What is acculturation?
Acculturation is a process that an individual undergoes in a new subculture. When someone is new to an established system of life, he/she is exposed to foreign elements that are confusing for the first time, from meaningless things people say, to what they see in the environment, such as the city architecture, dressing codes, usage of colors, food, traffic, public transportation, pedestrian rules and traffic signs. What you and I take for granted is rare and unusual to them including social institutions such as the school system, media, government and corporations. These are environmental elements and are all influential on how the individual assimilates information and decodes messages from the new society.
Is acculturation relevant in the hispanic consumer market?
Of course, it is! Acculturation is relevant in all four stages of the process as it relates to branding strategies, un-acculturated, low-acculturated, mid-acculturated and acculturated. The Hispanic un-acculturated and low-acculturated segment of the consumer market is mostly structured by newly arrived Latinos and individuals living within Latino communities with minimal exposure to the U.S. sub-culture. As the low end part of the Hispanic consumer market, these two segments will continue growing for as long as there is an influx of immigration. The upper part of the market, the mid-acculturated and acculturated Hispanic segment is mostly structured by foreign-born and U.S. born Latinos. These consumers navigate the U.S. system more efficiently as they have the capacity of relating and interacting with the U.S. society more effectively. In fact, U.S. born Latinos prefer English over Spanish as the vehicle of communication.
When a Latin American arrives to the United States for the first time, everything is unfamiliar and relatively unknown. His/her natural reaction to everything he/she sees at first is mesmerizing because it is a new experience. They feel excitement and adventure and the individual is fascinated with the new sub-culture. At this point in the process, everything is magic, his/her cultural interpretation is rather shallow and superficial as he/she does not yet understand the intricacies of the new U.S. society.
Once time has passed and the individual has experienced the new subculture, he/she realizes that there are patterns of behavior, attitudes, values, norms, cultural concepts and meanings quite different from his/her costumes. At this point in the process a degree of conflict and confusion arises. Day-to-day communications, including listening and decoding messages, speaking and reading are difficult, as the person struggles to interpret local meanings. The individual now feels inadequate and builds an antagonistic attitude toward the new subculture.
This antagonistic attitude leads the individual to reject standards that are part of the new society, things that are customary and essential for the ordinary living in the new subculture i.e. from paying taxes, having health insurance, consuming local food to something as simple as establishing a checking account. A cultural clash develops as the individual feels confined to the new cultural paradigm. The first sign of discomfort is manifested through language since he/she can't interact properly. When this occurs, the person feels a loss of self-identity and rejects the new society.
Despite the strength of the home country's cultural background, tolerance becomes possible when an individual develops an understanding of how the new sub-culture works and how individuals in the new society interact and relate to one another. At this stage in the process, English as a second language is more manageable and facilitates better communication with members of the new sub-culture. In fact, cultural interpretation deepens and integration has begun.
At this stage in the process, the individual understands in-depth local cultural meanings and behaviors and appreciates the new subculture. In addition, the person has become bilingual and bicultural having developed the capacity of separating two cultures and adjusting the thought process according to each one. The latter is very important as behavior is no longer influenced by the opposite culture; instead, the new sub-culture is valued for its positive qualities. When this takes place, adjustment to the new subculture is achieved. Now the individual fits and navigates in two worlds without a problem.
The process is not equal for everyone
The process of acculturation is not equal for everyone as the individual's age, education, socio-cultural and occupational background are influential factors for accelerating or slowing down the absorption of information. This is a grey area in the process in which is hard to estimate the length of time for someone to acculturate to a new sub-culture. For instance, a Latino child that is 6-12 years old will quickly assimilate and interpret information from the new sub-culture, while an adult 18-24 years old will take longer. The older you get the harder it is to learn a foreign language and it becomes harder to integrate in a new sub-culture.
Claudio Perez-Korinko is a Consumer Insights and Cultural Intelligence Strategist, and founder of LatBrand.
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