McCain and the Virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

July 8, 2008

One of John McCain’s final activities on his recent trip to Latin America could earn him thousands of Latino votes, or at least a new affinity from Hispanics: He visited the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The Basilica de Guadalupe is Mexico’s most important religious sanctuary, and it ranks among the most important worship places in all of Latin America. The Basilica houses the original apron that was given to Juan Diego, an indigenous peasant, when the Virgin appeared before him in the 16th Century.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patroness saint of Mexico and the Americas; she is also referred to as the “Virgen Morena” (browned-skinned Virgin) and as the “Mother of all Mexicans.” Her image is worshiped with such devotion that almost every Catholic home in Mexico, or with Mexican roots in the U.S., has a picture, an altar or icon of the Virgen.

As Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes (as cited on Wikipedia) observed, “One may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.” Echoing that sentiment, Nobel laureate Octavio Paz (as cited on Wikipedia) said, “The Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery.”

When in trouble, Mexican Catholics pray for la Virgen to intercede on their behalf, and when a miracle or “favor” is granted, the recipient offers a sacrifice or a gift to thank her. A common gesture to thank the Virgen is to make a pilgrimage to the Basilica, particularly around December 12, the day her feast is celebrated.

For Latino immigrants, the Virgen de Guadalupe represents an icon that gives them hope and helps them maintain their faith while facing problems. In fact, it is common to see the image of the Virgen carried by faithful participants during immigration reform rallies and events.

Historical Significance

The image of the Virgen de Guadalupe has been present during critical events in Mexican history. During Mexico’s Independence War from Spain in 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, known as the “Father of the Nation,” initiated and fought with a flag of la Virgen in his hand. During Mexico’s civil war a century later, Emiliano Zapata and his peasant army fought the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz using a banner of the Virgen as their flag.

In the modern era, then-candidate Vicente Fox began his presidential bid carrying a flag of the Virgen de Guadalupe that was given to him by his children; his victory ended the PRI’s more than 70-year political reign in Mexico.

McCain

For candidate John McCain, visiting the Basilica and getting a picture taken next to the Virgen could be a powerful tool to attract the votes of Latinos, especially those older immigrants and those with low-literacy levels as they would perceive him as a candidate who relates to them and pays respect to one of the most sacred elements in their lives. As far as political icons go, this one could work miracles.

                                       Picture Source: EFE


Book review: Talk Dirty Spanish

May 26, 2008

There are three books that I regularly recommend (in no particular order) to those who wish to sell to or communicate with Hispanics, and Mexicans specifically: Distant Neighbors by Alan Riding, The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz, and The Children of Sanchez by Oscar Lewis.  But I now have an addition to the list: Talk Dirty Spanish by Laura Martinez and Alexis Murnier.

Talk Dirty Spanish offers a non-official guide to the slang, lingo and dirty words of the Spanish language. Through sixteen chapters, each one addressing different social and individual situations, the book presents words and phrases with literal and contextual explanations as well as examples of use within the context of a conversation.  For example, the chapter devoted to drinking alcohol includes the phrase “estar hasta las manitas,” which, according to the authors, means to be drunk while the literal translation is “to be up to the little hands.”  The authors then provide the following use of the phrase:  “El portero de la escuela siempre esta hasta las manitas,” with the accompanying translation:  “The doorman of the school is always very drunk.”

Although Talk Dirty Spanish encompasses slang and lingo from most Latin American countries and Spain, the book has a clear Mexican emphasis, and even among the Mexican slang contained in the book, the majority of words and expressions are more common in the Mexico City region.  This is understandable since one of the authors, Laura Martinez, was born and raised in Mexico’s capital.

Talk Dirty Spanish provides a valuable source of information (and entertainment) to both English-language and Spanish-language readers.  For the former, the book provides a guide beyond the textbook to understand not only Latinos’ way of speaking but also idiosyncrasies, and the book can be a couch-side reference book while watching Univision or Telemundo.  For the latter, it gives Latinos pause to appreciate the way we communicate and think.

Regarding my other recommendations, Octavio Paz’s Labyrinth of Solitude is a collection of essays that deconstruct the essence of Mexican society; Distant Neighbors is the view of modern Mexico by a longtime New York Times correspondent based in Mexico City; and The Children of Sanchez is a novel that resulted from a study in which anthropologist Oscar Lewis spent several months living with a low-income family in the Barrio de Tepito, one of Mexico City’s poorest neighborhoods. These three books provide a better understanding of the way Mexicans live and think; Talk Dirty Spanish addresses how they talk.


Playeras Latinas ( Latino T-shirts)

May 26, 2008

Almost a year ago, Macy’s department store introduced the NaCo brand t-shirts to the U.S. market. The t-shirts, with their selection of catchy phrases, slogans and adaptations from Mexican slang, made the brand an instant success within the U.S. Hispanic population, especially among Latinos with Mexican roots.

Phrases like “Ser Naco es Chido” (Being Tacky is cool), Brown is the new White, and Se Habla Español (Spanish Spoken) that mock Latino tackiness garnered great attention from the public and the media, while some Latino-rights advocates considered the phrases racist.  In response, Macy’s pulled the shirts off the racks and issued a public apology.

But the fact is that these t-shirts were originally conceived and designed for the Mexican market, appealing to the Latino sense of humor and capacity to parody themselves. In Mexico, the NaCo t-shirts were perceived as a “cute” trend, adopted mainly by wealthy members of the society.

In Mexico (and Latin America), wearing a garment with a slogan doesn’t mean that the individual endorses or agrees with the statement, especially when these slogans are written in another language. For instance, I have seen Hispanic males and females both in Mexico and in the U.S. wearing garments from the RED Campaign or Walk for Breast Cancer without having a clue of the meaning of the message they were promoting.

Of course, the opposite is true when it comes to wearing sports team-related garments.  Those individuals are acutely aware of the symbolism of the slogans and colors they wear, and they will defend them with pride.

Meanwhile, another brand of Latino-themed t-shirts has entered the U.S. market, but this time the clothing is designed and created in Texas by a company called Siesta Tees.  Siesta Tees offers a line of garments with less “controversial” topics and designs that appeal first- and second-generation U.S Hispanics. Phrases like “ I © abuela” ( I © grandma),  Can you say chula? (cutie) and a couple of designs from their Ojo (eye) Collection, which, according to the company’s Web site:

… was inspired by abuela, tía and that egg they put under the bed. Mexican folklore believes that people who envy or are jealous of babies give them the evil eye, which causes the kiddos to get sick. To rid the little ones of the evil eye you pray over them with the egg and place it under their bed, and poof the little one is rid of the OJO.


Poll: 4 out 10 Mexicans have a family member living in the U.S.

May 6, 2008

A recent study by Mexican pollster Roy Campos from Consulta Mitofsky shows that 39.6 percent of Mexican nationals have a family member living in the United States.

When asked about the possibility of moving to the U.S. if they had the opportunity, 41 percent of the respondents said that they would. The number increases to 49 percent among men and 51 percent among young adults. Nearly half, 44 percent, of the Mexican middle-class said that they are willing to move to the U.S.

When asked about the possibility of immigrating under illegal conditions, 3 out of 10 respondents said that they would do so. Also, 39 percent of young adults, ages 18-29, are willing to immigrate under such conditions.

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Mexican adults, aged 18+, conducted April 24-29, 2008. One can say with 95 percent confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 3.1 percentage points.

View the report here (in Spanish)


Hispanic Agencies: Don’t boycott Lorena Ochoa

May 2, 2008

While reading HispanicTips, a comprehensive Hispanic news aggregator run by Tomás Custer, I came across an interesting quote taken from an article published in the LA Times. The quote addresses the reasons why Mexican superstar, golfer Lorena Ochoa, has virtually no sponsorship deals in the United States.

“I had Hispanic agencies telling me that, ‘no, Mexicans like soccer, baseball and boxing,’ ” Hambric (Lorena Ochoa’s agent) said. “But this is a woman who is now the No. 1, best-regarded person in her country.”

To be honest, this troubles me very much, especially because the feedback that Hambric received was coming from so-called “experts in Hispanic Marketing”. To say that Mexicans only like soccer, baseball and boxing, is almost as absurd as saying that Mexicans only eat tacos!

Mexicans, as the rest of the world, enjoy watching all types of sports. For example, basketball (big fans of the NBA), car racing (NASCAR, Formula 1), and there is even a big fan base of the NFL, to the point that there is an official NFL Web site dedicated to the Mexican market (www.NFL.com.mx). Furthermore, the NFL’s American Bowl has been played five times in Mexico City.

Every four years, the Olympic Games draw the attention of Mexican fans in disciplines such as Tae Kwon Do, weightlifting, track and field and even equestrian sports, basically any competition in which a Mexican national has the possibility of winning an Olympic medal.

And, guess what? Mexicans are also big fans of “posh” sports like tennis and golf. In fact, the PGA (golf) and the ATP (tennis) hold international competitions in Mexico every year.

What the “experts” in Hispanic Marketing contacted by Lorena Ochoa’s agent do not understand is that Mexicans tend to admire, almost idolize, successful athletes, no matter what the discipline. A gold medalist, or champion from Mexico, gives all Mexicans a sense of pride, a reason to believe that success as a person and as a country is achievable.

Let me provide you with some examples (Information from Wikipedia):

Raúl Ramírez was a very successful tennis player during the 70s and early 80s. At the height of his career he was ranked as No. 4 player of the world. In singles he won 19 tournaments, including titles at the ATP Masters Series events in Rome (1975) and Monte Carlo (1978). He also won 59 doubles titles, including Wimbledon (1976), the French Open (1975 & ‘77), and at ATP Masters Series events in Cincinnati (1978), Canada (1976, ’77 & ’81), Monte Carlo (1979), Paris (1977), and Rome (1974, ’75, ’76 & ’77). A memorable moment of his career was when he led the Mexican Davis Cup team in a victory against the US team in 1975, which was led by the number one player of the world at the time: Jimmy Connors. This achievement gave Raúl a celebrity status in Mexico.

Ana Gabriela Guevara. Ana had a successful career in track and field, especially in the 400 meters. The highlights of her career are obtaining the silver medal in 400 meters at the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens and the winning the 2003 World Championship in France. Ana’s achievements made her one of Mexico’s most influential celebrities.

Eduardo Nájera. Eduardo became the second Mexican to play for an NBA team, yet he became the most famous. Off the court, Nájera served in 2001 as the United Nations Drug Control Program Goodwill Ambassador for Sports Against Drugs. Also, in 2004, Najera established the Eduardo Najera Foundation for Latino Achievement, which provides college scholarships for outstanding Latino students facing barriers to their educations.

Clearly, the “professionals” that counseled Hambric (Lorena’s agent) need to do some more research on the audience they are trying to target. Lorena could be a great Hispanic spokesperson for products, services and organizations, ranging from beauty products to health-related services. She is young, she is successful, and she is Latina, what more can we ask for?


10 Things Never to Say to Latino Executives (or any Latino)

April 24, 2008

Diversity Inc., a leading publication that covers diversity issues and their impact on U.S. business and society, just provided a list of ten phrases to avoid when interacting with Hispanic professionals:

1. “Don’t worry you’ll get the promotion, you’re Latina.”
2. “When did you arrive in this country?”
3. “¡Hola! ¿Habla inglés?”
4. “Do you live with your parents?”
5. “You’re not like them.”
6. “Can you show me your knife?”
7. “Why don’t all you Latinos stop doing that?”
8. “You’re not white.”
9. Butchering a Latino’s last name.
10. “Do you speak Spanish?”

Read more.


Yes we can!…improve Obama’s Spanish-language Web site

April 21, 2008

The golden rule when adapting (or trancreating, as some prefer) a marketing message, document or materials into another language is to ensure cultural relevance, which includes linguistic accuracy. In other words, the message or content must mean something to your target audience, and it must be grammatically and orthographically correct.

When developing materials for the Hispanic market, a misspelled word, a missing orthographic accent or a too literal translation of a word can negatively impact communication with the target audience. Even worse, such mistakes can be considered disrespectful to some consumers (like me).

I recently visited Sen. Barack Obama’s official Spanish-language Web site, and I was disappointed to find many orthographic and grammar mistakes in the site. The first problem is evident: in the homepage menu the word Conózcanos appears with an orthographic accent in the last “o” when it should be in the second “o” (Conózcanos vs Conozcanós).

Also, the latest blog entry appears as “Obama Pide que se Establezca Como Dia de Fiesta Nacional el Cumpleanos de Cesar Chavez” (Obama asks that Cesar Chavez’s birthday be considered as a National Holiday) , though the words Día, César and Chávez all should have orthographic accents and the word Cumpleaños should use a “ñ” instead of an “n .” Just for reference, the word ano with an “n” is the Spanish-language word for anus, while the word año with an “ñ” means year, so using Cumpleanos could be misinterpreted.

Obama en Español

The third blog entry includes the following title “Latino Lideres de Ohio Demuestran su Apoyo a Barack Obama . “ The first two words “Latino Líderes” were translated directly from “Latino Leaders” while the correct order of the words should be the inverse “Líderes Latinos”, plus the word líderes should have an accent in the letter “i .” The rest of the text of the entry seems to have been translated with an on-line translation software and not proof read by a Spanish-language speaker. Yet, the text was signed by Conchita Cruz (a Latina name).

The Obama Hispanic team should carefully review the content of the page and avoid these evident mistakes, which are affecting the candidate’s image. A comment in the page’s blog says:

…el castellano escrito en su versión para hispanos debe ser mucho mejor. Hay demasiados errores. Posted by Jose from Chicago, IL
…the Castilian (Spanish) written in the Hispanic version of the page should be improved. There are too many mistakes. Posted by Jose from Chicago, IL

Finally, as a suggestion, the Spanish-language version of the page should also contain quotations from Obama as the English-language one does. Ideally, the page should contain the phrase “¡Sí se puede!” given the phrase’s strong appeal among U.S. Hispanics. (If you want to read more about the origin and usage of the phrase click here.)