Is There Such a Thing as Hispanic Identity? Despite All the Variety, Yes.

By David Morse (Ad Age Big Tent Blog)

Is there such a thing as a common Hispanic culture? The Pew Hispanic Center just released a study suggesting that, considering how Hispanics identify themselves, the answer may be no.

We know there is great diversity within the U.S. Hispanic population. Pew’s biggest finding is the paucity of U.S. Hispanics who identify with the label “Hispanic” or “Latino.” Only a quarter. Half of Hispanics identify more strongly with their family’s country of origin. And another 21% said that they use the term “American” most often to describe themselves. When asked whether Hispanics have many different cultures or if they share a common culture, 69% indicated the former.

Are we then fooling ourselves when we attempt to market to a segment that we call Hispanic, but that doesn’t perceive itself that way? I don’t think so.

Much in the study suggests that a common Hispanic culture does exist. Some 95% of Hispanics believe it is important for future generations of U.S. Hispanics to speak Spanish, an interesting finding given that less than half of third-generation Hispanics indicated that they speak Spanish. But 87% say that it is important for Hispanic immigrants to learn English.

Some things, like language and identity, change with acculturation. Two-thirds of Hispanic immigrants in the study say that they think in Spanish, while 80% of third-generation Hispanics answered that they think in English. Two-thirds of the native born responded that they think of themselves as typical Americans, while two-thirds of the foreign born said that they were “very different” from typical Americans.

Yet the study reveals that other things, such as attitudes and values, have more staying power. For instance, with acculturation, Hispanics are more likely to agree that most people can be trusted. Yet even third-generation Hispanics are much less likely to agree than the general population. Similarly, third-generation Hispanics were much more likely than the general population to agree that people can get ahead with hard work or that bigger government is a good thing.

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