A Rare Look at the True Relevance of Hispanic Heritage Month

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Here I am, a returning Hispanic immigrant (I’m from Caracas, where I served as general manager of the FCB Caracas office for the past four years) writing for our global blog about a very local U. S. celebration called National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Seen from afar, this topic might be relevant to less than 0.2% of all potential FCB readers (based on my guess of the proportion of U.S. Hispanic employees among all FCB employees worldwide). However, if your time and interest allows, I’d like to share with you two things:

1. General information you can use at your convenience in conversations, trivia games or when playing “Who wants to be a millionaire?”
2. Some insight and perspective on the subject (or at least my perspective that I can only hope you find insightful).

The general information

In 2010, the United States census unearthed an astonishing truth: the demographic composition of the United States had changed dramatically and Hispanics had become the largest minority in the country. Today there are more than 53 million Hispanics in the U.S., with a median age almost 10 years younger than the rest of the population. Their purchasing power has also risen significantly, surpassing $1.2 trillion by the year 2012.

To put these numbers in perspective, U.S. Hispanics would be the third most populated country in Latin America (trailing only Brazil and Mexico) and its GDP would be among the world’s top 15 economies. The future is even more jaw dropping: by the year 2050 there will be over 120 million Hispanics in the U.S. — more than the projected population of Argentina and Colombia combined!

No wonder media, marketers and ad agencies are paying attention, trying to find the Rosetta Stone, the Holy Grail, the door to a market that is growing at unprecedented rates. Even politicians are keeping a close eye, as was evident by the cover of Time magazine’s March 5, 2012 issue headlined “Yo decido. Why Latinos will pick the next President.”

To many, the celebration of the Hispanic Heritage Month might just seem as a knee jerk reaction to the census numbers. Nothing is further from the truth.

Hispanic Heritage Month has been observed for over 40 years in the United States, long before marketers and advertisers discovered that targeting to Hispanics made strong business sense. Yet I’m not sure my non-Hispanic U.S. colleagues know about it.

To be absolutely honest, it was only after doing some research that I learned about its origin and transcendence. Every year, from mid-September to mid-October, the entire United States “celebrates and recognizes the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to American society and culture and to honor five of our Central American neighbors who celebrate their independence in September,” according to the Library of Congress.

It started in 1968, when congress passed a public law requesting the then U.S. president, Lyndon Johnson, to issue a proclamation designating a Hispanic Heritage Week. Years later, in 1988, also by an act of public law, the week extended to a month. The latest available presidential proclamation in the digital Library of Congress archives was issued by President Obama.

The insight and perspective

Hispanic Heritage Month is not about the numbers. It’s not even about just celebrating Hispanics.

Hispanic Heritage Month is about a population coming to terms with its identity. The U.S. as a whole discovering that it is more multiracial, multilingual and multi flavor than ever. It’s about immigrants and their children understanding the profound impact they are having in the most powerful country in the world while realizing that we are at the same time Venezuelans (or Mexicans, Colombian, Puerto Ricans), Latinos, Hispanics and some, Americans. It’s about a society recognizing and tackling a cultural tension while celebrating diversity as a two-way street. The country is more diverse in its ethnic composition, and individuals also become more diverse by interacting with people from different backgrounds and origins.

In my new role as head of multicultural planning at FCB Chicago, I’m responsible for guiding our office in this journey, which is extremely exciting and scary at the same time. I have more questions than answers. I’m searching for the truth but will only probably get to “partial truths,” and once there, new chapters, questions, and new “truths” will arise.

A bonus

So, even if you are not a U.S. Hispanic or Latino, even if you don’t live in the U.S., accept my invitation to use Hispanic Heritage Month as an excuse to embrace and celebrate diversity — in your community, your city, your country and the agency. It’s not only about who we are, but about who we will inevitably become.

Salud!