Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hispanic Assimilation

The study I referred to below is “Linguistic Life Expectancies: Immigrant Language Retention in Southern California,” by Rueben G. Rumbaut, Douglas S Massey and Frank D. Bean. It has appeared in this month’s Population and Development Review and it’s available as a PDF download here, or go to the Princeton University site.

Its first sentence: “Empirical research generally supports the view that Latin Americans in the United States assimilate linguistically.”

Although it has just been released, this paper is already having a major impact on public policy discussions (as I mentioned). It’s not as though the study’s authors – academics all – are trying to play into some anti-immigration agenda. Browsing among their credentials and writings doesn’t place them on the right of the political spectrum, but rather more on the left, IMO.

Rumbaut, Massey and Bean portray shifting ground here, since the study would seem to indicate that the “American Melting Pot” gets every immigrant group sooner or later. It doesn’t have an immediate effect on marketing or advertising to first- or second-generation Hispanic-Americans…right now. It does support learnings from other sources, though, that Hispanic-American kids are more likely to be reached in English – again, IMO.

The study also suggests that when you choose to market to Hispanics in the US, you should choose your demographics carefully, the same way you’re supposed to do it for any other marketing effort.

What do you think?

1 comment:

The Colonel said...

"It does support learnings from other sources, though, that Hispanic-American kids are more likely to be reached in English – again, IMO."

I don't agree. Richard, the conclusions being drawn about this study fall into a classic trap-- using past or present behavior as an indicator for future behavior when, in fact, the factors driving the current behavior may not remotely apply to the future, since today's factors may be different. Even the study authors themselves did briefly allude to this. In fact, it seems to me that third-generation Latinos in 20 years very much will be retaining Spanish, in contrast to the third-generationers of today.

You have to remember that the presence or absence of Spanish retention for today's Third-Generation Latinos depends largely on decisions and attitudes adopted by their parents and grandparents, in particular, so you have to go back to the conditions of 35, 40 years ago, and back then the linguistic and social picture was extremely different for Latinos-- let alone the demographic picture. Back then, Spanish was considered a major obstacle to social advancement and economic self-sufficiency. It was seen as a useless language, stigmatized in elite circles even by many other Latinos. There wasn't much advantage in knowing it, and Latinos themselves weren't that numerous as a proportion of the population.

Today, things are extremely different. Spanish retention is regarded as extremely advantageous for not only securing a job, but it's a social asset. Spanish radio stations dominate parts of the country and are growing fast. Spanish media from TV to magazines to newspapers are growing and ubiquitous. Latinos have political power, and they also have substantial demographic power. Spanish is also being used in schools and offices in much of the country-- remember that following the Mexico War, a series of treaties stipulated that Spanish would be protected in the SW (in Fla for other reasons), and so if Latinos want to retain it, they have legal sanction to do so.

Most importantly, Spanish today has economic value and social cachet to a very high degree, with Latinos and Latino culture a major social force, something that was not true 35-40 years ago. As a result, Latino families today vigorously encourage their kids and grandkids to retain Spanish, the opposite of decades ago. Having worked with literally scores of Latino families, I haven't found a single one encouraging their kids or grandkids to lose Spanish as was the case in prior decades, and in fact, Spanish is being encouraged as the primary idiom.

In fact, even third-, fourth-, fifth-generation Latinos who had lost Spanish before are now going back and picking it up again, while even Anglos-- kids and adults both-- are becoming fluent in it. Spanish is now a very important public language for business and fundamental communication across broad stretches of the country. I don't find anything alarming about this, but it's the truth and it's a very novel, fascinating development in our national culture.

The point is, I suspect that if anything, marketing in the near future should if anything be done even more in Spanish than is currently the case, since Spanish acquires progressively greater importance. Even among bilingual Latinos, Spanish is the key mode of communication. Spanish also continues to gain in importance almost every day while increasingly gaining sway in public discourse. Again, today is very different from 35 years ago. Spanish should if anything be growing as a medium of marketing products and brands.