One afternoon at Brackin's store, shopper Maria Aguilera is filling up a shopping cart being pushed by her daughters Karina, 6, and Yovanna, 8.
"They used to be hard to find," she says of Mexican brands as she stocks up on a few containers of El Mexicano "Mexican-Style" strawberry yogurt. "But now, you can find them in more places, so I come where I can get the best price."
Some retailers also are finding a surprising amount of crossover appeal for Latino brands and products.
"Non-Hispanic buyers might taste a Mexican papaya at a party, and they come in looking for them here," Alarcon said. "Or they try out some other product, and they come back for more. It's still mostly Hispanic, but the appeal of the products is broadening out all the time."
Allen and Brenda Arnett of south Sacramento are a case in point. The couple were recently perusing the Food Maxx shelves for canned chiles, part of their quest for the perfect salsa.
"We don't usually shop here," Brenda Arnett said, "but we're just learning to make this stuff, and a friend told us we could find the real ingredients we need here."
The crossover market, however, is a bonus; the principal target remains Latino. Hispanic Business magazine reported in July that companies spent $2.46 billion in advertising targeted at Latinos in 2002, an 11 percent increase from the year before.
But successfully aiming advertising at the Latino market takes more than just a Spanish translation of an English campaign.
"Latinos are fiercely loyal to products, but you have to establish a comfort level and a level of respect first," said Los Angeles advertising guru Anita Santiago. "... (Y)ou have to have some insight into the culture."
Santiago, the daughter of an American father and a Cuban mother, grew up in the jungles of Venezuela and cut her advertising teeth in the jungles of Southern California. Armed with a degree in clinical psychology, she opened her own firm in 1987 and has specialized ever since in marrying mainstream companies to Latino consumers.
When the California Milk Processor Board approached her for help with its "Got Milk?" campaign, for example, she pointed out that a literal translation of the slogan could be construed as "Are you lactating?"
"I explained that Hispanics don't really drink a lot of milk by the glass, and certainly not with peanut butter sandwiches," Santiago said. "But we do use a great deal of milk in cooking, especially desserts … so we designed a campaign that reflected the Latino culture."
Santiago's campaign focused on the idea of Latino parents caring about their families by making sure milk was in their diets. "Got Milk?" became "Familia, Amor y Leche" ("Family, Love and Milk").
Product purveyors aren't the only businesses seeking the Latino dollar. More than 75 banks in California, for example, now accept matricula consular cards as proof of identity from people opening accounts.
The cards, which in one form or other have been issued for more than a century by the Mexican government to Mexican nationals in other countries, have been criticized for helping illegal immigrants establish themselves in the United States. In addition to banks and other financial institutions such as credit unions, about 800 police departments and local government agencies around the state and country now accept the cards as proof of identification, and in July, the managed health care group Health Net of California announced it too would accept the card as a valid form of identification.
But legislation pending in Congress, under the mantle of national security, seeks to ban banks from accepting the card along with requiring the State Department to deny visas to citizens of countries that do not comply with strict U.S. anti-fraud requirements.
Proponents of the legislation say it's a needed tool in the war on terrorism.
The cards "provide an opportunity for terrorists to move freely within the United States without triggering name-based watch lists that are disseminated to local police officers," FBI intelligence official Steve McCraw testified before a Congressional committee in June.
In opposing the legislation, however, financial institutions say it's not a security or immigration issue, but a bow to the realities of the marketplace. Wells Fargo, for example, reported about 80,000 new accounts using the card in the first six months after it started accepting them in November 2001.
"We believe that banking services ought to be made available to everyone so that they can manage their money without carrying large sums of cash," Bank of America executive Gabriel Manjarrez told a congressional subcommittee in July.
Bank officials pointed out that they do require additional forms of identification, though they acknowledged that the additional IDs don't have to establish an applicant's legal residency status.
"We are trying to bring financial services to the Hispanic community," said Wells Fargo spokeswoman Miriam Galicia Duarte. "We want them to open bank accounts, to succeed financially … this is just good business practice."
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