Op-Ed

June 21, 2014

Kicking around our new cultural reality

Americans are being seduced by the beautiful game. A total of 15.9 million viewers watched the U.S soccer team beat Ghana in the World Cup, which is just 2 million short of the viewership of the NBA championship between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat. Part of this increased interest might be because more communities are forming youth soccer leagues, which kids — and their parents — seem to love.

Americans are being seduced by the beautiful game. A total of 15.9 million viewers watched the U.S soccer team beat Ghana in the World Cup, which is just 2 million short of the viewership of the NBA championship between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat. Part of this increased interest might be because more communities are forming youth soccer leagues, which kids — and their parents — seem to love.

It would be impossible to ignore the fact that Hispanic families are contributing to the growing interest in the sport; a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 49 percent of Hispanics consider themselves soccer fans. This is just further evidence that Hispanic consumers are reshaping the mainstream market. This is a different experience for this country.

As a nation of immigrants, it was long expected and greatly desired that all newcomers adopt the values and culture of the United States, the way previous immigrant groups had done. Older parents were least able to assimilate, but they encouraged their children to learn to speak and write English, not only as a means to their own personal success, but also to serve as interpreters for the family. The older immigrants were least likely to speak fluent English, but their children picked it up quickly at the expense of the parents’ native tongue.

Hispanic families have taken a different approach. Hispanic households are multigenerational and likely to be bilingual; learning English is important, but so is maintaining the Spanish language. Nonetheless, Spanish-language dominance is decreasing as Hispanic millennials start to form their own families. These 18- to 31-year-olds are much like other millennials in that technology plays a significant role in how they communicate and socialize, but with an added twist that they continue to identify with their family’s country of origin.

Whether they are Cuban, Mexican or Nicaraguan, younger Hispanics stay connected to their specific countries, particularly when it comes to food and music. It speaks to the importance and influence of family for this demographic.

Marketers have been following these trends closely and experiment with bilingual advertising to appeal to these dual-language households, which are becoming the majority in significant markets. One in five in the United States is Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau, but in larger metropolitan areas such as Miami and Los Angeles, it is one in two.

So it is not surprising to see the growth in sales of items such as Mexican beer in the United States or the popularity of the mojito anymore than it is to see the growth of restaurant franchises that serve up an American version of Mexican cooking. Non-Hispanics flock to these restaurants. What is happening is an interesting phenomenon of assimilation and acculturation whereby both sides, Hispanic and non-Hispanic, are modifying their cultures to form a new melting pot.

This has now become a major discussion among marketing strategists as they consider how to plan for the future. What they are finding is that Spanish-language dominant markets are diminishing in size as the significantly younger Hispanic population enters adulthood. A study conducted by a group of political scientists, Jack Citrin, Amy Lerman, Michael Murakami and Kathryn Pearson, in 2007 found that although first-generation Hispanics lagged behind in learning English, second-generation Hispanic Americans mastered the language just as quickly as Asian and European immigrants. Their evidence directly contradicts one of Samuel Huntington’s assertions in The Clash of Civilizations, which erroneously argued that Hispanics were resisting assimilation. Marketing and communications executives have found the opposite is true.

What does this all mean? Culture is not static, it is constantly influenced by a variety of factors. Ironically, while some in the United States resent the changing face of America, other countries also resent the American cultural invasion with the proliferation of music, fast food and all things digital. The one common denominator worldwide, of which the United States is the last to develop, is the passion for soccer. Many Americans were surprised at how good it felt to win the first game. Made of pigskin or not, fútbol is here to stay.

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