If You’re Puerto Rican, You Must Be From Philadelphia (Maybe)

When I speak at industry conferences, I often joke that I hail from a small Caribbean republic…the Bronx. It still rings true for many folks I connect with on the Latino marketing trail. If you are Puerto Rican, chances are you do come from the Bronx or Manhattan and not the island 1,500 miles south. For whatever reason – historical accident, family migration patterns, or perhaps that crazy rooftop number from West Side Story – for many people, being Puerto Rican and from New York at one time were synonymous. Just ask Jennifer Lopez.

That was a while ago, and things have changed. A new report by the Pew Hispanic Center has lots of data that marketers should find interesting. Based on the recent Census results and the 2009 community survey, the Pew Report paints a picture of the U.S. Latinosphere in motion:

  • If you are a Latino in the U.S., chances are great that your family hails from Mexico, Puerto Rico, or Cuba. “Hispanics of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban origin or descent remain the nation’s three largest Hispanic country-of-origin groups,” according to the report. Collectively, these groups account for almost 80 percent of the total U.S. Latino population. It’s been that way for quite some time.
  • But the next four groups – Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, and Colombians – grew much faster over the last decade. While Cubans and Puerto Rican populations grew at a very impressive 44 percent and 36 percent, the numbers from other groups were astonishing. Dominicans: 85 percent. Colombians: 93 percent. Salvadorans: 152 percent. Guatemalans: 180 percent (yes, really).
  • While those four fast-growing groups account for only 10 percent of the U.S. Latino population, already their numbers are being felt in specific metropolitan areas (what the marketers call “metros”). In Washington, D.C., Salvadorans are now the single largest Latino group, with 33.7 percent of the area’s 700,000-plus Latinos. Salvadorans are growing in greater numbers in other areas – for example, Los Angeles – but their effect on the D.C. market must be interesting to marketers.
  • Still, Mexicans continue to represent a huge majority of the nation’s Latinos. How big is that majority? It is two-thirds of all Latinos nationwide, according to the study: a margin too overwhelming for marketers to ignore. But the point that Pew perhaps is trying to make is that local is just as important as national. “In many of the nation’s metropolitan areas Mexicans are not the largest Hispanic-origin group.”

Which makes the note about Salvadorans so important. Are we a nation of Latinos – a metatribe held together by a common culture – or are we a nation of smaller tribes, less neatly assembled into ever-changing metros? I believe we are both, and that’s the challenge for marketers. Because of the elasticity and virtual nature of the web, it’s difficult for marketers to think of any one tribe as strictly geographically-based. But local does matter, and not just for the old-world marketing types. Witness the emergence of the web-driven local commerce models that have gotten so much play in the past year. The Groupons of the world should give pause to any marketer disinclined to think of local.

In the meantime, I am wondering if local trends will change the way we think about our own claims to the Northern American landscape. Is it right to think New York when someone says Puerto Rican? Has it ever been right? After all, Puerto Ricans have been well-represented in many big urban metros, if not on a national scale. But the Pew study sheds light on some patterns that may change the conversation quite soon. There are only two metros today where Puerto Ricans top more than 50 percent. In second place: Orlando, with 50.2 percent. In first place: Philadelphia, with 55 percent. How do Puerto Ricans fare in New York? Well, we are still the majority, with 29.4 percent, but it’s far less than what we are seeing in the cities of Disney and Brotherly Love. I’m still waiting on the stats specific to the Bronx (surely we must still be big there), but I think it may be time to cede the mantle.

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