The Four Keys to Understanding Acculturation

05/25/11 . Chiqui Cartagena

Whether you are new to Hispanic marketing or an old veteran, understanding what acculturation is and what it means is not easy.  The main problem is that “acculturation” has become one of those overused terms that is hard to define and even harder to measure.

Contrary to what you may think, people have been acculturating for a very long time. This is not new.  And acculturation happens to all people – not only Hispanics. You see, by definition, acculturation is “the process of adopting cultural traits and social patterns of another group,” so it applies to anyone who leaves one cultural environment and goes to another one. So if your job moved you to Paris next week, you would start acculturating the moment you arrive and for as long as you stay there – whether you learned French or not.

You see, the first key to understanding acculturation is that it is not just about language. It’s about cultural traditions, values, food habits, etc. People who are acculturating have a choice to either keep the customs they had before they came to their new host country or adopt some of the new customs they are exposed to.

The second key to understanding acculturation is also the reason why it’s impossible to measure: because it’s an individual journey. Each person acculturates at a different rate based on a whole slew of factors like the age at which they emigrated, their educational level, the geographic location where they settled, their profession and work environment and so on.

Unlike other groups of that came from Europe to America in the 1800’s or 1900’s, Latinos have been able to keep their language and traditions alive thanks — in large part  — to several key factors: the proximity of Latin America, the ease with which one can travel back and forth, the large and growing presence of Spanish-language media and, of course, the great advances in technology, which allow for people to easily stay in touch with their home country and culture.

What many people have a hard time wrapping their brain around is the fact that two thirds of English-dominant Hispanics say they want to retain their Hispanic culture, which leads us to the third key to understanding acculturation. Folks, it’s actually quite simple: acculturation is additive, not subtractive. Acculturating simply means having more choices…it makes my life richer, that’s for sure.

As we say in the New American Reality video, my duality is my reality. I can eat tacos or Cheeseburgers; watch the World Cup and the Superbowl; dance to salsa and Rock & Roll, well – I think you get the gist. So marketers who want to tap into the Hispanic opportunity need to keep this in mind. If you think you are reaching me with your general market approach… think again. I’ll take more notice if you try doing something that is actually culturally relevant to me, whether that is done in Spanish or English.

Which leads me to the last key to understanding acculturation: my cultural duality creates a cultural appetite for content that is relevant to me. My music, my way of life, my news, my sports, all my passion points! Today that cultural itch is primarily satisfied through Spanish-language TV.

This is where most marketers get stuck. While it’s true that Latinos, especially bilingual Latinos are watching TV shows in English, Nielsen research shows that on any given night, Univision delivers more bilingual Hispanics than American Idol, Dancing with the Stars or Modern Family.  Now those are numbers anyone can understand.

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