Rise of the Hispanic Market in the United States:
In view of these telltale facts and ten years into the North American Free Trade Agreement which has accelerated the integration process between Canada, the US and Mexico, Louis E.V. Nevaer’s book is part of the increasing body of research which is being published on the challenges of the growing Hispanic presence in the United States. The author, a Hispanic himself, offers an ambitious interdisciplinary approach with a view to giving American managers and businesspeople better understanding of the values and worldview most Hispanics share, in the hope of shattering the common misperceptions and stereotypes which pervade the corporate literature on Hispanics (a biased study by R.J. Reynolds from the late eighties is cited repeatedly throughout the work).
The book is part academic study, part practical handbook for the business community with abstracts and summaries opening and closing every chapter. It is loosely organized around two main parts, each unfolding into three separate sections, and is completed by forty pages of footnotes and an index. The first part, entitled “The Political Economy of the ‘Hispanization’ of the United States and North America,” dwells on the exclusive and self-contained nature of the US Hispanic market, and elaborates on the familiar idea, recently echoed in Samuel Huntington’s latest book (Who Are We: The Challenges to American National Identity, Simon & Schuster, 2004) that Hispanics are in the process of building a “nation within a nation” in the United States. While this depiction of a community that defies former models of acculturation and creates a “viable, parallel economy that is based on the cultural-linguistic heritage that does not accept fully an Anglophone worldwiew”  is not really new, the author rightly points out that this fact has not been sufficiently acknowledged, understood, and acted upon by businesses. The reader will be interested to learn that, contrary to popular belief, the United States does not dominate spheres such as language, entertainment and the media, and that “more television viewers around the world are familiar with Mexican television programming than they are with Hollywood movies” . As the author aptly remarks moreover, the fact that Spanish is now spreading faster within the United States than English is spreading elsewhere, thus turning the US into a bilingual nation and silencing pundits who decry the overwhelming influence of the English language around the world does indeed have an ironic touch.
The author goes on to explain why many Hispanics have never really been interested in settling permanently in the United States nor in becoming American citizens. As economically-driven immigrants, they have always remained deeply suspicious of the American values and race-obsessed culture. This pattern, as we know, was established with the Cubans in the sixties. But the increasing fluidity of exchanges and travel has made this particular form of integration, or “transnationalism” more salient today.
The second part, entitled “The Emergence of the Hispanic Market in North America,” is more focused on the historical and cultural trends which influence the Hispanics' worldwiew and expectations as consumers. In a sense, the current “Hispanization” of the United States is nothing but history coming full circle, a sort of “Reconquista,” with Hispanics reclaiming their property rights over whole areas of the Sunbelt of which they were dispossessed after the Mexican-American war. Nevaer delves further into the past to highlight the present and compares the “gentler, kinder” more inclusive sort of colonization that was carried out by Spaniards in the south of the continent, to the northern conquest which was more brutal and exclusive and resulted in the deeply racialized American society that we know. Such opposed legacies have left lasting imprints in the collective psyches of both peoples, and help to explain the ambivalence of the Hispanic consumers toward the social Darwinism that permeates the US society.
Most interesting are the passages where the author elaborates on these conflicting identities. True, as he rightly laments, the poor treatment reserved for Hispanic immigrants in the United States and the discrimination most of them experience because of their “brown skins” is a disgrace, as well as the lack of a coherent and humane immigration policy (presumably the book went to press before the signing of the Guestworker program by President Bush in January 2004). But Central and Latin American societies also share their part of the blame, with their long history of authoritarianism that left little room for dissenting opinions. Even if Hispanic-Americans do suffer from discrimination, they also value the freedom, confidence and entrepreneurial spirit the US society offers. Other reasons for the paradoxical attitudes of this community, torn between feelings of allegiance and prejudice toward their former homeland are accounted for at length. Most insightful for anyone who studies American society and culture is the author’s analysis of the way these great immigration waves to El Norte were scorned upon inside Mexico. The author scathingly remarks upon the ill-advised influence such widely acclaimed intellectuals as Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes had on Mexican public opinion for decades, undermining Hispanic democratic aspiration and fueling both anti-American and anti-migrant sentiment at home by depicting the hordes of poor migrants who chose to “sell out” to the US as traitors to their nation. Hispanic societies are also guilty of discrimination, not on the basis of skin color but on the basis of education and class.
Thus, the turning point of Vicente Fox’s election as president and the closer ties that are being woven between the two countries as modernization efforts are under way in Mexico are heralded as overall positive developments in the integration process now unfolding.
Louis E. V. Nevaer is an authority on NAFTA and the Hispanic consumer market. He has written nine other books including New Business Opportunities in Mexico (Quorum Books, 1995), and New Business Opportunities in Latin America (Quorum Books, 1996). As a consultant for top management in international finance, he enriches this study with many anecdotes and tidbits of information only a true insider and practitioner can bring. He also has extensive knowledge of all Central and Latin American countries and of the complex ties that bind the nations of what Americans call the “southern hemisphere.” The analysis is most precious in that it is not narrowed—as is often the case in books that deal with ethnic minorities in the United States—to Hispanic-Americans, but instead enlarges to the rest of the American continent (including Canada). Several noteworthy developments are also made about the inter-ethnic tensions between Hispanics and African-Americans in the post-civil rights era and the fundamental differences between the two on the issues of race and political activism.
Yet for all these insightful perceptions, the demonstration is not always fully convincing. While the book does offer quite a lot of food for thought (a bit too much at times...), arguments pertaining to the cultural differences between Anglo-Saxons and Hispanics over behavior, beliefs and values are too often ingenuously stated. They would have been more forcefully expressed within a more theoretical framework, alluding, for instance, to the seminal work of Geert Hofstede on cultural types (individualistic, competitive, masculine, power distanced, with low uncertainty avoidance, etc.) or that of anthropologist Edward Hall who identifies high-context cultures (to which Hispanics clearly belong) and low-context cultures (in the case of Anglo-Americans). Also missing is a more thorough analysis of the sweeping cross-cultural trends now at work in the American society and culture, the interplay between ethnic and cross-cultural marketing, or the impact of the younger, bicultural generations of Hispanic-Americans who unlike their forebears, have no qualms about embracing the materialistic-oriented values of the American society. More generally speaking, the issue of multiculturalism in America today is not sufficiently developed. Information on the intense fragmentation of the Hispanic market in the US is only given on page 167, and too few comments are made on other Hispanic communities, such as Puerto Ricans or Dominicans, as Nevaer’s study focuses almost exclusively on Hispanics of Mexican ancestry. Moreover, several passages (tips about the best way to conduct business with Mexicans by being humble, patient and open-minded for example) are little more than sweeping generalizations and there are too many thoughtless comments and oversimplifications (about Americans as insensitive arrogant brutes, about look-obsessed societies everywhere around the world) and meaningless lines of questioning (is the American hubris larger than the Mexican one?) that do little to dispel common stereotypes and do not do justice to the rest of the book’s excellent research.
Finally, while the book is written in direct, lively prose, issues are too often discussed in a circular, repetitive, knockabout way (several passages are literally repeated twice with only a few pages in between) which is at times downright unnerving. The overwhelming place of race in the US society and culture for instance, which is something that clearly baffles the writer, is dealt with time and again, without any clear conclusion being drawn. The author also has a knack of diluting his point by developing counter-arguments (for example stating that “discrimination works both ways” ), a habit that leaves the reader confused and unsure about what he was really getting at in the first place. Ditto for the (too) many digressions that pepper the book. The sheer mass of information compiled proves to be both an asset and a liability. At times, the author fails to put forth his ideas in a convincing way and falls off track.
conclusion, while this study will certainly be of use for academics
and businesspeople interested in making sense of the increasing
Hispanic presence and ascendency in the United States, it is not
something that I would recommend as a “road map” for
the inexperienced reader (as one of the reviewers cited on the back
jacket effusively remarks), nor a must-read for the managers Louis
Nevaer purports to enlighten. Nevaer’s study is interesting
and truly eye-opening at times, but should definitely be read in
combination with other sources, perhaps less ambitious in scope
but more practical-minded and focused such as Marilyn Halter’s
Shopping for Identity: the Marketing of Ethnicity (Schocken
Books, New York, 2000) and Arlene Davila’s Latinos, Inc.:
The Marketing and Making of a People (University of California
Press, 2001) both of which are mentioned briefly in this work.