The common road to acculturation calls for the native-born children of recent immigrants to rebuff the language and traditions of their parents in favor of the culture of the U.S. melting pot. It was the path taken by European immigrants in the early 20th century, and it is the passage now occurring for Hispanic millennials.
The Latino millennial generation is changing the way the market perceives Hispanic Americans. As the first generation that is predominantly native born, it is clearly the most “American” of Hispanic market segments. Yet it has not renounced Hispanic culture. Rather, it has melded it with American youth culture.
This generation embodies what many people see as the new mainstream for Hispanic marketing. They are a generation that embraces English as their primary language, that is less “traditional” in its relationships, and that sees technology and the Internet as a way to embrace the communal aspects of their heritage and get an advantage in the mainstream world.
Who are these Gen Ys? They are the 20- to 29-year-old children of the huge wave of Hispanic immigrants who arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 60 percent of this generation—about 10 million people—is U.S. born. Moreover, they are part of the fastest growing segment of the population. Hispanics overall represent one in six Americans; among millennials, Hispanics are one in five. Their influence extends beyond the Hispanic segment and into the American youth mainstream.
“What we’re seeing is that a 24-year-old Hispanic may have more in common with the 24-year-old African American or Asian American than with his 45-year-old uncle,” says Greg Knipp, CEO of Dieste.
Just as importantly, Hispanic millennials are at the head of the Hispanic bébé boom, leading the wave of Hispanic teens, tweens and kids who will likely be even more acculturated. Consider this: While children younger than 18 made up slightly more than 7 percent of the foreign-born Hispanic population in 2010, they accounted for about half of the U.S. born. These under-20s are 18 million strong and growing.
In a recent report on Hispanic millennials, MTV Tr3s underscored how this generation differs from its predecessors. Unlike their immigrant parents who tried to be less visible, Latino millennials want to “stand out and be noticed.” While they may still embrace parts of their culture—especially family, music and food—they have incorporated American open-mindedness, especially in their relationships. Moreover, “They are abandoning class hierarchies and celebrating working class virtues. This group wants to become heroes, healers, rescuers as well as small business owners,” the report notes.
And popular culture is taking note. The recent number-one film Act of Valor features a group of active-duty Navy SEALs. The leader, Ray, is a real-life Mexican-American Navy SEAL from California, who has won numerous awards, including the Silver Star and the Bronze Star with Combat “V” (for valor). Can’t get more heroic than that.
Living La Vida Digital
In the realm of digital media, Hispanic millennials fit in the sweet spot of mobile and social usage. On the one hand, millennials are the prime movers of smartphones and tablets, while also driving the dominance of social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. On the other,
Hispanic Americans have been avid technology users, more likely than other racial and ethnic segments to embrace mobile and social tools. Combine the two, and you end up with a highly mobile and digitally connected generation.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center’s Latinos and Digital Technology study, Hispanic millennials’ technology usage aligns closely with other millennials in three areas: use of the Internet, home broadband usage and cell phone ownership. Where they outstrip their non-Hispanic millennial counterparts is in mobile connection to the Internet; they are nearly 66 percent more likely to connect via mobile than non-Hispanic whites. And they are nearly twice as likely to own a tablet such as an iPad.
Online, Hispanic millennials are just as likely as other millennials to be heavy Facebook users, according to Motivo Insights. But they are almost twice as likely to use YouTube a lot.
Verizon, in a recent campaign targeting Hispanics, incorporated this info by focusing a good portion of its campaign around social and mobile media. This included both a Hispanic-focused Facebook page and Twitter feed to complement its bilingual website in support of its Fios products. Hispanic millennials “overindex in both social media and mobile use versus their mass market counterparts,” says Leonardo Basterra, executive director of digital at Lopez Negrete, which created the campaign. “That informs and shapes the touch points that we leveraged for Verizon.”
Still, television remains a key way for reaching the Hispanic millennial demographic. Yet their viewing habits are skewed differently from other Hispanic generations. That’s not to say that they are giving up on Hispanic programming. In its analysis last July, Nielsen found that Hispanic TV accounts for about a third of the viewing for this group. The rest? More than half (54 percent) is English-language cable and just 13 percent is English-language broadcast.
Latino millennials’ language preferences are informing this shift. MTV Tr3s found that second-generation Hispanic millennials are much more open to English than immigrant millennials. “Foreign borns wondered what is a Hispanic without Spanish?” says Nancy Tellet, SVP research and consumer insights at MTV Tr3s. “Second gens are more chill about language. They want to pass Spanish on to their children, but no language police please. We’ll just use what we want when we want it and when we think it’s organic and authentic.”
Which is why many of the traditional Hispanic networks are now developing English language programming. “When Univision inks a deal with Disney to put together an English language channel, when Telemundo spends time and invests on the Hispanics@NBC initiative and when Fox also creates the niche in both English and Spanish, we know a monumental shift is coming,” says Jorge Rincon, CEO of mobile agency RedMas.
This is further exemplified by the new programming at MTV Tr3s. Amigas Inc., executive produced by Jennifer Lopez and film producer Jane Startz, is an aspirational series that chronicles the lives of four Miami teens launching a party-planning business. Actor Wilmer Valderrama is executive producing a docuseries—The Ricardo Laguna Project—about the Mexican-American BMX champion.
Into the Mainstream
It’s no coincidence that Tr3s’s programming looks at action sports. While soccer is certainly the most popular sport among Hispanics, studies are showing that action sports are increasingly relevant to Hispanic millennials, another way they are embracing the mainstream.
Consider the recent M.A.S. Report, a study that looked at how snowboarding can be increasingly culturally relevant to young Hispanics. If the stereotype is of warm-weather Latinos, the reality is that the popularity of skateboarding is fueling interest in winter sports. As the report states: “Clearly, the next wave of growth for the snow sports category squarely hinges on demonstrating and growing the value and appeal of the sport to multicultural millennials.”
Still, Hispanic millennials are maintaining close ties with their cultural heritage. Pew, in its look at young Hispanics, found that among the U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants, country of origin is still important. Asked about how they self-identify, just 33 percent of these second generation Latinos use American first, 21 percent refer to themselves first by the terms Hispanic or Latino, and the plurality—41 percent—refer to themselves first by the country their parents left.
Similarly, consider the importance of family in Hispanic culture. While Hispanic millennials may want to strike out on their own, they are also more likely to still be living in their parents’ home. Overall, more millennials are doing this—the economy and delaying marriage and children are two “American” factors. Yet, as Pew discovered, Latinos are the most likely to live in a multi-generation household.
MTV Tr3s refers to this as the Hispanic millennial’s “cultural closet.” Along with family, young Hispanics embrace their heritage via food and music. As the report notes, “Even though they go back and forth between ‘arroz con frijoles’ and ‘hamburgers,’ as well as Lady Gaga and Juanes, [all this plays] an important role in defining their Latinicity.”