The Hispanic Tipping Point

Guest Commentary

Earlier this month, the National Latino Media Council issued its annual report card and gave the broadcast networks improving marks for increasing programming diversity. But beyond the entertainment industries, American business needs to notice the paradigm shift that is happening. An enormous generation of American Hispanics is coming of age with great expectations for how their dual cultures should be recognized and represented in the media and in society at large.

Hispanics are often treated as a niche audience but are mainstream by their numbers alone. Today, fully 20% of U.S. births are to Hispanic mothers. With 70% of the nation's 37 million Hispanics under the age of 30, they represent a coveted audience by Madison Avenue.

For this generation of Hispanics, it's no longer about assimilating into American culture. Assimilation has given way to a new idea: acculturation, or retaining one's native culture while incorporating it into what it means to be American. It's about being Mexican and
American, Colombian and

Many Hispanics have two lives: They listen to hip hop with friends but dance to salsa at home, watch novellas
in Spanish with grandma but IM with their classmates on the computer.

Hispanic purchasing power is expected to nearly double to $926 billion by 2007. David Perez, president of Latin Force, a leading Hispanic media and marketing firm, often says, "What hip hop was to the '90s, Latino culture can be to the next 10 years." That's a powerful idea and one that all media must take into account when creating and marketing content.

Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer,
a series about a bilingual Latina, has forged a special emotional connection with Hispanic families because she represents a positive character who embodies acculturation: speaking Spanish and English, and being proud of her Hispanic background and making it an integral part of her everyday life. Incidentally, it is the No. 1 preschool show in commercial television and has become a $1 billion property.

The roots of acculturation have always been there. As the son of a proud Puerto Rican mother, I am reminded of a trip I made to Puerto Rico in 1983. The island was about to get its first American, English-language cable-TV feed. I felt sure this pipeline of Americana would have a profound, culture-altering Americanizing effect on Puerto Ricans. My mother fervently disagreed.

In her best Dona
(authoritative) voice, she said, "Herbert" (she calls me that only when she's really angry), "that will never happen here. Puerto Ricans will always be Puerto Ricans, no matter what." Fast forward to last winter, when, on another trip to Puerto Rico, I asked a cousin if the MTV feed there should be in English, which it is, or Spanish? His response was an emphatic, "Both."