Commentary: Race Ain’t Nothing but a Number

In the past couple of decades, a gradual increase can be seen not only in the purchasing power of Latinos, but in the efforts of marketers to reach their wallets.

The Wall Street Journal’s article yesterday entitled “Pitches to Hispanics Get More Nuanced” highlighted that though at one point marketers for companies like General Motors created advertisements in Spanish for the Latino community, now their marketing has begun to include English. This change has occurred because GM and other American companies have finally realized (and believe in) the heterogeneity of the Latino community.

The Pew Hispanic Center reported in December 2007 that 88% of children born in the United States to Latino parents categorize themselves as fluent English speakers, compared to 23% of the foreign-born Latino population. This phenomenon has been written about countless other times by young Latino authors like Hector Tobar, whose “Translation Nation” won a Pulitzer in 2006, and Arlene Davila, who first wrote about marketing to Latino audiences in “Latino, Inc.” The question should be what took these companies so long to focus on the Latino market and what finally convinced them to do so.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center’s research of the second-generation adult children of immigrants, at least two-thirds, speak both English and Spanish at home, work or school. Furthermore, the more education foreign-born Latinos have the better the English the speak.

The math then becomes easier: more education plus more English equals more spending power and more money spent to make them spend.

The fact that the longer Latinos spend in the United States and the more education they get translates to a higher income appears like great news. However, the immigration debate doesn’t seem to focus too much on the need for more immigrants to sell products too. Instead, the debate centers on the “illegal” manner in which these immigrants arrived in the United States.

But alas, here lies the conundrum. Without immigrants (documented or undocumented) and their children (documented, undocumented, Spanish or English speaking) to sell too, American companies won’t meet make money. And in our capitalist system, this number counts more than anything else.

Below are a few Optimum Online commercials that target the bilingual second-generation Latino.


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