Our Latinx identity is complex, and for some, controversial. I was born and raised in Chicago, the daughter of Mexican-born parents. I was brought up by Mexicans and by America, navigating midwestern schools and a career with a Spanish name. During my childhood summers in Mexico I experienced the heritage of my family, and navigating two cultures just seemed natural. It’s just what people like me did, well before we ever knew that an identity had already been assigned to us.
It is what led me to be a marketer. Translating thoughts, languages and ideas is second nature to those of us juggling phone calls with familia, brunches with Chicago friends and, eventually, boardrooms pitch decks. Being a bridge is a role I’ve long accepted and am now excited about at work — creating bonds between cultures and translating what that means for brands and consumers.
I remember introducing myself as Argee in school and at my first jobs to avoid mispronunciations of my first name and to fit in. Frankly, to make it easy for them to fit me in. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30’s that I decided to embrace my Spanish name, take up space, and to stop shrinking my name down for anyone. I am inspired by Latinx youth who are challenging us to rethink and reinvent the way Latinx people are portrayed. The desire to use one word as a common identity has its pros and cons. On one hand, it has the potential to unify us when discussing our contributions to this country; on the other hand, it is a term used in the U.S. Census and in our marketing plans that perpetuates the idea that we are monolithic.
Last month, Hauswirth/Co kicked off Hispanic/Latinx Heritage month by co-hosting a fireside chat with local Latinx marketers at the top of their game. One guest shared “my husband is Black, I’m Latina. My mother identifies as Mexcian. What box are my kids going to check?” Even among leading marketing experts, the adjectives used to describe our community varied: Hispanic, Latina/o, Latinx, Spanish, Mexican American, Chicano, etc. The words we choose to use will continue to evolve — here is why.
As a Latina marketer, I believe we should stop using “Hispanic” or U.S. Hispanic in our marketing plans to reference 60 million Latinx people. Most Latin American countries have a complex relationship with Spain. As former colonies, we’re still healing from the oppression and erasure of Afro-Latinx and indigenous people.
I believe we all achieve progress by using the word “Latino/a” because it refers to people of Latin American origin rather than alluding to our oppressors. If you’re Spanish, like music artists Enrique Iglesias and Rosalía, you are from Spain and therefore not Latinx. And if this sounds confusing, just wait: We can always count on Latinx youth to straighten (or over complicate!) things out for you via Twitter. For example, when Rosalía won the “Best Latin” award at the VMAs it sparked backlash on who’s considered Latinx versus Hispanic.
As I learned from my 26 year-old sister, the word Latinx has grown in popularity because it’s more inclusive and empathic than Hispanic. We can’t deny that Spanish is a romantic language and very gendered. “Latinx” first appeared in Google search trends 15 years ago, as Latinx youth sought a word that is more inclusive.
Ultimately, a healthy dialogue grounded in history and personal experiences is necessary for us to learn what adjective individuals/consumers prefer to use. Among marketers, this dialogue will elevate our campaign briefs, our work culture and inspire work that maybe my sister and my Mexican parents can rally behind because of their Latinx “orgullo,” our pride.
The role of brand marketing
We all win when have diverse perspectives at the table because we are making progress in trying to better understand each other, and we aren’t treated as a monolith–because we aren’t. Understanding nuances about people, culture and behaviors in cities in which the Latinx population is higher than the national average will better inform a campaign brief and allow for creativity to flow into an authentic space where brand marketing can influence culture and create movements. HP’s campaign “What AREN’T they?” challenges the stereotypes of what is a #LatinoJob and it was produced by a powerhouse of Latinas. Companies like Sephora pushes fluid identity with messages that celebrate diversity and inclusion. So much noise and negative rhetoric surrounds our communities right now; brand marketers have an opportunity to create something meaningful in the marketplace like HP and Sephora that goes behind just pushing products and services.
Our youth want to see accurate and authentic representations of our diverse community and will reward brands that reinvent the standard of diversity in our industry. Are we ready to do this together? Por que juntos salen las cosas mejor.