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Navigating the Hispanic-Latino-Latinx Landscape

Navigating the Hispanic-Latino-Latinx Landscape

Though the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are now a catch-all used by government, brands, and market researchers to identify people whose identity is linked to Spanish-speaking countries, this was not always the case. The term “Hispanic,” for example, only recently entered the U.S. Census after much debate in 1980.

Confusion arises in regard to race, language, and the glaring omission of country of origin, sparking countless dinner-table conversations, and for some who fall into the “Hispanic/Latino” category, these terms fall short.

As the holiday season gets underway, it’s the perfect time to remind marketers of the diversity within this community.

Definition and re-definition

U.S.-born “Hispanics” make up the majority of the U.S. Hispanic population, according to the Pew Research Center, and nearly three quarters of them are Millennials or younger.

This group is largely using the term “Latinx” to self-identify. With origins in online communities, “Latinx” seeks to acknowledge all the pluralities (including racial and gender) associated with, or wrongly omitted from “Hispanic/Latino.” While the term may seem esoteric or perhaps too political, brands should pay attention.

Representation matters

This summer, I attended a three-day Latin Alternative music festival called Ruido Fest (“Noise Fest”) in a historically Mexican/Mexican-American neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. While many festivals cater to “indie” musicians of all creeds and genres, Ruido is one of a handful in the U.S. that focuses on Latin music both from the U.S. and abroad. Ruido departs from the standard music festival format by putting its mission statement at the forefront, staking its claim in a historically significant community.

Attendees were largely Millennial and younger and composed of a mix of immigrants from South and Central America, and U.S.-born Hispanics. This group of ethnically diverse young people have in common the ability to exist in multiple cultures at once; they’re also an elusive group for many brands. By incorporating diverse musical styles and curating for inclusivity and representation, the festival successfully engages the multitudes contained within the “Hispanic” identity (we can listen to rancheros and punk in the same day) and creates a valuable touchpoint through which brands can interact with the community.

Understanding brand permissions in a space: a success story

Like many festivals, Ruido Fest engages with corporate sponsors, like Toyota which sponsored a shaded stage, providing much needed relief from the summer heat for bands and DJs throughout the day. The Toyota Music Den featured two new car models that festival goers could sit in, and in exchange for a brief survey and consumer info, take home a vinyl disc etched with their name and the city skyline of their choosing.

This concept was successful for two main reasons: first, by providing a platform for artists, the brand aligned itself with the mission of the festival without actually treading on or co-opting identity politics. Second, Toyota created an opportunity for self-definition that incorporated both the festival goer’s name (their heritage) and their favorite city (their current identity). Instead of slapping a label on them and telling them what they should respond to based on  demographics, this activation asked the festival goers to show how they identify and then created a custom souvenir based on that. The result? Lines of festival goers around each car and plenty of exposure and brand equity for Toyota.

It’s not about the term, it’s about the message

For brands, it is not about substituting one term for another. Never mind the debates around “Hispanic” versus “Latino.” Where it is acknowledged, “Latinx” can be just as contentious. As far back as December 2015, the news and media site Latino Rebels pointed out that some see the term as a form of “linguistic imperialism.” What is inclusive for some can be an affront to others.

What can be gleaned from this debate around identity is that the (often U.S.-born) portion of the largest ethnic segment of the population has a lot on its mind regarding who they are and what they would like to be called. The emergence of “Latinx” captures the attitudinal convergence of children of immigrants who want to be properly represented, and the Millennial mindset which values self-determination and authenticity.

Rather than focusing on the word, brands that seek to create a relationship with this group ought to pay attention to what “Latinx” indicates about the population. Instead of taking for granted labels placed on individuals who consider those labels to be problematic at best, individuals are now defining themselves and declaring which affiliation is most meaningful to them.

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