Two Women. Two Stories. One Identity: the Latina in America

Lizbeth Cardozo and Tanya Alvarez, co-founders of LaCosmopolatina, live a bi-cultural life

By LatinoLA Contributor
Published on LatinoLA: August 19, 2011

Two Women. Two Stories. One Identity: the Latina in America

Many are fooled by this similarity, but these Latinas are anything but the same. Both live in New York City, both come from Colombian parents, yet one speaks Spanish any chance she gets and the other understands it better than she speaks it. Both love Latin food, yet one loves whipping up empanadas in the kitchen while the other avoids cooking like the plague.

One is a bona fide Latina who looks and acts the part, while the other is what the Latina community would call a gringa, and proud of it! One hails from a predominantly white, homogeneous suburb of Chicago, while the other comes from a predominantly Latin community in Miami. These two ladies may seem to be more opposite than alike, but they have a strong commonality that their differences can never erase.

Both eternally crave Latin food, never tire of the salsa rhythms of Latin music, scream along with their pals at the soccer game on TV and have fond memories of big family gatherings. And most importantly, both have thoroughly embraced their dual identity and culture in their own unique way.

So how does one market to these two Latina ladies without stereotyping? Lizbeth Cardozo and Tanya Alvarez, the two women described above and co-founders of LaCosmopolatina, are that market. They understand the idiosyncrasies and nuances of the Latin American consumer because they themselves have experienced the void in modern media of addressing the needs of American Latinas. Armed with their similarities and their differences, Tanya and Liz have set out to answer this question. Two women. Two stories. One online magazine.

Marketers have been scratching their heads consistently over the last decade wondering how to target this elusive query, and LaCosmopolatina has offered the solution: simply put, avoid stereotypes, but welcome cultural cues. We know that this is a difficult line to walk, but there are some sure-fire ways to achieve this effect, one of them being the heavily debated subject of language.

Although Latinas vary in the strength of their ties to their Latino roots, some not even being fluent in Spanish, many juggle their Latin and American identities, merging and separating these dual influences to create a truly bi-cultural lifestyle. Spanglish has become a symbol of this connection, providing a platform to merge young US Hispanics' dueling identities to more accurately communicate their experience.

US Hispanics, especially the younger generation, are chameleons-- their language molds to whatever situation they are in, whether at school, where they mostly speak English, or with family, where half prefer to speak Spanish. It is imperative that like this adaptable demographic, advertisers need to become chameleons as well, immersing themselves in the world of Spanglish and providing content that truly blends with this bi-cultural way of life.

Many Latin-oriented content is written in either Spanish or English, but for the reasons stated above we have decided to take an alternate route, with articles written mainly in English sprinkled with certain Spanish words and phrases which don't have quite the same sabor when translated. Here is an example of this style from a piece we ran called :

"Day of the Dead"

These references to the communal nature of Latin culture, with the addition of familiar words and phrases and a dose of humor, provides the perfect equation for success in targeting Hispanics, precisely because as the saying goes, we are speaking "their language."

Just as LaCosmopolatina's co-founders are diverse, despite popular belief, not all US Hispanics are from Mexico. Spanish-speaking Americans hail from all over the world, from Latin America to Europe, and a mistake that many marketers make is lumping them into one ill-fitting category. And just like English speakers from the United Kingdom use words and phrases unknown to American English speakers like "come off it" or "loo," there are many cultural differences between these Spanish-speaking countries that foster nuanced differences in the language.

There are many times when one's content is either lost in translation, or fails to be properly translated at all. For this reason it is imperative that one establishes a system so that the Spanish words and allusions used are the most neutral, so as to appeal to any and all Hispanics. Within LaCosmopolatina, a strict editorial process is enforced so that each piece of content will be checked by levels of Spanish speakers within the staff to make sure that the references are understood by all.

Just as New Yorkers may not understand the Northern Californian slang term "hella" and Californians would be puzzled if a Bostoner dropped a "wicked' into the conversation, the same goes for Spanish speakers. This is why LaCosmopolatina has staff members who engage with different varieties of the Spanish language as well as proficiency levels in order to ensure that any and every Latina will be able to be in on the joke. Of course, this implies that in order to truly produce good content aimed at the Latin consumer a company must have Latin staff members. This seems like a "no-brainer," but it is surprising how many corporations are audacious enough to assume the contrary. As evidenced by its co-founders, LaCosmopolatina's philosophy is that it takes one to know one, and marketing is certainly no exception.

To complicate things further, Latin Americans have extremely varied levels of acculturation depending on their environment (areas in the United States like Texas are becoming more and more Latin-centric) and the amount of time their families have been in the United States (first generation Americans, second generation, and so on). These differences are a landmine for those who are not aware of them, but even for those that are, the question that immediately arises is, how can we target them all?

The real challenge is alienation. By narrowing ones definition of "Latina," one is automatically ostracizing those who do not fit the established criteria. LaCosmopolatina combats this myopic behavior by creating an inclusive space, where anyone who identifies with the identity of "Latina" is welcome.

Like anyone else, Latinas do not like to think of themselves as a statistic. They are flesh and blood, and come from a slew of different backgrounds and experiences. Our content attempts to appeal both to the second-generation Puerto Rican who knows how to make her abuelita's famous sopa but doesn't speak Spanish to the Colombian immigrant who faithfully watches la novela but wants to immerse herself in American culture.

One of the ways we achieve this is with our section "Many Faces of Latinas," whose aim is to showcase Latinas in all their diverse glory by providing a platform for individual Latina voices to be heard. By providing our readers with profiles of Latinas ranging from Mexican to Argentinian, Shakira worshipper to jazz connoisseur, first generation to third. Through these features we attempt to break the common stereotypes surrounding Latina women, illustrating their diversity while still celebrating their similarities, as well as showing our readers that we are an all-inclusive source for whichever version of "Latina" they identify with.

The Hispanic population in America is growing at a remarkable rate, and most of this demographic is under thirty. Latinas already have substantial influence and buying power in the US, and two Latina women are attempting to provide this group with the attention that they deserve, the right attention. Because "Latina" should not mean stereotype. We are the whole enchilada.

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