This time of the year is always exciting for me. Being the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, there are many activities and an increased sense of pride among Latino communities. Here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we celebrate with two major festivals dedicated to Hispanic interests. The first full weekend of September is the Fiesta Hispana, a celebration of the wide variety of Latin American nations. The second festival, Fiesta Mexicana, coincides with Mexican Independence Day and is a celebration acknowledging the largest group of Latinos in West Michigan, the Mexican Americans. Because I was involved for several years in the planning of Fiesta Mexicana, I am occasionally asked, “Why are there two Hispanic festivals in Grand Rapids?” or “When are they going to combine both festivals into one?” Although I am not overly surprised when this question arises, I believe it does indicate a larger misinterpretation among some about how Latino communities exist and perceive themselves.
Interestingly enough, living in a town with two major celebrations of Hispanic heritage is not that unusual, especially among those individuals within our local Latino communities. After all, we do have a large percentage of Mexican Americans living in Grand Rapids and West Michigan compared to other Latinos. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, individuals of Mexican heritage make up 75% of all Hispanics living in Michigan. Likewise, many of our other Latino nationalities contain individuals that are highly influential locally and are involved in business, politics, social organizations, and education among other areas. Both festivals have been in existence for the good part of forty years and are valued by the many Latino communities in Grand Rapids for a multitude of reasons. However, this still hasn’t eliminated the occasional question of why there are, in fact, two.
Those of who live and work within Hispanic communities understand how diverse these communities are. Among other things, Latinos represent a diverse range of nationalities. Although Hispanics will come together under common interests, they also have a profound sense of pride in their countries of origin. Even among the more acculturated Latinos, national pride is something passed down through generations. It is also one of the many cultural elements that define the perspective of how Hispanics see themselves. Consider this statistic, when asked about the preference between either the term “Hispanic” or “Latino”, some polls have indicated that most of Latin American origins prefer neither term and opt to be referred to by their respective nationality. Unfortunately, this is an insight that may be difficult for some to understand.
Although we may use the terms Hispanic or Latino as general descriptors (as I have throughout this post), they should not be considered effective marketing tools to connect with Latin Americans. Terminology aside, these individuals do not necessarily see themselves within a monolithic group despite the assumption that Latinos all have the same cultural preferences. As I have discussed on Latino Branding Power in the past, nationality, acculturation, language, and values all define the differences between Hispanics and how the perceive themselves.
So, if I am ever asked again about why Grand Rapids has two Hispanic festivals, I will simply use it as an opportunity to teach about the variety of Latino cultures and nationalities. This is an especially important consideration for organizations and businesses that seek to connect with Hispanic communities. It is important to realize what an audience values and views about itself over assumptions that may exist. As marketers, we study and define targeted segments of consumers to deliver value. In my opinion, Latinos are the ultimate segmented market, so why shouldn’t they define who they are on their own terms.
I’m proud that my city can boast having both a Fiesta Hispana and a Fiesta Mexicana that celebrate the diversity of our Latino populations. Hopefully this will continue on into the future. So, ¡Viva México! and ¡Viva las raices Hispanas! During Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s celebrate and be proud of who we are as individuals and all that we are as communities.