't figure out how to approach Hispanics correctly will find that's an expensive mistake.

MARTINEZ: Think about it, we're talking about a population of 50 million people, and this is a market that is growing. They are buying cars. They are getting mortgages. They're sending their kids to school.

BATES: And they're doing it with companies and services that understand their myriad of interests and cultures. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Most Popular