Business Monday

Manny García-Tuñón: Hispanization: cooling down the pot

Manny García-Tuñón.
Manny García-Tuñón.

Hispanic Heritage Month began Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15, and and as a Hispanic business columnist I thought I would write this column not exclusively for Hispanics in business, but about Hispanics and business.

One of the more prominent and respected financial institutions in the United States (if there is such a thing anymore) has, over the past 10 years, produced a series of research reports on Hispanic demographic trends. In 2004, Goldman Sachs’ report, The Hispanization of the United States, was prepared to educate investors on the growing influence of Hispanics in the U.S. economy and provide an investment framework that would assess ensuing opportunities.

In 2005 it followed up with a second report, a portfolio strategy entitled Revisiting Hispanization: Three New Ideas, wherein Goldman Sachs advised that firms are “incorporating Hispanization into strategic decisions.” In 2007, Goldman Sachs released its third Hispanic research report, U.S. Hispanization: Long/Short Strategies, in which it announced that Hispanic demographic trends were continuing along their projected path and offered three strategic angles to invest in Hispanization.

Today, Goldman Sachs is following its own advice by targeting Hispanics, the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States, by “embracing culturally diverse communities” with “culturally customized” products and services like Why? For the same reason you should. Because Hispanization is real, and it looks like it’s here to stay.

So what is this trend known as Hispanization? Why is it garnering so much attention from the most powerful corporations in the world? And why should your company pay close attention to it as well? To answer that question we must consider not only what Hispanization is, but also what it is not.

Hispanization is the process by which a place or a person absorbs the characteristics of Hispanic society and culture. What Hispanization is not is assimilation — the process by which a minority culture absorbs the characteristics of the dominant society and culture.

We are a nation of immigrants, yet the conventions that have defined immigration as an evolutionary process thus far have changed.

Until 50 years ago this process would generally end with the assimilation of the minority into the mainstream the way a piece of ice dissolves in a vast melting pot — hence the phrase. Even the random, pre-surge Hispanics assimilated to a much greater degree than their 21st-century counterparts. You would expect a few random pieces of ice to melt in that proverbial pot, but what do you suppose would happen if you added over 52 million pieces of ice to the mix?

You guessed it, cold soup, otherwise known as gazpacho. The good old melting pot has cooled — and that has created a whole new set of challenges. Why? Because not everyone likes gazpacho.

For years, Hispanic businesses in the United States had to walk a fine line, balancing their cultural identity with the reality around them. Looking back over the past 50 years at the success of so many first-generation Hispanic immigrants is awe-inspiring — especially when you consider that for many, their first order of business was survival.

But perhaps their greatest accomplishment lies not in their obvious business success, but in their unsuspecting contribution to this powerful new phenomenon, this serendipitous mutation within the immigration evolutionary process we now call Hispanization.

I don’t mind admitting that as the third generation in a three-generation Hispanic family business, I have it easy. I obviously owe that to my grandfather and my father, but not simply because they provided me with a solid business model. They, like so many others, helped bring about the Hispanization of our society, which in turn has made it easier for me and countless others like me to be successful. I now appreciate why my parents and grandparents insisted that I speak Spanish despite my resistance during my youth.

As a result of their efforts to preserve our culture, Hispanization now provides tens of millions of Latinos with a raised platform from which to jump beyond ourselves. Now we’re in demand. Now corporate America wants to reach us. Now they’re hiring young Spanish-speaking professionals. Now we’re hot.

If you are a Hispanic reading this column, remember that we owe a debt of gratitude to our parents and grandparents for all they have done for us. I, for one, will make sure that my children learn to speak Spanish — not only because it’s crucial to their success, but because it’s a part of their reality as much as it’s a part of their heritage.

I’m also going to encourage them to enjoy gazpacho, because it’s going to be on the menu for a long time to come.

Manny García-Tuñón is a columnist for El Nuevo Herald and president of Lemartec, a design-build firm headquartered in Miami.