They say it all started when Ricky Martin shook his bom bom at the 41st Grammy awards in 1999; or that it was the following year when La Lopez, at the same awards show, turned heads worldwide when she wore that "down to the waist" neckline Versace gown.
Still others would argue it was director Robert Rodriguez, who not only revolutionized how independent films are made, but also elevated the Mexican Mariachi to the level of cool when he made his film "El Mariachi" in 1992. What we know for sure is that it was around this time that the "Latino Invasion of Cool" began gathering momentum and hasn't stopped since!
Today U.S., Latinos continue to fuel the cool factor, adding "el sabor Latino" to every facet of society, flexing more than $1.2 trillion of consumer market power muscle.
Not withstanding the misguided Arizona AB 1070 law sentiment, Latinos are unstoppable trendsetters, increasingly politically empowered, avid consumers of media and rapidly growing image-makers -- and the brands want in.
In a world where salsa has surpassed ketchup as the number one condiment; taco trucks have made way for "Gourmet Trucks"; telenovelas are being adapted by English-language networks; and OTLs (other than Latino) are gulping down those "jawriddos" (Jarritos) to wash down their carne asada "wraps", it's undeniable that U.S. Latinos are changing the face of America.
According to the census, the U.S. Hispanic population jumped by more than 40 percent in the past decade. The nation's 50 million-plus Hispanics now make up 16 percent of the TV-viewing public and want to see themselves reflected in the shows they watch. Increasingly Latinos are impacting TV ratings, both on Spanish language and English Language TV.
Univision is now ranking as the 5th broadcast network behind the major five English-language networks. In addition other Spanish-lingo nets vying for the U.S. Latino audience include the Fox Intl. Channels (FIC) and Colombia's RCN joint venture MundoFox, the six channel TuTV pay TV, co-owned by Univision and Televisa.
English-language networks NuvoTV (originally founded as Si-TV), ratings and award-winning mun2, and music oriented MTV3s, all cater to the young Latino ages 14-24. Even Spanish language-centric Univision is exploring a new English language cable network joint venture with Disney.
However these networks are not enough to fill the need of the Latino youth, which is the fastest growing segment of the population. As a result, Latino youth are taking matters into their own hands.
While U.S. Latinos are underrepresented on the shrinking Hollywood screen, their presence is growing in the media world and the digital space. Latinos don't see their lives reflected on TV or film. And with the ease, technology and affordability of being able to produce video content, Latinos are taking control of their image and creating programming that speaks to them.
According to Andrew Speyer's article "Latinos Finding Greater Authenticity in Digital Content "in Mediapost Blogs, Latinos over index (vs. the General Market) on all kinds of digital content creation. The recent announcement of the English-language El Rey Network could be a game changer. El Rey is one of the four independently owned Latino networks Comcast committed to launch as a condition for the Comcast/NBC merger. Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and partners John Fogelman and Cristina Patwa of FactoryMade Ventures think they have what it takes to get it right.
"If you launch a network like everyone else has, a network that doesn't make sense," said Rodriguez in a recent interview at SXSW. "You need to get content that no one else is providing." He claims that out of the 500 networks, not one of them is really connecting to this audience which over indexes in social media and spends a trillion dollars a year. He knows that U.S. Latinos are a big must for El Rey as an audience but more specifically as content producers. "You're talking about a youth that's very dissatisfied."
In one of the most important crossroads in the history of television, Rodriguez has another game changing opportunity, this time on the small screen. To be able to do this, Rodriguez believes it is all about the content. Content produced by Latinos that not only appeals to U.S. Latinos but also to general audiences. How will he know when he's found the right content? "It's gotta be cool," he says. "That's the main thing. It's just gotta be cool."
And so, the Invasion of Cool will now be televised -- on the small screen.