1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to secondary content

HS News Network

What makes Hispanics “Hispanic”?

Our guest blogger is Nicolette Alex-Sands who is a student at Florida State University, Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication

“Me, a name, I call myself,” is a lyric from The Sound of Music’s “Do, Re, Mi”-but it is also a concept and a construct that individuals regularly deal with, both consciously and subconsciously. How does one describe themselves? For some, it’s as easy as taking the dichotomic approach: female or male? Black or white? Gay or straight? And so on. But for most of us in the United States, it is not that easy to fall into one category or another. The US is unique in that her population is composed of people from, or who can trace their blood back to, every nation on earth. This fact is compounded by the notion that in the US, certain freedoms are accorded to the individual, roughly meaning that in America, one can be whomever they want to be-and subsequently give a name to that persona. How we perceive ourselves translates into how we present ourselves, including how we choose to navigate the world around us. In the greatest consumer culture on the planet, these perceptions have a bearing on the purchases we make, and in return, the products and services we exchange for our money. Simply put, our identities shape what we consume and what we consume shape our identity.

So what of the most rapidly growing segment of the US population-the Hispanic market? How does one self-identify as Hispanic, and how does this influence consumer behavior? How much of a bearing does a label such as “Hispanic” or “White” or “African-American” have on how purchasing decisions are made? How much of the tailor-made advertising for a specific demographic is effective on influencing purchasing decisions? Do those that identify as Hispanic or Latino follow an ingrained methodology for making purchases or are they swayed by influences outside of their “culture”? What makes a Hispanic “Hispanic” and how does this influence what they buy?

First, how does one come to call him/herself “Hispanic”? Is everyone okay with that label? Armida Averette, a successful general manager of a popular hotel in the resort town of Key West, is a first-generation American in her early 60s. Her parents relocated from Cuba to the island in the 1930s. When asked “what” she is, she responded, “Well, I’m an American woman. But I am also a Cuban woman. And I guess that makes me Hispanic, but I don’t think in terms of ‘Hispanic’-I guess because I am older than the word!” She enjoys Spanish-language programming, specifically telenovelas, as they remind her of her late mother. She enjoys the commercials on Univision, but she says they don’t typically sway her one way or another. When she makes large purchases, she typically consults family members, such as her eldest sons (her husband is deceased), as well as her sisters-and-brothers-in-law. Family perception-a typically “Hispanic” notion-and experience matter most to her. (Her middle son, Alan Averette, considers himself an “all-American boy”-his blond hair and hazel eyes can be traced back to his father’s Castilian roots. While he grew up in a busy, bilingual and bicultural household, he considers himself completely “acculturated”. He agrees that when it comes to making big purchases, such as cars or appliances, he factors in his mother’s and brothers’ influence, as well as that of his “brothers” at the firehouse where he is inspector. He does not care for advertising, in English or Spanish!)

Not everyone identifies in this way. Ricardo Caceres, whose family runs a popular café in Key West, spends a great deal of time going back and forth between the island and his hometown of Merida, Mexico to be with family. He has spent nearly two decades living and working in the States, and considers himself to be more and more “American” every year. When I ask him to describe himself, he says that he is a “Mexican, but becoming a ‘Mexican-American’”, and that as time goes on, and his daughters get older, he will spend more time in the States, as he feels that they would benefit from the education path to college in the US. Ricardo says that he probably would never say he is Hispanic, but if he were asked if he were Hispanic, he would concur, and note that he is from the Yucatan. He is proud of his heritage and his people. What matters most to him when he sees advertising is that the people in the ads are portrayed as “good people, doing good things”. He does not care for commercials that depict selfish or greedy acts. He says that when he sees that, it turns him off from considering the product, because he would not want to be seen in the same light as the character associated with the product. He says that “greediness” is one aspect of American culture he does not care for. However, if he sees an advertisement, in Spanish or English, that promotes family and “good values”, he is more willing to consider the product. When asked what he considered to be “good values”, he noted things like community involvement, environmental awareness and “respect for all people”. The most recent automobile purchase he made was for a Honda Accord, due in part to their reputation for environmental responsibility, and that several of his American friends-some Hispanic and some not-own them and reported that they were “good cars to own”. He says that as he has made more inroads into American culture, he trusts non-Hispanics more and more, but initially he “stuck to his own” when he first came to the States to live and work. He feels that if he had moved to a big city like Miami, he might have not become so acculturated, and the influence of other Hispanics might have played a bigger role in his life. Yet since he moved in a multi-cultural and diverse small city like Key West, he was more willing to open up and get to know others. He says that his friendships with non-Hispanics play a big part in his life and he is glad that his family came to the island.

Our thoughts shape us. How we perceive ourselves influences the decisions we make, painting the portrait of who we are to the world. The labels that we attach to ourselves can change, they are not fixed. Experience guides the way we grow and make decisions along the way and we look to those near us to help us out to make the best decisions possible. A defining dynamic in the US is how and where and why we spend our money. A common trait among those who identify as Hispanic is that they value the opinions of those nearest to them-namely family and friends-when it comes to making decisions about everything, including purchases. Marketers need to be aware of this when designing campaigns targeted to a Hispanic market. They must also be sensitive to the differences between each sub-segment as well, for not all Hispanics are created alike. Research must be conducted to see what motivates the wide-ranging groups that compose the Hispanic market in the US-as well as what might offend potential consumers. The identity of the Hispanic consumer-as with all consumers-is ever-changing.