The challenging and changing role of identity when marketing to Latinos

There can be a significant clash of identity than when it comes to the distinction of being Latino in the United States. We are torn in between two cultures, trying to find the ground that suits us and our surroundings best. Unfortunately, the ground can feel like it doesn’t exist, as when doing the right thing for one culture we find that we are at odds with the other. Take calling ourselves American for example. Externally spoken, this can be a sense of pride, but to others it can be either a denial of our roots or an attempt at trying too hard to blend in. Throw in the notion that outside the United States but within the Americas, saying that one is “American” can encompass originating from any country across the two continents (North America and South America). Trying to situate an expression that you are in a sense from two cultures can add confusion to one’s understanding and appreciation of self. Here’s a brief video from Gabriel Iglesias capturing a little bit about explaining this dilemma:

The situation is complex but deserves attention, particularly when considering marketing approaches. Various sectors or categories have been created to describe where one Latino exists according to culture as opposed to another (Alvarez, Dickson, & Hunter, 2014). These variations range from resisting the dominant culture altogether, blending the two cultures together, to existing on the edges of both cultures but not really casting either one as main (see Fig. 1). Segments rating both U.S. and Hispanic identification for Latino individuals in the U.S. have been created to help locate where the Hispanic mindset might be as it relates to their perception and understanding of self (Alvarez, Dickson, & Hunter, 2014).

Alvarez, Dickson, & Hunter (2014). Journal of Business Research

Alvarez, Dickson, & Hunter (2014). Journal of Business Research

But why does this matter in the first place?

Most of us are probably familiar with the Hispanic population trend. Census figures as of 2014 indicate that there were 55 million Hispanics in the United States, making them the largest ethnic minority in the country (, n.d.). As you narrow this closer to home, in this case, California, and ultimately Los Angeles, the Hispanic population is both the largest here for any state and any county in the country. With the buying and political power associated with this continuing trend, there is also the role of needing to understand the multiple layers and conflicts of this population so as to better connect with them as a neighbor, consumer, and influencer of culture. Enter Hispanic generation 1.5.

Language knowledge and preference were once used to simplify the categories that Hispanics would fall into: Spanish dominant, English dominant, and bilingual (Villa, 2012). With the influx of children who enter the United States at a young age such as Hispanic generation 1.5—defined as children of Latino descent that entered the countries as adolescents—there can be a mixture of educational and cultural needs to be addressed.  And this may be at the center of a bigger identity issue than first/second generation Latinos (like myself) encounter and struggle with.

From a marketing perspective, this issue needs to be explored further. I’m not sure it is clear what media consumption and advertising language this generation prefers. Is it English? Is it Spanish? Is it a mixture? Is it both? Does it matter? Furthermore, in day to day interactions, what culture do they lean toward? I ask these questions because I have found myself struggling with these ideas and concepts in the past myself, and I’ve been in the United States since day one. And though I take pride in my family’s histories and traditions, I know I am often at a disconnect on several fronts with first cousins (for example) who were raised differently and experienced more about life’s trials at a younger age based on the cultural circumstances that were a part of our youth.

In an article on Advertising Age, Lopez-Knowles (2014) grapples with this issue of identity and culture and captures its essence, writing:

This is a core component of the bicultural Hispanic and it’s foundational to our conflicting values. We are raised in a familial environment that expects passionate, concurrent conversations, and valuing family over self, vs. being taught in U.S. schools that educate us about self-reliance and independence. In fact, it took me years to realize that many times when I was acting in a self-reliant way, my parents interpreted it as acting selfishly. (para. 9)

Conversations and studies about all Hispanic generations (first, second, and of course 1.5) should extend beyond fundamental and conventional necessities such as language and education and into other areas. Such areas may include deep explorations into identity, navigating multiple cultures, and maintaining comfort and confidence with that which we are, and that which we are not.  It is only when we begin to examine, understand, and accept the richness, value, and distinguishing characteristics of our many layers of culture that we can begin to realize our full potential. Moreover, this can help leverage the consumption and delivery of media from a narrative that puts us in closer cultural proximity with those that came before us, those that will arrive after us, and those that find themselves somewhere in between.


Alvarez, C. M., Dickson, P. R., & Hunter, G. K. (2014). The four faces of the Hispanic consumer: An acculturation-based segmentation. Journal of Business Research67(2), 108-115.

Lopez-Knowles, M. (2014, October 7). Marketers: Bicultural Hispanics Need to be Heard, So Give Them a Voice. AdAge. Retrieved from

United States Census Bureau. (n.d.). Facts for Features: Hispanic Heritage Month 2015. Retrieved from

Villa, J. (2012, February 2). Generation 1.5 Hispanics. Retrieved from (n.d.). Latino, soda, tv, and cake. Gabriel Iglesias YouTube channel. Retrieved from

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3 Responses to The challenging and changing role of identity when marketing to Latinos

  1. Kristina says:

    Alejandro – this was fascinating to read. I myself am a mix of Boricua and “Gringo.” I have struggled with all you have written about. It is not easy balancing one’s roots, present living circumstances, and connecting with fellow Latinos. I found it interesting the 1.5, I hadn’t heard of this name for those who came to the states as adolescents. My boyfriend is from Guatemala and moved to the States when he was twelve. I’m curious to share what you’ve written with him. In regards to marketing, this is a fine line to handle as it’s almost a catch-22. On the one hand, as you pointed out, if the advertisement is in English then you are neglecting your heritage and, for some, the advertisement can be considered “above” or “too good for” the Latino audience. And yet, if the advertisement is entirely in Spanish then it’s considered ignorant and “not American.” (By the way, so glad you explained the use of “American” outside the U.S. – most people don’t know this.) Perhaps a mix – Spanglish – would be best, but in the world we live today where everyone gets offended at any little thing, even this wouldn’t be a win-all solution. Despite the issue of language, I agree that the various degrees and layers of Latino community in the States needs to start being truly understood as best possible; not because I’m biased being, as my Puerto Rican cousin dubbed me, a “halfee,” but because at the moment Latinoas make up the largest minority in the U.S. That’s a huge market to tap into no matter the business.

  2. Alejandro says:

    Hi Kristina. Thanks so much for your comments! I think you bring up another important trend for Latinoas, and that is being of mixed backgrounds. My kids are half Filipino, so we kid around by calling them Mexipinos! lol. But seriously, identity is an important thing. I’ve done my best to extend the Spanish language into my kids generation, but I often find myself dipping into Spanglish as well. I heard from a vendor that marketers are using this approach. Having and ad in English, then throwing in some Spanish–almost like a surprise. I’d be curious to see its effects because it does sound like it can have some impact. And I totally agree, there is no win-all solution. But we can try! 🙂

  3. Cecilia says:


    This is an interesting topic, both from an marketing perspective but also from a personal point of view. As you pointed out, mixed backgrounds are increasingly common and need to be accounted for in all areas of life. I was born in Sweden but have lived in the United States for almost two decades. I am married to a Mexican born in the United States. I am not yet sure how our child will identify, but I am guessing that she will feel like we do, that belonging to many communities makes life richer. And that the more diversity there is in marketing, the more it reflects how most of us feel, look and identify.