All students are aware of some form of Latinization in America. The Latino presence in the US is so significant that students are usually able to identify (and often enjoy) a variety of people, foods, programming and music from this widely encompassing ethnic group. Whether they eat tacos, watch Dora the Explorer or sing Jennifer Lopez songs, kids have participated in Latino culture through their own consumerism. However, many of them are unaware as to how and why images, information and products for and about Latinos became so accessible in mainstream American society. What made this particular ethnic group so different from others that it required a plethora of products and marketing designed specifically for them?
As the largest minority group in the country, it would be easy to assume that Latinos are accommodated in the US simply because of their numbers. However, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, Columbians and other groups, did not always fall into a single category. In this unit, students will see how the US census helped in creating a homogeneous label for all people of Latin American/Spanish origin or descent and how Spanish language television networks have assisted in establishing and maintaining those labels. Categorizing Spanish-speakers in this manner also combined their purchasing power, making them a compelling demographic. The comprehensive Latino category, constructed and preserved by both the state and mass media, allowed Anglo politicians and companies to look at and target people from various national, generational and racial backgrounds as a singular demographic.
Learning about Latinos through the context of consumerism will allow students to understand how something like the Hispanic marketing industry emerged and why major companies have come to rely on information from such agencies when trying to reach this powerful and profitable demographic. More importantly, the unit will underscore the cultural differences that are obscured whenever Latinos are profiled by marketers as a homogeneous unit. Looking at advertisements designed to target Latinos as a whole, and focusing on the specific target audience of such ads, will remind students that despite a common language, Latinos are indeed very diverse.
Throughout the school-year, students compare traditions from the various Spanish-speaking countries, becoming aware of some of the different customs of Latinos. This unit will continue to highlight some of these cultural distinctions that are often overlooked by advertisers and mainstream America as a whole. Although labeled and targeted as an unvarying group, the images, language and sounds that evoke both positive and negative emotions among Latinos vary depending on a number of factors. A study on the Latino impact on American consumer culture will not only raise student awareness beyond their typical role as consumers, but it will also remind them of the rich cultural variety that has been simplified, or ignored, with the creation of a Latino market profile.