Feb 08 2010
In Arlene Davila’s Latinos Inc., the author explores the various dimensions and dynamics of Hispanic marketing in the United States. She starts the book by nothing that the Hispanic market is a multi-billion dollar industry that, since the turn of the 20th century, has developed in cities with dense populations of Latino Americans (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami being a few examples), and that is has been run mostly by Cubans. She continues by mentioning how in the 1960s, the latter group of Latinos bought intermittent time from English stations for Spanish Television, formed the Spanish International Network (later named Univision in 1986) and Telemundo, and how in 1961, Mexican TV entrepreneur Emilio Azcarraga bought entire television stations in San Antonio and Los Angeles, thereafter forming the Spanish International Network (SIN) and the Spanish International Communication Corporations (SICC). Since non-citizens of the U.S. couldn’t own more than 20% of stations, Azcarraga had his business partners and employees convene on his behalf.
The idea most prevalent in the book is how Hispanic marketing not only produces cultural symbols and ideas, as well as reflects social hierarchies, but also how advertisers often target Latino Americans as one giant, monolithic group (or “nation”) of people with nearly exact/identical looks, values, and customs, instead of as individual persons from separate Central and South American countries who are all culturally different. According to Davila, this is a problem because it marginalizes the Hispanic/Latino population, and, as mentioned in chapter 3, creates the idea of the “Walter Cronkite” Latino/Hispanic, one who is portrayed in the media as a generic, unaccented light-skinned person devoid of any specific regional background. In addition, Hispanics are often represented with a particular “image” as fun-loving, brand-loyal immigrants who value tradition, religion, and family above all else. In the 1960s, Cuban advertisers and marketers who relied on instinct, class background, and experience, rather than research, to create an image, perpetuated these stereotypes, representing Hispanics on TV and in advertisements as lively, colorful, dancing groups of people, and showed this as the “right” way to be Hispanic. Davila mentions Lionel Sosa, the founder of the company Bromley, Aguilar, and Associates, as having tried to assert that unlike how they were represented, not all Latinos were people who immigrated to the U.S. and didn’t know a word of English. Many, like him, were not only born in the U.S., but were also bilingual. In addition, he tried to debunk the stereotype that they were all conservative, family-oriented people who ate a lot, didn’t venture outside of their neighborhood, and were overzealous about their own nationality. When Davila discusses stereotypes, she talks about how they’re not intrinsically good or bad, and are in fact “necessary components of human interaction and communication,” but how they are also detrimental to society because they “reduce complexities to a few limited social conventions…[and] engender social hierarchies.” Companies and marketers such as Proctor and Gamble, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, Sears, and McDonalds cater to the supposedly poor, but large Latino families, telephone companies and Kodak exploit the stereotype that all Latinos have a nostalgic desire to return to their homeland, and in their advertisements often show images of lush country sides, colonial villages, and the amenities of soccer, exotic foods, domino sets, and Spanish guitars/mariachi bands in order to promote their long distance telecommunication, and, as in the case of a 1999 Hispanic soap opera La Usurpadora, women are often represented as either traditional housewives whose sacrifice and devotion can fix all family problems, or as “overly sexualized, loud, and hot tempered [‘whores’].” Also, in her book, Davila talks about how in the past few decades, Anglos have been depicted in Hispanic marketing as being dumb or ignorant in comparison to Latinos, and overall, how not only have American symbols such as cowboys, jeans, and the Statue of Liberty been “Latinized,” but also how marketers have tried to promote a conceptualized image of the “wholesome, white middle class family” and its American values to the Latino community.
Although our discussions were brief this past week, I think the most important point of interest the class picked up on was that like The Overspent American, Latinos Inc. is basically about how marketers try to advertise to “everyone,” and how in the case of the Latino population, this has marginalized the latter group of people. Also, I think it was important how we mentioned the different aspects and dynamics of individual Latino countries (an example being that in Guatemala, citizens speak Mayan rather than Spanish, and must be taught Spanish before learning English in the U.S.), and how when immigrants come to the U.S., they do not fully “assimilate,” but rather take part in a hybridization of cultures. Also, before our discussion, I didn’t know about Tejanas in Texas and the experience of racism in the past similar to that of African Americans in the south, I didn’t know that Rhode Island has a heavy Portuguese population, and I didn’t know how there was such a place as “Asland” between the U.S. and Mexican border where 1960s Chicano movements took place.
By Peter H. Smeallie IV
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