The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach

As a cultural dimension for US Hispanic, FOOD and EATING convey so many meanings and implications that they don’t fit only in the act of feeding the body with nutrients.  From the process of cooking to the serving and enjoying of a meal, Latin people take their food very seriously. A mother uses food and its preparation to show love to her kids, a family gathers around a table with a banquet to get together and share quality time and a lover will seduce the significant other by cooking something special. Food then becomes love and appreciation and that is the case in many extracts of literature. For instance, in Like Water for Chocolate, Tita de la Garza , the novel protagonist, was able to express her feelings of lust and desire  for Pedro when she cooked a special meal made out of quail in rose petal sauce flavored with Tita’s erotic thoughts of Pedro, “ It was as if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce, in the tender flesh of the quails, in the wine, in every one of the meal’s aromas” (Esquivel L. 41).  The food is the vehicle to express passionate love and desire and that is a cultural insight quite useful for marketers. There is an old proverb that says: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, in other words, cooking food for a man will win his love and that is something Hispanic women know cause it has been taught from one generation to the next. 

 

Esquivel, Laura. Como Agua para Chocolate. Like Water for Chocolate.  Grijalbo Editorial. Caracas, Venezuela. 1994

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Latina’s Power 2: A game of thrones

Trying to explain machismo from a Latino point of view seems like a-not-so-very-difficult task.  When you type down the term in Google, the very first reference comes from Wikipedia and it explains it as the belief in the supremacy of men over women.  Then it goes on with terms such as: androcentrism, male chauvinism and even misogyny. So, in a very simplistic manner, machismo could be socially expressed and perceived in all those actions where men take advantage of their gender in order to leverage their influence within their relationships.  But let’s keep one thing clear, as in physics,  Newton’s third law can be applied in this cultural dimension  when trying to understand the dynamics of the social interactions:  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and that is the case for machismo. US Hispanic women have developed some very subtle ways of influencing over their male counterparts. In some cases, that female influence gets stronger and more evident, and it develops into a well-established matriarchate. This matriarchate phenomenon gets also fueled by another social–economical   trend: single motherhood. Societies in Latin-America suffer from this social tendency and one of the consequence is the increase of power and influence of women within the family structure.

 

That increase in influence of women and their social presence gets its manifestation in many pieces of Latin-American literature. Doña Barbara from Venezuelan novelist Romulo Gallegos tells the story of  a very controlling woman named Barbara Guaimaran, also known as the men’s devourer,  who used every possible mean to gain and keep her power and control over the land she  ruled and Santos Luzardo’s heart.  “She is a woman who has whipped many men… and she does with them whatever she pleases” (Gallegos, R. 38)  This novel might go a little too far when describing the ways in which a woman gains control but one thing is for sure, US Hispanic women have developed their own delicate and persuasive power of influence.

 

One thing we can extract as marketers from this cultural insight, inside a US Hispanics home, women know how to be the power behind the throne.

 

 

Gallegos, Romulo. Dona Barbara. Venezuelan Ministry of Education Editorial. Caracas, Venezuela.1964.

 

Latina’s power

Some of the very remarkable OBJECTIVE aspects of every culture are easy to stereotype and that is the case for the Latina woman. It is true that Latinas like to dress and behave in sexy ways, wearing colorful clothing, skirts and tight  garments. Some of these stereotypes are commonly seen in media, movies and magazines. Lately, in a very popular sit-com show called Modern Family, Sofia Vergara (a Colombian actress) portrayed a Latina woman with this dressing code and it was quite a success, becoming one of the main characters for the TV show. With this and some other media examples (Telenovelas and beauty pageants), it would be easy to misunderstand that Latinas are mainly fashion-oriented and in some instances maybe superficial.  But don’t get them wrong, they can be very flirty but the Latino woman is a very strong and determined one and that you can tell by knowing some of the SUBJECTIVE aspects of this culture.

To really understand the behavior of the Latina woman is very necessary to realize some of those intangible elements  (Subjective culture) of their society. It is well known that Latino societies are “machistas” (word derived from Spanish and Portuguese, where it has the meaning of a belief in the supremacy of men over women, a strong sense of masculine pride) and for this reason Latinas have developed very elaborated and subtle ways of power and persuasion in order to “control” their household and husbands. In some cases, they have evolved some sort of tacit matriarchate. Marketing experts know this and that’s why they understand that Latino women have a lot of decision power when it comes down to understand who makes the buying decisions in a Latino home. If a “marketer” wants to reach the Latino woman, it is better and more effectively done by using this subjective aspect of their culture rather than using only the sexy and outgoing trait of their personalities.  

We are “Spanglish”

It is good to remember that a language is much more than a system in which we communicate. We learn about the world that surround us by using language as a tool, so language mediates between us and the world. We could assume then that if the world around us changes, the tool could also change as well.  Let’s also remember that languages are organic, ever-evolving structures. They transform and they grow within the society they work and that transformation can happen in one-generation span or it could take some more time.

So, whether “Spanglish” is only the result of the “Hispanicizing” of some English language words or the switching of codes between two languages , we could definitely say that “Spanglish” is one of the results caused by the transformation of Spanish originated by  the interaction between U.S and Latin-American cultures.

Many not-so-very-flattering things have been said about Spanglish:  Octavio Paz, the Mexican Nobel prize winner writer, has said the Spanglish is not good or bad, it is abominable. The tongue of the uneducated (Stavans, I. p.3) has also been a description for this new structure.  The language purists will always see “Spanglish” as an aberration of both tongues, but this new construction is without a doubt the survival tool for a lot of Latin-American people interacting with the U.S culture. Let’s consider that evolution: adapt or perish.

As marketers we need to grasp this phenomenon. If we really want to understand the culture of U.S. Hispanics, it is mandatory that we deeply comprehend the codes, processes and stages of Spanglish. Every generation of U.S. Hispanics will be more deeply involved and immersed in the process of adaptation to the new culture.

First generation of immigrants, those who came from their country of origin as grown ups and try to adapt to the new society, will use Spanglish as a survival tool. For them, that new tool has a different purpose and it is used in a different context. They grew up having Spanish as their mother tongue, their first memories will have Spanish as language as well as their first socialization stages and most of their education process. Those individuals will develop different feelings towards Spanish, English and Spanglish.

It is a whole new game for later generations of U.S. Hispanics. The deeper they are in the adaptation process, the more different the context and the situations in which they use their different languages and codes.  For a third generation, English as a language has a totally new meaning. They were educated in that language, they interacted with their friends and were socialized by them in English, so for that reason they might use Spanglish in a different way.

It is not a matter of whether is good or bad, or abominable, or for the uneducated. Spanglish is a cultural consequence of the clash of two cultures and as marketers we need to understand the whole process. Depending of whom we want to talk to we should use a different code.  If we want to make a deep connection with first generation U.S. Hispanics, we should use Spanish but that might not be the effective way if we want to do the same with later generations. For the latest ones is a new environment, and like Marshall McLuhan said “Environments are not just containers, but are processes that change the content totally.” (McLuhan E. p. 275)

I am going to wrap up by quoting Ed Morales from his book Living in Spanglish: The search of the Latino identity in America: “I realized that the working definition for Latinos or Hispanics should be ”everything “.  All races, all creeds, all possible combinations. Then I thought we should call ourselves “Spanglish”, because it was a word that expressed what we are doing rather than where we came from.” (Morales E. p.2)

Spanglish: the making of a new American language. Ilan Stavans. Harper Collins publishers. NY. 2003

Living in Spanglish: the search of the Latino identity in America. Ed Morales. St Martin’s Press. NY. 2003

Essential McLuhan. Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone. Routledge, NY. 1996

There is only one race: HUMAN

I am going to start by quoting Shakespeare: “ What’s in a name? that which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet”. This is what Juliet says in reference to The Montague and the implications for them as lovers of the meaning of his house. This episode in Shakespeare tragedy reminds us of the consequences that can be drawn from the using of names and labels, and this might be the case for the “Latino” or “Hispanic” name.

Some of these consequences are good and some might not be that good.  As human beings we need labels and names in order to apprehend new concepts. That happens with every piece of new knowledge acquire by our brains. We need names and labels in order to understand and put every single idea, abstract or not, into our mental boxes.  So, when the immigrants from south of Rio Grande, with some common history, religion, ethnic, linguistic and social similarities  started to be noticeable and worthy of understanding, a label and a name that grouped them and put them into the little mental box was necessary. This naming or labeling somehow helped to understand the phenomenon of “Latinos” or “Hispanics”  at the beginning. As marketers, the label and name helped to categorize this population in order to develop messages, products and services to satisfy the needs of this special  group of people.

But these names and labels can also be very un-useful and un-appropriate because they can lead to wrongful generalities and sometimes to terrible deviations like prejudice and discrimination.  It is true that there are similarities among the population of central and south America.  There are some common elements like language, religion, history and social behavior but naming or labeling such a complex diversity of people under just one term can be very misleading. There is not a thing as a typical Hispanic or Latino so when asked about  what race are Hispanics , it is not an easy task trying to get an answer for that. America in general is a continent of mixtures, and it has been like that since day one.  In Latin-America for example, the XV century Spaniard and Portuguese arrived to the new continent as a mistake and then realized it was a land full of riches. They took some of them home but left quite much here too. The European pioneers started to mix with the American locals and so a new “race” was born. The same happened with the Africans brought to America to work as slaves. They mixed quite well too. That mixture came in as a part of an evolutionary social- historical process: adapt or perish. As a consequence of this process , it can be said that there is not a “pure taxonomy” or classification for the result of this evolution.

Nevertheless, we still need a name if we want to be recognized as a group. We need names, labels and leaders if we want to survive but let’s use them carefully, rationally and with ethics. There is a race in Hispanics, it is human race.