BY MARGARITA MENDOZA, Editor El Observador
There’s more than one way to understand the Hispanic community, which is projected to grow “to 107 million by 2065,” according to the latest Pew Research Center projections.
People of Mexican origin historically have been the largest Hispanic population in USA. But there are some important numbers to consider — like the more than 5 million Puerto Ricans, more than 2 million Salvadorians, more than 1 million Colombians, and the thousands who come from Spain, all of whom make up the total U.S. Hispanic population.
While Hispanics may be similar in ways, the differences can make or break your communication effectiveness.
Presented here are 11 insights that might help you connect more effectively with your growing Hispanic and “south of the border” audiences.
(1) ‘South of The Border’ Is More Than Mexico
As mentioned above, not every country “south of the border” is Mexico!
In fact, there are 12 countries in South America, and while Spanish is the official language for most, Portuguese is spoken in Brazil. Sometimes Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking people understand each other’s languages, sometimes they don’t.
There are some other languages in South America, as well. For instance, a good amount of Bolivians speak Spanish and endemic indigenous languages. In Guyana, they speak English and in French Guyana, French.
(2) Differences Also Apply To Food
Not all Hispanic food is tacos and beans. There is diversity in each country and the variety is even bigger when you consider an entire continent.
Understanding a little about food will help you understand the diversity of your Hispanic audience.
(3) Culture Can Even Affect How People Look at Geography
For most South Americans, there are five continents: America (North, Central and South), Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania.
North America is Canada and the U.S., Central America is from Mexico to Panama, and South America is from Colombia to Argentina.
With these three first points I just want to create a context for the remaining points.
(4) A Word Can Have a Different Meaning in Different Cultures
Even though Hispanics share a language, words can have very different meanings in different countries.
An innocent word in one country can be offensive in another.
For example: “Hueva,” according to the Real Academy of Spanish, means “a mass that forms the eggs of certain fish, enclosed in an oval bag.” In Mexico “hueva” means laziness; in Colombia “hueva” is an aggressive way to call someone a fool.
(5) It’s Colombia, Not Columbia
Make sure you know that Colombia is a country in South America that is not spelled “Columbia.”
It is exasperating when media talk about “Columbia,” and you’ll lose readers if you are, in fact, referring to Colombia, the country.
(6) ‘Latino Time’ Is A Real Thing
Although many Hispanics have adapted to the U.S. and the cultural preoccupation with a ticking clock, many others haven’t.
“Latino time” means that everything happens at least 15 minutes later than original time. So, when you plan an event expecting or encouraging Latino participation, keep this in mind. Don’t be offended if you begin your activity and groups of Latinos walk in 15 minutes after you begin.
This is especially important if you write an entertainment section.
(7) Translation — There’s Really Not an App For That
Don’t use an app or Google to translate something important to Spanish.
First of all, you may end up saying something that you don’t want to say. (See point No. 4.) Secondly, you may present a nonsensical idea. Just think about how many meanings there are for the word “left.” The same is true for Spanish words.
If you want a good translation, ask a Hispanic translator, communicator or interpreter.
Presenting an article in English and Spanish is always a good way to reach Hispanics because you can speak to those who are full bilinguals and bicultural, those who are bilingual, those in the process of learning English as well as those who only read or like to read Spanish.
Needless to say, make sure your Spanish version is written in proper Spanish and with good grammar. Real Academia Española is a great tool.
Did I mention make sure the translation is not from an app?
(8) Hispanics Love Social Media — So Use It
Social media is a great tool for Hispanics to communicate with their relatives here and in their original countries. And Hispanics like apps.
One of the most popular is WhatsApp and is probably used more than regular phone calls.
(9) Speak To A Variety of Topics
Many Hispanics, especially those coming from more-distant countries, have at least a college degree and are interested in diverse topics — the economy, culture, science, politics, religion, just to mention a few.
But we also enjoy soap operas (novelas) and music.
(10) Consider What Generation You’re Trying To Reach
Will your message be sent to a first-generation group? Or do you want to reach newcomers?
A story about Venezuelan art or cuisine would appeal more to those recent arrivals because they tend to have more nostalgia about their homeland, and a story about a new Venezuelan/American Fusion restaurant would more likely appeal to first-generation folk completely adapted to the U.S. culture.
(11) Talk To Your Audience — And Listen
If you want to successfully reach your Hispanic communities — talk to them.
Use people of different countries in focus groups. Hire a Hispanic reporter or freelancer. Have that person cover the cultural issues, the people and their activities, not just a sporadic article here and there.
Cover the positive side of Hispanic culture. Visit Latino businesses and write about their successes.
Ask questions, build relationships and reach out on social media with events and stories that matter to your Hispanic audience’s homelands as well as local communities.