The advantage, and disadvantage, of cultural signifiers

The recent holiday season has been time for me to both celebrate and reflect. Music has often been the soundtrack to our celebrations and I tend to reflect on the origins of holiday music and how it has become so beloved.

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Latinnovating celebrates green Hispanic entrepreneurs

In recognition of Earth Day 2012, I am proud to present a review of the book Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating ThemLatinnovating, by author Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, explores the lives, ambitions, and influences of ten Latino business owners who have dedicated their entrepreneurialism to maintaining green business ventures. Latinnovating is essentially a series of well-developed case studies of the ten entrepreneurs and uses their stories as inspiration for students and professionals alike. Published last year, Latinnovating has already earned many accolades and propelled Tiscareño-Sato as one of the top Latina sustainability leaders.

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Latino Branding Power featured on Radio in Black and White

I was honored recently to have a guest spot on the West Michigan based show Radio in Black in White. The show, facilitated by Skot Welch and Rick Wilson, covers topics related to race, ethnicity, and cultural competence. Skot and Rick have many years of collective experience in these areas and will often delve into uncharted waters during their weekly broadcast discussions. I appeared during a segment of the show when they took a few moments to talk about Latino culture, Hispanic marketing, and the origins of Latino Branding Power. Listen to the clip below featuring my talk with Skot and Rick:

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Latino Entrepreneurs: West Michigan’s best kept secret

I was honored last week to be invited to participate on a panel discussion with other esteemed West Michigan colleagues at Davenport University. The panel was part of a series by the university entitled Secrets of Success. We were asked, as Latino business owners, to talk about lessons learned, barriers overcome, and our thoughts about how other businesses and organizations can connect to the burgeoning Latino demographic. It was a privilege to be invited and I truly enjoyed the engaging conversations held with the audience and my fellow panelists.

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Latino youth education achievement gaps

Last month I wrote a post about a new human centered design initiative from the Keller Futures Center for improving resilience among Latino youth. Interesting enough, about the time we were completing the project, an article appeared in The Rapidian (a local Grand Rapids online news and information source) about the Grand Rapids Latino student achievement gap. Unfortunately, the statistics look bleak. According to the article post, Grand Rapids students in the eleventh grade are scoring at 18% proficiency in math and 32% in reading compared to statewide scores of 52% in math and 63% in reading. What are causes of these educational gaps and what can be done to close them?

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California vintner Amelia Ceja to deliver keynote at West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet

This afternoon, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will hold their annual awards banquet at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids. The coveted keynote address will be delivered by Amelia Ceja, owner and president of the Napa, California winery Ceja Vineyards (watch my video interview with Juan Tornoe, last year’s keynote speaker). Amelia Ceja has been recognized as “Woman of the Year” in 2005 by the California legislature for “breaking the glass ceiling in a very competitive business” and is the first Mexican-American woman ever to be elected president of a winery.

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Navidad sin barreras

A year ago at this time, I was in Puerto Rico enjoying the holiday season with family. One night, we experienced a holiday tradition known as a Parranda. During a parranda, friends and family will gather at the front door of a local home and sing traditional Christmas songs. Eventually the guests are invited in for more singing along with food and drink. The parranda will make its way through the neighborhood stopping at more homes and gathering people along the way. As you can see from the video above, we had a lot of fun participating in the parranda. In additional to being a popular holiday tradition, can the idea of a parranda help to create Puerto Rican unity online through social media?

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Bicultural Mom interviews Latino Branding Power

Last month, I had the pleasure of being interviewed again. This time it was by Chantilly Patiño of the respected blog sites Bicultural Mom and Multicultural Familia. Chantilly has earned a community of followers that values her insights and perspectives. (She is also a fellow West Michigander, originally from Muskegon, Michigan) Although Chantilly covers many topics related to multiculturalism, she excels with her discussions about families and relationships. Being a blogger of multicultural marketing related topics, I was honored to receive the invitation.

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Como familia…

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) annual conference in Chicago. LATISM is credited as the largest organization of Hispanic professionals engaged in social media. The 2011 conference, held at Chicago’s Navy Pier, was two and a half days of sessions and workshops that focused on opportunities for Hispanic professionals to use social media in public service, community empowerment, and business development. To augment my participation in the LATISM conference, I designed an infographic to show how Latinos currently engage in social media across the U.S. Originally, I had planned to write this blog post as a follow up review of the professional development and networking opportunities provided at the LATISM conference. Although there were certainly plenty of these opportunities, I decided to modify my post’s focus in light of all that transpired for me both personally and professionally during my attendance at LATISM’11.

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What we can learn from the Day of the Dead

The video above is a montage from a vacation I took to Michoacán, Mexico during the holiday known as El Día De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). My mother and I made the journey together a few years ago and had a fantastic time. Although a celebration to honor the dead may seem a bit macabre from a Western influenced point of view, for the indigenous populations of Mexico and Central America, it is a very commonplace tradition. What can this fatalist inspired holiday teach us about the attitudes and values held by many Latino communities?

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A tale of two fiestas

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.

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Recognizing Afro-Latino perspectives

Back in February, I wrote a post about the African influence in Latin America. The effort earned some attention and since I have wanted to write a follow-up post on a related topic. While my previous contribution dealt with the perspectives of Afro-Latinos in Latin American nations and history, I was recently inspired by a re-post from the blog New Latina. Blog contributor Tracy Lopez wrote an in-depth interview with three Afro-Latinas who give their personal reflections of what it means to be a Latina of African decent. I found the interviews both engaging and revealing. In addition, I believe the reflections from Afro-Latinos(as) are important insights to consider for organizations seeking effective outreach to Hispanic communities.

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The importance of indigenous Latin America

My wife and I took a vacation to the beautiful Canadian city of Toronto recently. We found that Toronto boasts having some of the finest collections of Inuit art and sculpture. The Inuit, who represent the indigenous populations of northern Canada, have maintained many of their traditions and customs for generations. Inspired, I couldn’t help think about similarities with the indigenous populations from Latin America. Like the Inuit, these populations have had a significant impact on the culture and customs of Latinos. As marketers, when we seek to connect with Latino populations, we should consider the values and beliefs held by the indigenous and understand their perseverance in Latin American culture.

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What do the Amish and Latinos have in common?

The Amish Campesinos, by Oswaldo Garcés


A recent Census discovery made some internet buzz a few weeks ago. An article in the Patriot News of central Pennsylvania reported that the Hispanic population of Lancaster County has surpassed that of the Amish. The county is traditionally known as “Amish Country” by locals. Statistics from the 2010 Census show that 45,000 Latinos live in Lancaster County compared to 30,000 Amish residents as estimated by Elizabethtown College. This is a 35% increase in the county’s Latino population over the last decade. The ever relevant Latino news blog picked up the story as well and suggested a reason for the increase in Hispanic populations of this region is related to a tolerance for people with different lifestyles, like the Amish. Amish populations have had a steep tradition of modest, faith-based living for generations and abstain from modern conveniences and materialism.

The news has inspired me to consider this question: What do the Amish and Latino populations have in common? Here are a couple thoughts to consider and implications of what these can mean for outreach and marketing to Hispanic populations.
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Honorary Latinos

Robert Mulligan

Sitting in front a trio of congas, Grand Rapids based musician and band leader Robert Mulligan counts off the rhythm to Todo Tiene Su Final. His band, the regionally recognized salsa orchestra Grupo Ayé, breaks into the Hector Lavoe classic while the audience below jumps onto the dance floor. The band delivers another stellar performance and leaves the dancers shouting for more. 

West Michigan attorney Michael Gardiner shakes hands with a family from Guanajuato, Mexico and then invites them into his office for a consultation meeting. Before delving into business, he spends a few minutes asking about the family’s hometown and shares his experiences of living in Mexico. Although Michael speaks fluent Spanish, a connection is made with the new clients that transcends language.

People like Robert and Michael represent what I refer to as “honorary Latinos”. They are individuals that live or work and have earned significant credibility within Hispanic communities even though they are both… well… non-Latino Caucasians. While their situations may not seem all that unique, some may find it unusual considering the perception of a cultural disconnect between Caucasians and populations that are commonly referred to as “people of color”. Earning credibility, I believe, is only a part of their stories.
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Herencia Africana: The African influence in Latin America

Colombian hip-hop group ChocQuibTown

In light of February being Black History Month, I was inspired to write a post about African heritage in Latin America. Although many are familiar with the strong African presence in areas like the Caribbean, there are other regions that also have influential Afro Latino histories, communities, and heroes. The following examples reflect a few of these perspectives that may not be as well known.

This month, members of Colombian hip-hop group ChocQuibTown were interviewed by Univision anchor man Jorge Ramos on the popular television program Al Punto. The group spoke about the challenges of being Latinos of African descent, racism, and how they use music as an expression of their heritage and pride. The lyrics from their award winning song, “De Donde Vengo Yo (Where I Come From), reflect the sentiment of the group’s home province of Choco, part of Columbia’s predominately Afro Pacific Coast. Seventy percent of Choco’s residents live on less than one dollar a day.

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