Marketing the Hell Out of Our Heritage

Three Quick Tips for Hispanic Heritage Month

By Published on .

Laura Martinez Laura Martinez
It's only been 10 days since the official kickoff of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) and my inbox is already flooded with all kinds of "muy caliente" stuff: Latin fiestas, piñata parties, "Hispanic savings" (whatever that means), plantain-cooking on live television, Latin single beauties just for me, a Miss Caliente beauty pageant and so on. You get the picture ... it's a very colorful one.

For the uninitiated, Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of Latin culture, first decreed as a National Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and later extended by President Ronald Reagan to a month-long observance in 1988. In a nutshell, the month celebrates the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. (Why Hispanics need a full month to celebrate their roots is still a mystery to me, but that's another story.)

And, as you might imagine, the celebration is used ad nauseam by marketers peddling their wares to the 44-million-strong Hispanic population in the U.S. But in doing so, many are still falling into stereotypical traps and, in the worst case, making real fools of themselves. And trust me, this is by no means limited to Anglo marketers; our very own "professional Hispanics" are in on it too, marketing the hell out of our heritage, one way or another.

But for those timid souls looking to cash in without embarrassing yourself, worry no more. Since we still have a couple more weeks to go, and because I feel in a generous kind of mood, I thought marketers could use some of these "no-nos" when it comes to Hispanic marketing:
  1. There is no such thing as "Hispanic-language." People from Spain and Latin America (except Brazil, British Guyana and French Guyana) speak Spanish, not a "Hispanic language," as technology company Tinbu might want you to believe.

  2. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence day. Mexican Independence is celebrated on Sept. 16. The Cinco de Mayo holiday stems from a battle against the French that Mexico surprisingly won ... though a few days later, the French came back to kick our beaner butts and we lost the war (don't ask). So, it's better to think about Cinco de Mayo as a really cool holiday to sell beer, chips and avocados. But stay away from explaining its historical meaning. Mexicans are still trying to figure that out.

  3. Not everything we do is "caliente" (i.e. hot). But if you insist on using the word, then try to use it correctly. El Cantante Caliente, (as seen in a recent Yahoo! headline) does not mean JLO's movie (El Cantante) is hot, as in hot-blockbuster-hot. It means the singer is horny. OK, he might well be, but I doubt that's what they meant.
And all this brings us back to hot Latinas, colorful sombreros, spicy plantains and so on. But what the hell! It's Hispanic Heritage Month, so let's smash a piñata, dust off the maracas, go out on a caliente date and say, hey, enjoy your heritage, it's Cinco de Mayo!
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