'Bicultural' Has Moved Beyond Simply Meaning Two Cultures

Younger Hispanics Don't Limit Themselves to 'Hispanic' and 'Mainstream'

By Dieste Published on .

[Editor's note: Diestepedia is a wiki of Hispanic phrases and culture created by Dieste. The agency is working its way through the alphabet, one entry at a time. "Authenticity" is the first entry.]

As Diestepedia moves along the alphabet, it is time to tackle the big B for bicultural. If the term "insight" is among the less understood and most used in advertising, "bicultural" is certainly the least understood and most poorly used in Hispanic advertising. We'll never straighten them out completely, but we can begin to try.

Bicultural as Bilingual
Although these words are frequently used interchangeably, they are really quite different. Bicultural Hispanics have surpassed 60% of the population, according to Synovate, but people speaking English and Spanish (indiscriminately and with no preference for either) barely make up 20% of the population. While it's possible to be bicultural to some degree or another, you can either speak two languages perfectly or you cannot.

However, this is just a theoretical difference. In practice, most research and marketing companies abandon the category of pure bilingualism by asking people for their language of preference. Then, they qualify anyone who can speak some degree of both English and Spanish as bilingual.

One consequence here is that marketers tend to assume that bicultural Hispanics speak English fairly well. So, they ask why they should translate anything at all to Spanish. Well, maybe they shouldn't. In the "wiki-words" of an interactive expert: When a client asks me, "Why should I translate?" I answer, "You shouldn't. You should change your content, not your language, and give people options, because the freedom to choose how to interact with the world is the essence of being bicultural."

Bicultural as Perfect Fusion
Fusion: Spanglish, reggaeton (regaton), and cross-cultural experiments in the kitchen -- these are what people associate with biculturalism. It's a fertile territory for creation. It's innovation, two cultures enriching each other.

AT&T tapped into this fusion several years ago with a campaign portraying a U.S.-born Latina fashion designer inspired by a mariachi band and a young U.S.-born teenager mixing musical genres. His creation? A new musical called rapacheras.

And the result of that: Traditionally tied to very low acculturated Hispanics, the AT&T brand took off in 2006. It reached a much better stereotype, the "perfect bicultural," a more politically correct (and profitable) segment than the traditional Latino and the recent arrival.

Bicultural as B.I.G
B.I.G. stands for Bicultural Influence Group. Biculturals are a big segment not only because they represent two thirds of the Hispanic market, but also because they're an aspirational group that the rest of the market wants to belong to.

Instead of Latinos trying to become more acculturated and "gringo," now traditional and even assimilated Latinos are trying to reach a bicultural status. And that goes for gringos too. Fewer and fewer find anything cool or profitable in being "just white."

Bicultural as Bi-cultural
The key to understanding biculturalism is accepting and embracing its complexity instead of looking just for the "Anglo" side or a simplified combination of the two worlds.

Probably the best example of simplification was the 2006 Toyota Hybrid Super Bowl commercial: a dad explaining to his 4-year-old son how the hybrid system works similar to the way they live their biculturalism.

This was an adequate explanation for a 4-year-old, but today's marketers need a more nuanced view of biculturalism if they want to effectively target the B.I.G market.

The complexity first comes from the very obvious fact that we are talking about two cultures. It's what we called bi(two)-culturalism, usually represented by two situations:

  1. The conflict over dual identity: People connect with products and services that help them relieve this dichotomy, especially bicultural moms torn by traditional Hispanic values on one side, and acculturated expectations on the other.

  2. The opportunistic duality: Individuals who can jump from one culture to another, depending on circumstances, might say, "I'm like a chameleon when it comes to features and fitting in, adapting to Hispanic and Anglo situations." But the same person continues, "I'm not like a chameleon when it comes to culture. My culture is distinct and mixed up."

Biculturalism as Multiculturalism
Which culture is this second person talking about? Not the American one, or the Latina one. It's a new culture itself. This distinct culture is "bicultural" as opposed to "bi-cultural" (conflictive or opportunistic). This is the third way in which biculturalism is expressed, inherent in the name and concept of MTV3 as opposed to Mun2.

It also is a way of bicultural identity that best captures the essence of the U.S.-born Latino millennials, which opens a new chapter in our challenge for understanding biculturalism in a globalized world.

Nowadays, with different minority cultures exerting more influence into the mainstream, and urban hubs mixing things up, multiculturalism is becoming Bicultural 2.0. In the words of a young Cuban-American posted in Diestepedia: "To believe that our entire society is anything but multicultural is outdated. In the new world with modern technology, I'm not limited to two cultures."

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