Editor’s note: In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, PRSA is publishing a series of blog posts from prominent Hispanic public relations professionals. PRSA Chair and CEO Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, co-hosted Hispanic PR Chat (#hprchat) Oct. 5; a transcript of the chat is available here.
When I am first introduced to someone as “Rosanna Fiske,” my name seems to confuse some people.
The first question that inevitably comes up is “Where are you from?” I usually respond saying that I’m from Miami. But, then, the real question that’s in most people’s heads pops up, “No, I mean, where are you from originally because your name doesn’t seem to match how you look?”
What most people are likely thinking is that I probably look “Latina,” if there’s such a thing as looking Latina. What they don’t know is that my background is rather mixed. Yes, my background is Spaniard, Cuban, Chinese and French. Is there a stereotype look for that?
Part of the problem is most people don’t really understand what it means to be Latina. Or Hispanic, for that matter. Or both, as these terms are usually used synonymously, yet they’re not.
Hispanic refers to someone whose background is of Spanish-language origin or having come from Spain or one of its former colonies. It has to do with language, not necessarily with a culture or from where your ancestors hail; it is generally considered to be Euro-centric. This term was conceived by the U.S. government as part of its Census work back in the late-1970s. The classifying term is not used in Latin America, for example.
Latino or Latina is more of a grassroots creation, referring to someone whose family and ancestry hail from a Latin country – not necessarily from Spanish rule. It has to do with where you’re from, your culture, not what language you and your family speak. So, someone from Brazil is Latino yet he/she is not Hispanic. Many Latinos have Native American or African roots too, making them different from the Hispanic classification.
The other part of the problem is that most people don’t really understand that Latino or Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race. This means that there can be Hispanics of different races and different colors. There are black Hispanics, white Hispanics, brown-eyed Hispanics, blue-eyed Hispanics. We come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Case in point: Look at these two prominent Hispanic women, both of whom are of Cuban background, Cristina Saralegui, as one example, and Celia Cruz, as another example.
Why is understanding this nuance important to public relations professionals?
As we celebrate this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, we have to keep in mind that this is the nation’s fastest-growing market, which has a big say in our nation’s political direction. Just as the 2010 Census revealed, the Hispanic market is 50 million strong, with more than $1 trillion in purchasing power. And the forecasts for growth place the Hispanic market at 25 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, when I hope to see my children and their children leading the American workforce.
How does this affect our communications strategies today? How do we build lasting, engaging relationships with Hispanic publics throughout the country? How does it affect what we do in PRSA?
Celebrating different ethnicities and backgrounds is part of our daily work at PRSA — on behalf of volunteers, our partners and our staff. We’ve committed a great deal of effort and resources to our National Diversity Committee, led this year by Anne Dean. We’ve also formed great partnerships, including a strong alliance with the Hispanic PR Association.
We’ve also committed to providing continued professional development, research and networking to help access diverse communities. If you’ll be in Orlando in two weeks to attend our International Conference, don’t miss this year’s Unity Mixer.
So, as a public relations professional, make an effort to get to know the person behind the label. Just as there are cultural norms that many Hispanics/Latinos have in common, the levels of acculturation differ greatly. Many of us straddle two cultures, and our dual identity is what makes us that much richer in what we have to offer.