The use and preference for English is a generational issue among Hispanics. While only 23 percent of Hispanic immigrants are comfortable speaking English, nearly all of their children born in the U.S. are fluent in English, according to a 2007 report from the Pew Hispanic Center.
Using only Spanish-language messages to reach Hispanics shows confusion over the complexities within the Hispanic population. These efforts have a role to play and can help touch on a sense of community among Hispanics, but they should only be part of the overall message.
The irony is that when these messages are aired only in Spanish, many Hispanics who have been in the U.S. for generations, and are often well established in the business community, don't understand them.
A Nuanced Story To Tell
"Right now, neither the Spanish-or English-language media are getting it right very often," said Dr. Schement, whose mother's father was from Mexico. "The problem is one of distinctions and understanding. There is a more nuanced story to tell. Whoever starts telling that story successfully is going to gain the edge."
The Untold Story
"The reason for that is that the success of English-dominant Hispanics, who are successful in business, education and government, don't meet the story lines of the past," said Dr. Schement. "Advertisers and journalists have trouble seeing Hispanics except as immigrants or barrier breakers -- as in he or she was the first Hispanic to do this or that -- they don't see us beyond this obvious story-line."
The media often loses the distinction between Hispanics and mainstream America once Hispanics become educated, get jobs and speak English without an accent. Yet, there is an ongoing and vitally important story there that remains untold.
Dr. Schement, whose first language is Spanish, but who speaks English without an accent, relates how a colleague once took him to a Mexican restaurant in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "When we entered the restaurant, my colleague said, 'I'll bet you're really feeling Mexican now'! I told him, 'I may not look Mexican to you, but you're not looking hard enough'."
Organizational Success Is Our Own
At the corporate level there is a level of isolation and individuality among Hispanics because they often lose contact with each other. "It prevents us from sharing our stories with each other," said Dr. Schement. "We aren't breaking barriers, but we are redefining our roles within the business world and within society at large, and that is a story from which all Americans can benefit."
Conversely, sharing that story, as it expands, changes and develops new levels of complexity, can also help cut into those feelings of isolation, and provide models for others to follow. Advertisers and the media must move beyond the barrier-breaker concept to the understanding that Hispanic business people aren't outside the corporate culture any longer, but are so much a part of it that organizational success is their own.
Misunderstandings abound, however. "The media has this erroneous attitude that once Hispanics get into a corporation and speak flawless English we've lost our culture," said Dr. Schement. "But that isn't true at all. Just the opposite occurs, especially as the career paths of Hispanics become more global. We don't lose our culture, we broker it."
Bilingual Media Emerging Strong
As traditional English language newspapers and regional magazines are struggling to compete in today's market, bilingual media outlets are thriving nationwide. In part, these regional and city media outlets are addressing Hispanic needs -- and increasingly mainstream America's needs as well. They are filling the local news void left by the shrinking traditional English language media. It is not unusual, these days, to see non-Hispanic consumers purchasing these bilingual papers in search of local news.
However, these regional outlets typically don't provide the higher level national and financial news required by most white-collar workers. Many must now read several different publications and peruse the Internet in search of the complete news coverage they need.
It is important to both sides that advertisers and the mainstream media focus on English-speaking Hispanics as a critical demographic.
"In the next ten years, the battle for the consumer dollar is going to grow increasingly tough," said Dr. Schement. "You'll see advertisers discover and go after this demographic more and more. Finding the right message will be key. Right now it's being seen that English-speaking Hispanics have lost their culture, but the successful advertisers and media outlets will be those who realize that's not the case -- we are living a nuanced life."
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