Today marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), which celebrates Hispanic culture and the contributions of Latinos in our country. As Connect360’s multicultural specialist and one of its resident Latinas, I’m always on the lookout for information regarding the Hispanic community. Recently, I read an interesting infographic from the Latinum Network about U.S. Hispanics’ changing attitudes towards Spanish (http://www.latinumnetwork.com/infographic-of-the-week-u-s-hispanics-changing-attitudes-toward). The infographic cited statistics from the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project which indicated that 75% of Hispanics feel it is very important that future generations of Hispanics living in the U.S. be able to speak Spanish. This is a 12% increase from 2004 when 63% of Hispanics shared this sentiment.
In terms of what’s driven this shift, the infographic cites that younger Hispanics have received greater encouragement from their parents to speak in Spanish. To me, this is not surprising since in the Hispanic culture, Spanish isn’t just a language, it’s a common denominator and a way of life. For example, there is a multitude of Hispanic ethnic groups living in the United States (Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and a host of others from Latin America and the Caribbean). All have different traditions and customs but Spanish provides the common thread and a way to bond as Latinos, despite the varying nationalities.
Spanish also serves to unite Hispanic families and generations in lasting ways. While many younger Hispanics are fluent in English and acculturated, it’s still very common for them to speak mostly Spanish at home, particularly if they live in a multi-generational household. How else are they going to relate to Mom and Grandma while they’re watching their favorite telenovela soap opera? As a young child, I wasn’t just encouraged to speak in Spanish, it was the only choice I had! My Cuban-Chinese parents taught me Spanish straight out of the womb (along with sprinkling in some Chinese in honor of our ancestors). They also made sure that I had plenty of exposure to Sesame Street, Elmo and other furry English-speaking friends so that I would do well when it was time to start school. However, maintaining our native language and heritage has always been important and these values have served me well to this day, both personally and professionally.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, many companies and nonprofit organizations will have a heightened interest in seeing how they can effectively reach the growing and prosperous Hispanic market. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about developing a greater integration when targeting different ethnic segments and adopting a more “total market” approach. However, it’s important to remember that language and culture remain key for effectively connecting with the Hispanic community.