The Accidental Hispanic

I visualize a completely different “Hispanic”, one that is “more” rather than “less” and that is valued

 

Let me say right off the bat that there are a couple of things that no one should be proud of: where he was born and how tall he is. You had no say in either. I have never met anyone who said, “I chose to be born in whatever place” or “I decided I was going to be 6’4””.

I never set out to be “Hispanic” either. Actually, when I was growing up, and beyond, I wasn’t even conscious that there were “Hispanics”. I grew up partially in Puerto Rico and went to school at the Academia del Perpetuo Socorro, where I was surrounded by Puerto Ricans and Cubans with a couple of Colombians, a Swede, a Finn and a couple of blonde “Americans” thrown in for good measure.

We later moved to Spain and, in my senior year, at the American School of Madrid, we spoke something like 12 or 14 first languages in my class alone. We had a bit of everything: Filipinos, Americans, Colombians, Peruvians, Spaniards, Taiwanese, Puerto Ricans, another Finn and one Colombian who spoke Swahili… it was the first time in my life that I had ever seen some of those nationalities as well as the first time that I had heard some of those languages being spoken.

The summer I graduated from high school, my best friend, Mike, and I, bought our Inter-Rail passes, a backpack and decided to see the world. We spent 6 weeks traveling through Europe and made it all the way to Istanbul. By then I spoke French pretty well (in addition to English and Spanish) and Mike spoke German pretty well (as well as English and Spanish, of course). We did that three years in a row and visited just about everywhere in Europe with the exception of Finland and Iceland. The year after, we “borrowed” a yacht and, with another friend, spent a week sailing around northern Africa.

My work, too, has taken me all over the place and I’ve been lucky to have met four amazingly intelligent people who, willingly or unwillingly, have been huge influences:

Juan de la Cierva, who, among other things, invented the lens that cancels vibrations in cinematography, won an Oscar in 1968, invented one of the early missile guidance systems and is a genius. The definition of what a “creative” thinker is. Taught me how to let my imagination fly.

Paco Carrera Villar, my psychology teacher and the guy who guided my thesis. Brilliant thinker, he completely redesigned the branding and marketing for SEAT. Very analytical yet creative. Taught me how to think critically and objectively.

John T. Greening, the director of strategic planning of the now-defunct DMB&B, who allowed me to collaborate on the final version of D’Arcy’s Strategic Planning handbook. He had a tremendous knack for synthetizing complex problems into manageable chunks.

 Roger Godbeer –a thoroughly unlikeable guy—whom I actually liked. He was the Global Media Director for Colgate, analytical to the extreme, I learned how to handle complexity from him. He put the finishing touches on Paco’s and John’s influence on my own thinking.

Thanks to all four and their “take-no-prisoners” style, I had a rock-solid foundation for my own brand of thinking (and I don’t mean only work-related thinking).

So, all in all, I have visited around 50 countries, lived in 8 cities, picked up a 4th language (Portuguese), worked with dozens of really intelligent people and accumulated 5 million miles on American Airline alone. I have yet to meet a freaking Hispanic. So, I really hope this year’s “Hispanic” Heritage Month is our last.

If you think about it coldly, what has being “Hispanic” meant to us?

For me, personally, and this is something that I found only in the United States, it has meant blatant discrimination in the advertising agency world. I have been to lots of interviews where I’m told, right off the bat, “sorry, but we don’t have a Hispanic division”. Never mind that my SAT Score in English was higher than the guy in front of me (Top 1%). In his mind, I’m Hispanic, therefore suitable only for Hispanic marketing or advertising.

I’m sure that hundreds of Spanish-speakers in the ad agency world have faced that discrimination on a daily basis.

For 53 million self-described Hispanics, it has meant outright discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives. So much so that “Hispanics” in general are now “brown” and even “Hispanics” have debates about whether you are white or Hispanic, never understanding that you can be both.

For the millions who try to enter the U.S. in search of a better life, it has meant death squads at the border. If those millions were Icelandic blondes instead of brown skinned Mexicans or Central Americans, you can bet “your sweet bippy” (as Rowan Martin from Laugh-In used to say) that they would be welcomed with open arms.

And we are ignored. In contrast to the African-American market which has fiery leaders like Al Sharpton, the “Hispanic” market has failed miserably in creating political leadership that furthers its agenda. Actually, it has failed miserably in furthering two items that should be in its agenda: Immigration reform and minimum wage reform.

So I am convinced that the Hispanic heritage has not served us well.

We need to reboot.

I propose that we drop “Hispanic” as a term and use “Multicultural” exclusively. I am truly multicultural and, in contrast to my country of birth and my height (5’6”) both of which I did not influence at all, I feel proud of being multicultural. I know my way around Hong Kong, London, Mexico City and New York equally as well.