Retro-Acculturation is assimilating and then re-discovering the culture of their forerunners.
Many people assume that acculturation is a one-way ticket to cultural oblivion – that is, that immigrants who come to this country will, within a few generations, effectively melt into the mainstream and become indistinguishable from all other Americans in their language use, cultural habits and lifestyle practices.
But the big wave of Latinos who came to the US in the 80’s and 90’s changed that into an option to recover what was lost.
My definition for Retro-Acculturation, which is a term I coined in the early 90’s, is the phenomenon of people who were well on their way to assimilation pausing along that path and making a conscious decision to go back and re-discover the culture of their parents and grandparents by learning or brushing up on their Spanish, learning how to prepare old family recipes, re-adopting Latino traditions that had lapsed such as Las Posadas, the Quinceañera, tamaladas, etc.
Honestly this isn’t just a Latino tradition. Many secular American Jews have made pilgrimages to Israel, put their kids through Bar Mitzvahs, celebrate Purim and Chanukah with or without religious fervor, but focused on the cultural aspects instead. Many an Italian has done the same thing around their food and language and cultural traditions. Ditto persons of French, German, British, Swedish and African backgrounds.
Did Latinos lead the charge on this phenomenon or has the American experience become so aggressively bland (to not say numbingly selfish and focused on materialism) that people are looking for meaning, value and their connection to history?
The DNA ancestral testing craze is certainly a part of this. It seems every other commercial on TV is now talking about someone who thought they were of German extraction actually being mostly Scottish; or someone wanting to know where in Africa their ancestors were from.
But in the Latino context, this is an opportunity for younger Latinos to build bridges with the older generations. Younger people could find much to love about being Latino – generosity, putting other people ahead of yourself, focusing on family and children, personal warmth, delicious food, fun fiestas, etc.
So what are the triggers for Retro-Acculturation?
Many of my focus group participants across the years have said it was having children, and realizing they wanted their kids to be able to communicate and share experiences with their grandparents – and not just in-language, but in-culture.
For others it can be opening a small business.
Next page- 5 reasons where Retro-Acculturation could help
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