The Cultural Chameleon: Latinas Living in America

It seems like there’s superheroes craziness on the big screens this summer. A mix of anticipated sequels, 3D effects, and high production budgets: a slew of superhero movies are coming to the theaters between May and August this year. “The Avengers” broke yet another record by becoming the third highest grossing film of all time when it surpassed “The Dark Knight.”

Superheroes seem to be playing a major role in defining pop culture. They’ve been able to evolve and adapt to changes in society. Superheroes succeed in balancing their dual identities: “professional” and personal. They’ve been dealing with managing their own emotions while fulfilling the “perfect” role that society expects from them.

But today, I want to talk about a different – yet equally successful – kind of superhero: the bicultural Latino woman.

Adaptation of the Ambitious Latina

Realities have changed for Latinas living in the U.S. In order to play a more important role in society they are embracing an American lifestyle while at the same time dealing with their Latino roots (and the family pressure that comes with that).

Latino women have increased their presence on the labor force and are earning college degrees at a higher rate than Latino males.

latino-women-census

More educated, with better jobs, and contributing to household incomes, Latinas are daughters of a big dream. They are expected to have advantages that their parents didn’t. They carry the burden of making their parents’ sacrifices worth it. On the other hand, this new reality has made them feel more empowered and independent.

The driven Latina wants to succeed professionally. She has postponed having kids, but that doesn’t mean she has given up on her family’s pressure. She simply wants to succeed as an individual first.

Just like superheroes, Latinas have learned to balance their dual identities and deal with what society expects from them. And in doing so, they have turned into “cultural chameleons.”

The Chameleon in Action

The same way the chameleon adapts by changing the hue of its skin, Latinas have learned how to tone up (or down) depending on the environment and moment. Ezzy Guerrero-Languzzi says it better: “I know I have multiple voices: the hairstylist-nail technician, executive assistant, writer, reader, Mexicana-Americana, Californian, friend – all filtered to adapt to different situations and environments.”

This ability to adapt can be either seen as a survival tool or a necessary means to thrive in a richer and more diverse America. As you can see on the chart below, Latina behavior changes (or adapts) to different realities and needs. As a worker, she’s definitely more Anglo or a balance between Anglo and Latina. On the other end, emotions and passions come to life the Latina way, as a lover. It’s clear that the notions of how to build and nurture an emotional relationship are highly influenced by her family and roots. As friends, Latinas tend to show more diverse colors. This might be a consequence of a diverse friend base (not just Latina “amigas”).

diverse-latinas

Today’s Latina has to manage many tensions in her life. She has to be a superhero both at the professional and personal level. That means balancing being American with her Latina heritage – being family focused versus mainstream attuned, and sticking to Latino traditions but raising kids who are bicultural in nature.

You may think that this duality might create some personality issues, but I believe that Latinas have learned how to switch codes from one environment to the other without losing their identity.

Chantilly Patiño nails it in her “Do You Code-switch?” post. “Our accents may change, our expressions, body language and even our whole attitudes can fluctuate between communities,” says the Bicultural Mom. “Is this wrong? Does it mean we’re being ‘fake’? Or is it a sign of the growing diversity here in the U.S.?”

Marketing to Cultural Chameleons

  • Speak to their whole Latina identity. For her, social acceptance comes as a consequence of fulfilling her cultural mandate as a Latina as well as her individual aspirations as a woman. Don’t speak to one but the whole spectrum of this cultural chameleon.
  • Consider the “color” of each category. Latinas’ colors change depending on the product or theme. They feel more American when it comes to holidays, celebrations, and overall lifestyle. They express a more bicultural spectrum related to food, sports, music, and news. Their Latina colors show more strongly when it comes to personal appearance and politics.
  • Be inspirational. Empower Latinas’ influence and entrepreneurial spirit (46 percent of Latinas are self-employed, according to Experian Simmons). They want to feel that they are influencing the mainstream with their own diversity.
  • Leverage the diversity of digital. As part of their bicultural nature, Latinas straddle between American and Latina social media communities, a clear example of code-switching. Brands should build Latino platforms that complement their mainstream ones, where Latinas will be able to express their Latina and bicultural colors and share with other chameleons like them.

In order to adapt to a changing and more diverse America, Latinas have chosen to behave as cultural chameleons. It’s time for brands to embrace that same behavior to thrive in today’s colorful marketplace.

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