Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month During a Complex Year

September 2020
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Many organizations were betting on “20/20 vision” this year — a year of clarity, prosperity and a race down the smooth path ahead. Then the pandemic blinded our world, and all regularly scheduled programs were interrupted. Are we ready to try some annual observances yet? How will the public feel about these efforts?

Sentiment today is tenuous. Identity can be tricky. However, relating to our target publics via their culture’s particular traditions is still a smart strategy to build rapport. Hispanic consumers care deeply about being shown respect and appreciation for their culture and traditions. 

Organizations that address how they strive to support Hispanics and respect their values resonate with them. The waves are rough this year, but let’s venture out to explore how observing Hispanic Heritage Month could build a deeper emotional connection with this values-centered public. 

The origin story

Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15 and lasts through October 15. It’s the only national cultural observance that starts mid-month. Why is that?

According to the Library of Congress, September 15 is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and 18 respectively. Día de la Raza, October 12, also falls within this 30-day window.

Special considerations for 2020

Hispanics have been a significant driver of the U.S. population growth over the last decade. 

In fact, Hispanics accounted for 52 percent of the growth during this time, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the most recent census.

We are strong in numbers, tight in our familial networks, and growing in positions of power and influence. We come in many shades from Black to white and may speak English, Spanish or both. It’s important to recognize that many Hispanics were on the front lines of essential work and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Those factors and the current state of racial unrest make observing Hispanic Heritage Month important, but delicate.

Anyone familiar with Hispanic culture knows that Hispanics value family, heritage, food, music and Spanish-language inclusion. For life in pandemia, how can we celebrate those cultural connections without seeming tone deaf? Here are three ways to thoughtfully honor Hispanic Heritage Month:

1. Pitch media stories. Use the month to pitch story ideas highlighting the Hispanic community with HHM as a timely hook. Reach out to your local lifestyle shows with topics such as easy how-to recipes, art and music featuring Hispanic experts. General news pitches could include human-interest stories, trends in your community, achievements of individuals, unsung hero profiles, unique business owners/leaders or advocates. 

Don’t forget Spanish-language news outlets! Their teams are often bilingual and can coordinate interviews in English and work with English-speaking spokespeople if necessary. Provide a Spanish-speaking spokesperson and Spanish materials if possible. 

2. Bond through experiences. Virtual learning will probably still be the most comfortable approach for events. For consumers, consider a livestreamed talk with Hispanic experts on localized topics such as health, education, or caring for family during COVID. Or host interactive cultural talks including food, music, art, or history. 

Your organization or client could offer free drive-thru movie showings of a culturally appreciated film like “Coco,” stream a local mariachi or folklorico concert, or host an online Lotería complete with shipped prizes. 

For the business community, host a webinar for your organization, local PRSA Chapter or on your brand’s channel to include Hispanic leaders, employees, clients or journalists. Hispanic PR pros or agencies that specialize in Hispanic marketing can share industry knowledge that helps us all relate better. 

3. Create unique content. Use social media to host a “Share the Mic” channel approach with Hispanic voices that resonate with your audience. These can be local community influencers, social media influencers, diverse brand partners or even employees. Employee spotlights, special blog posts, custom videos or visuals can all be created quickly. Hosted employee or customer virtual programs or town halls can help inspire conversation, action and content for external proof of caring from the inside out. 

Whatever you do, be sure to plan your approach with a cultural adviser or a group of employees who are from the culture.

As beloved as “Coco” is today, Disney/Pixar made a major misstep when they tried to trademark “Día de los Muertos” in 2013. The move was viewed as an attempt to exploit a holiday held sacred in Mexico and to many Hispanics in the United States. Controversy, claims of cultural appropriation and a protest followed. 

As a result of the outcry, they hired one of their vocal critics as a consultant to shape the movie. This led to better representation and creating a film “that authentically captures the feel of Dia de los Muertos.” Learn from Disney’s initial mistake with “Coco,” and have those voices included from planning through execution to be confident in your approach.

Return to Current Issue The Tech & Social Issue | September 2020
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A scene from last year’s Hispanic Day Parade in NYC. [ryan rahman]