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A new survey released today gives fresh insight into the nation's growing Spanish-speaking population. There are now 50 million Latinos in the U.S., making up 16 percent of the total population. The Pew Hispanic Center asked a sampling of them questions about culture, social attitudes and life in the U.S.
And as NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, the survey began with a simple question.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: What do you call yourself? The Pew study asked people of Spanish descent from around the country whether they preferred Hispanic, which the Census Bureau uses, or Latino. Fifty-one percent said they had no preference one way or the other. For those who did, 33 percent preferred Hispanic to Latino's 14 percent. Mark Hugo Lopez, the center's associate director, says it's not the name. It's where you're from that counts.
MARK HUGO LOPEZ: More than half of Hispanics overall say it's the name of the country of origin of their families or their ancestors, names like Mexican or Dominican or Cuban, for example.
BATES: And Lopez says country-of-origin association is highest among immigrant Hispanics. But whether respondents were first-generation immigrants or third-generation descendants of immigrants, there was agreement on one thing.
LOPEZ: So in our survey, we found that virtually all Hispanics think that U.S. Hispanic immigrant adults should learn English.
BATES: But, says Lopez, they don't want that English fluency to come at the expense of an important cultural link.
LOPEZ: We also found that when we asked Hispanics about the importance of Spanish, virtually all of them say that it's important that future generations speak Spanish.
BATES: Laura Martinez is a marketing expert who writes and blogs about Hispanic consumer interests. She says one of the biggest misperceptions marketers make involves language.
LAURA MARTINEZ: Still, a lot of people say that all Latinos speak Spanish, or all Latinos speak Spanish only.
BATES: In an effort to reach out to an undertapped population, that assumption led to missteps like this.
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BATES: To Taco Bell's credit, Martinez says, their marketing philosophy has evolved to something a little different. The current campaign is offering everyone mas for their money, which needs no translation. Blending cultures is a trend seen throughout the Pew study. Mark Hugo Lopez points to data that younger Hispanics are marrying outside their ethnicity at rates higher than the general population.
LOPEZ: So we're seeing, in many respects, Hispanics who are newlyweds marrying somebody who's not Hispanic. And that Hispanics and Asian-Americans are the ones most likely to do that compared to any other group.
BATES: More than 80 percent of Hispanics interviewed said they'd have no problem if their children married someone from a different heritage, whether or not that person was Hispanic. That's reflected in popular culture. Consider actress Sofia Vergara in the ABC sitcom "Modern Family." Sometimes the cross-cultural lines there become tangled as in this scene when her character chastises her onscreen husband for pooh-poohing her need to make offerings to her dead grandmother.
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BATES: In the end, says marketer Laura Martinez, it's all about inclusion. She says marketers like Nike and Apple are successful because they don't lean on ethnicity but show a mosaic of races and ethnicities using their products. Businesses that don't figure out how to approach Hispanics correctly will find that's an expensive mistake.
MARTINEZ: Think about it, we're talking about a population of 50 million people, and this is a market that is growing. They are buying cars. They are getting mortgages. They're sending their kids to school.
BATES: And they're doing it with companies and services that understand their myriad of interests and cultures. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
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