Have you ever thought about how hard it is to keep up with new words popping up often to describe people of Spanish descent, and you’re not just sure how and when to use them? As someone born and raised in South America, living in the U.S., and who has taught Spanish Language and Cultures at universities before, I often see and hear the surprise of non-Hispanics when they learn about the complexity of this segment. Some of the things that make us (Hispanics), and our culture so unique are the language and set of values. For the purpose and simplicity of this article, I’ll be referring to this segment living in the U.S. as Hispanics.
Hispanics, of any race, are one of the fastest growing segments in the U.S. (U.S. Census, 2020) with a population of 62 million, representing about 19% of the population. Given the relatively young composition of Hispanics, the U.S. Census predicts that the Hispanic population will nearly double in size within the next 40 years, meaning by 2060 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). That is from 62 million to about 111 million Hispanics. Thus, knowing and understanding this growing segment is crucial.
So, lets dig into some of the common questions I get about Hispanics.
Is Spanish Language the same everywhere?
The answer is… it depends. The Spanish language is the 4th most spoken language in the world, spoken in 20 countries, and has ten major dialects or variations, as well as tied to important cultural nuances. There are different accents or intonations that cover a range – think of the differences between English spoken by someone from Ireland and someone who grew up in the deep South of the U.S.
In the case of the Spanish language and depending on where the person is from geographically speaking their use of the formal vs. informal Spanish, and personal tenses (something important in Spanish, but not really in English) may be very different, and therefore impact how you converse with them.
For example, Spanish speakers might use vos or tú as an informal way of communicating, representing the pronoun you, both with different grammar conjugation and sometimes intonation. Typically used among friends, family, or someone we know well (but not older than us). However, the formal Spanish (usted/you), typically represents an even more respectful way of communicating with someone usually older than us, someone we recently met, or someone with a higher rank.
However, when in doubt most of the times, one can safely use the formal way of communicating instead, which is the “usted”. Why is this important? Because when communicating with Hispanic consumers during an interview we need to be aware of the language and cultural nuances, in order to show respect and communicate effectively. The Spanish language has several dialects and they’re often influenced by the geographical location where it is spoken, our participants or consumers might communicate and understand some words influenced by a specific dialect.
While the Spanish language is mostly the same, people from different Spanish speaking countries might use different words to describe one product or item, that might be unknown, have a different meaning, or even be offensive to other Spanish speakers. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to work with a qualitative researcher/moderator who understands the language and cultural nuances of the participants’ cultural background, in order to communicate in a culturally sensitive way.
So are you a Hispanic, Latino or Latinx?
You might have heard of terms Hispanic, Latino or Latina, and Latinx and be a bit unsure on when and how to use it. They actually encompass different variables and are not synonymous.
The term Hispanic was adopted by U.S. President Nixon’s team in the 1970s, in an effort to accurately count people of Spanish speaking descent living in the U.S. including those from Spain (think common language not geographical location). The term Hispanic was used for the first time in the U.S. Census of 1980. Whereas, Latino or Latina has a different connotation, think geographic location and not common language, and represents people from Latin American countries including Brazil (where they speak Portuguese), and excluding Spain, (think geographic location not common language).
Why is this important? Because the term Hispanic is widely used and commonly used in the U.S. particularly by non-Hispanics. Whereas the term Latino/a is widely used by Latinos living in the U.S. or in Latin American countries. Although when asking Hispanics where they’re from it’s common to hear their country of origin as an identifier first. For instance, if I’m from Chile I might say I’m Chilean, but might not say I’m Latina (as my first choice). So most individuals tend to identify with their Latin American country of origin first, then with the term Latino/a.
For most Hispanics the term Latinx is a controversial topic particularly among Hispanics who were born in the U.S. and those who immigrated to the U.S. The term Latinx is used as a gender-neutral term. However, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research (2020), only 23% of U.S. Hispanic adults have heard the term Latinx, yet only 3% use it to describe themselves, and they tend to be people associated with government entities, and attending or working at higher education institutions. The term Latinx is most commonly known by Hispanics ages 18 to 29 (Pew Research, 2020).
What Set of Values are Important to this Segment?
Set of values can be described as expected norms or ethical values/beliefs that help us determine what is important in our lives, help us focus more on some things vs. others. There are two common set of values, Individualist and Collectivistic, and it is important to recognize their relevance to the Hispanic market.
The Individualistic set of values is based on the autonomy of the individual, authenticity and interest of the individual compared to the interest of the group the individual might belong to. It is where one is responsible for its own success or failure, people with these sets of values tend to keep work and family life separate from each other. Individualistic people value independence and self-realization more than as a group. The Individualistic set of values is common in the U.S. and some European countries.
On the other hand, a Collectivistic set of values is based on the good of others, that is… my success or failure is based on the success or failure of my loved ones, I feel successful when I see my loved ones succeed. People from the Collectivistic group tend to value more structure, and keep family and work intermixed.
Furthermore, people with collectivistic set of values tend to see themselves as an extension of others, interconnected to others and value close relationships. According to AFS-USA they also value “social harmony, getting along with others, and meeting social expectations, as well as communicating in a more indirect style.”
The Collectivistic set of values is typical of people coming from Latin American and Asian backgrounds, whereas the Individualistic set of values is more prominent in the U.S. and some European countries. It is important to be aware of these set of values as it might influence the behavior and responses of participants, or what messaging resonates with them more than others. However, just because we know someone coming from these set of values we shouldn’t assume they still value that, we all adapt in different ways.
The Hispanic culture is complex, yet rich in traditions, colors, flavors, beliefs, music, and values. This article is meant to be an overview of some of the most common questions I get as a multicultural researcher, and it is not meant to represent every single Hispanic consumer we come into contact with, but it is good to be aware of it.
- AFS-USA. https://www.afsusa.org/study-abroad/culture-trek/culture-points/culture-points-individualism-and-collectivism/
- Pew Research (2020). About One-in-Four U.S. Hispanics Have Heard of Latinx, but Just 3% Use It. https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2020/08/11/about-one-in-four-u-s-hispanics-have-heard-of-latinx-but-just-3-use-it/
- United States Census Bureau (2020). Demographic Turning Points to the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060.