2. Food Preferences
The Big Divide in food preferences among Latinos is between the corn-based Meso-American tradition (Mexico and Central America) vs. the wheat-based culture (of the Caribbean and South America).
This is a big deal. But it’s not like the South Americans don’t use corn (arepas) and that Meso-Americans don’t use wheat flour, but broadly this is an important issue for anyone in the food business.
In the Meso-American tradition masa rules – this is corn that is dried first, then soaked in lime and then ground into a wet meal (masa) from which tortillas, sopes, tamales, and pupusas come from. This was the staple for the Mayans and the Aztecs and the tradition continues to this day.
In the more Spain-centric wheat-based traditions, bread and flour based cultural traditions produce the wonderful Cuban sandwich, empanadas and other delicacies.
But even within the Meso-American culture, it is interesting to see Mexican restaurants start to serve pupusas, which are a Salvadoran delicacy (that I love). So it is a good idea to open your mind to other types of Latino dishes to make everyone welcome at your restaurant or catering company.
3. Words, Slangs and Dialects
This is an area of danger for Latino businesses.
You might use seemingly innocuous words or phrases in your advertising in Spanish or in your signage, unaware that you are seriously offending potential customers who are from a different country or even from a different region in Mexico.
Run things past your customers, clients, vendors, friends and neighbors to make sure what you are saying is okay before you include it in a mailer or on a poster in your window. Look things up in a really good international Spanish dictionary. You may be surprised.
And Spanglish can get tricky too since some people mix languages easily and fluidly and often to great comic effect, but others are honestly offended by it. Be careful.
4. Colors, Artistic Traditions
Each major Latino country that has contributed immigrants to the United States has its own strong cultural traditions, its own palette, and its own style.
You have to be aware that doing a mural on an outside wall of your business might be appealing to some but off-putting to others. Using the colors of any given flag might be a great way to identify you and your business, but you might inadvertently be pushing away other potential customers. Be inclusive.
5. Clothing, Hair Styles
One of the ways one can see Intra-Hispanic acculturation happening is to see how individual styles, when exposed to each other, will slowly morph into something new and different.
For people in the salon or clothing businesses, you have to keep a sharp eye out for what is going on, and you can help lead the way with forward-thinking styles that are inclusive and fresh.
I find that Latinos are fascinated by the traditions, foods, styles, music, sayings and dialects of Latinos from different countries. There’s an automatic in – they are interested in you, particularly if you make it easy for them and respect them back. Pride of country is very much appreciated, so you can be proudly Mexican or Chilean or Puerto Rican, but if you move into nationalistic mode or put others down, then you might lose business you would otherwise have gained.
So be proud to be who you are – your country of origin and your traditions – but not to the point of arrogance.
About the author
Carlos E. Garcia, born to Mexican immigrant parents, grew up in East Los Angeles and attended Pomona College, UC Berkeley and National University (BA, MA and MBA respectively). He has over thirty years of experience in the field of US Hispanic consumer research, twenty one years at the helm of his own company, Garcia Research. Most recently SVP at GfK: Knowledge Networks, where he headed up their Hispanic research efforts. He's gone full circle and now back at the helm of Garcia Research, a Hispanic market and Multicultural-focused research firm.Website