Latinos / Latinx
Latino/Latinx communities are inclusive of an incredibly broad and varied grouping of people. Yet historically, marketing has portrayed these populations of people as a single homogenous group, leading to not only inaccurate representation, but public misconceptions and fallacies surrounding the identities and cultures of these communities.
These U.S.-focused insights were built with input from community partners and offer foundational suggestions to help you create marketing that positively and authentically represents Latino/a/x and Hispanic* people. They are meant to help you understand some of the most important nuances that exist among Latinos, so you can be more inclusive of those who have been historically under- and misrepresented in marketing and media.
*We recognize that Latino/a, Latinx, and Hispanic are not terms that all individuals identify with. There’s a vast amount of diversity and nuance among Latinos, who draw lineage from more than thirty countries spanning North America, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Europe, and have an even greater array of experiences, cultures, languages, dialects, and appearances. For the sake of these insights, the term “Latino” is meant to be inclusive of all Latino and Hispanic consumers living in the U.S., regardless of citizenship, immigration history, or other personal identity.
Represent the diversity of ethnicities among Latinos
The U.S Hispanic population reached almost 60 million in 2018. Latinos draw their heritage from seven regions and over 20 countries, and have vastly varying national, regional, cultural, and personal identities. The the multitude of people who identify as Latino simply cannot be captured or reduced to a singular representation.
Most Latinos living in the United States refer to their family’s country of origin to identify themselves. While “Latino” is the most commonly used pan-ethnic term to describe someone of either Hispanic or Latin American descent, at an individual level, people tend to refer to their specific ethnic heritage (e.g., Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Mexican American, Cuban American, etc).
Those who identify their ethnic heritage as Latino may say the same of their racial identity, but there are also Latinos who identify across the full racial spectrum. Here are some (but not all) important nuances to racial identity for Latinos that are worth noting:
Afro-Latino or Afro-Latinidad
A quarter of those who identify as Latino in the U.S. identify as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean, or Afro (country of origin). Official records of populations with African origins living in Latin America have historically been ignored, so it's only very recently that anyone who identifies as Latino has also been allowed to officially identify as Afro-Latino (e.g., 2015 was the first year that Mexico allowed people to identify as Black or AfroMexican, leading to 1.4 million residents selecting that identifier).
One-third of U.S. Hispanics identify as mixed race. The term “mixed race” has a very specific meaning for Latinos, one that is tied to Latin America’s colonial history and commonly includes having a white and Indigenous, or “mestizo” (Spanish for “mixed”) background somewhere in their heritage. Visit the Indigenous people insights to create work that more authentically represents Indigenous communities.
Show year-round commitment
It’s important to show commitment to Latinos throughout the year, not just when it’s topical and relevant. Hispanic Heritage Month (celebrated annually from mid-September to mid-October) is the most visible cultural moment in media for Latinos. However, marketing campaigns that show up for just time period can come across as “Hispandering” and as being opportunistic and empty.
Showing meaningful and intersectional representation in creative and product as an ongoing effort outside of Hispanic Heritage Month demonstrates a deeper commitment to the inclusion of Latinos.
If using calendar moments and holidays as a way to be inclusive, it is crucial to understand the cultural and historical context of those moments and to be mindful of the cultural sensitivities and levels of appropriation that happen around these times of the year. Also consider that these moments and holidays are often seen as a visible cultural moment for broader society rather than discrete moments for Latino communities.
Reflect nuance across Latino experiences
Although Latino representation is growing in the TV, film, and media industries, mainstream roles still underrepresent or misrepresent the true diversity of Latinos. There are over 20 countries and seven regions from which those who identify as Latino draw their lineage. Don’t underestimate the diversity of cultures and experiences within this group, and consider how language, expressions, and cultural-specific details vary.
This diversity of experience is expanding and is especially important amongst younger Latinos, who now make up a quarter of the overall Gen Z population in the U.S., the largest share of any ethnic group. Consider how the notion of Latino identity is changing with each generation:
Remember to portray nuanced representations of Latino appearances, as well as socioeconomic and immigration experiences. Consider the following when creating narratives that involve Latino identity:
Realize the historical context of negative tropes and stereotypes
Harmful Latino tropes and stereotypes are often reinforced in the media. Being aware of the historical and cultural context is key to learning how to spot and avoid perpetuating stereotypical characteristics and portrayals.
Amongst 1,200 films that were examined by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, just under a quarter of Latino speaking characters were depicted as criminals. The associative images of drug cartels and gang culture with Latino identity remain dominant in popular culture due to the success of TV shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Narcos.” The stereotype of Latinos as criminals is linked to the way in which Latino immigrants are framed within American political discourse as threats: threats to personal safety, economic well being, employment, and the “American way of life.”
Stereotypes account for the homogenization of Latino identity, adding to the erasure of the specific cultural identities such as those of Central American, Cuban, Mexican, and Puerto Rican people as a result. The homogenization of “Latinos” as one big group is rooted in the “othering” of Latinos, which classifies them as perpetual foreigners and excludes them from the American narrative.
Latinos as immigrants
The issue of undocumented immigration has remained in the public consciouness thanks to airtime in the political sphere, and Latinos are often viewed through the lens of immigration. As such, they are often portrayed as uneducated and non-English speaking blue collar workers and domestic workers, such as Consuela in “Family Guy.” This misrepresentation overlooks the fact that the majority (67%) of Latinos living in the U.S. are U.S-born, and often consider themselves equally Latino and American.
The hypersexualized “fiery” Latina
Latinos, most specifically women, are often fetishized in popular culture, depicted as hypersexual and hotheaded. This association is generally conceived to be rooted in the exoticization of Mexican land in the 1800s. The country was framed as a wildland, ripe for the picking as a justification for the U.S. invasion of Mexican territory.
Avoid appropriating Latino culture
From traditional cuisine to fashion accessories and music, elements of Latino culture continually show up in the American mainstream. But all too often, these cultural references are appropriated, without adequate acknowledgement of the people and cultures from which they originate.
While there’s a clear demand for the representation and celebration of Latino heritage and culture in mainstream media, please take the time and effort necessary to do this in a way that champions the people behind these customs and traditions. When portraying fictional storylines, inclusion advocates note that using Latino writers and Latinos in lead roles will help your brand authentically reflect lived experiences, help counteract the lack of self-representation by actors who identify as Latino, and help avoid a widely condemned practice.
When to use monolingual or bilingual approaches
The majority of Latinos in the U.S. are bilingual, but this is shifting generationally, with 35% of 55+ Latinos being Spanish-dominant, and 37% of Latinos 18 and under being English-dominant. Though Spanish use is widespread, most young Latinos feel that one doesn’t need to speak Spanish to be considered Latino, especially since not all Latinos have a Spanish-speaking heritage.
“Spanglish,” which blends the two languages, influences the way some Latinos speak with one another and reference things culturally. Understanding how to accurately represent these bilingual moments, and in which cultural context to use them, is key to depicting an authentic experience. In your marketing, proceed with caution if non-Spanish speakers are using Spanish words or phrases that may have been adopted colloquially in English, but have strong meanings in Spanish.
Our partners recommend hiring agencies, creatives, and production teams that have strong Latino representation. Also remember to respectfully consult with a credible set of colleagues and external partners to ensure your content is culturally relevant and inclusive.
Ensure localization is handled by native speakers
If you choose to create marketing in Spanish or other non-English languages, ensure copy isn’t just directly translated, but is localized by someone in the respective community – or better yet, created by them. Failure to properly localize copy can result in confusing and illogical translations. Spanish speakers can also hail from a variety of heritages with different vocabulary, dialects, or accents. Including these different words, dialects, and accents can contribute to more inclusive work. Additionally, check for alignment between the role, the actor, and the representation of a dialect or accent for more authentic inclusion.
Partner with credible organizations and advocates
Marketing that involves Latinos is more authentic when done in partnership with others who have more credibility and reach. No organization is perfect, but many can provide a strong perspective to ensure your content and programs are culturally relevant and inclusive.