Greetings, from behind the "Tinseltown Curtain." I have always been very proud of my last name, however, there are two letters at the very end, which have lately made me a "Marked Man." The letters, EZ. It seems that American marketers in their effort to reach Spanish-speaking Latinos see those last two letters and believe they have an EZ solution to reaching myself and others (Gom-ez, Martin-ez, Gonzal-ez) in Spanish. Years ago, I was warned by my friends, whose names ended in IA; the Garc-ia and Menc-ia clans that the marketers would be coming for me too, but silly me I didn't believe them. I assumed by the time the Fortune 1,000 got to EZ in the alphabet, they surely would have figured out not to speak at us, but with us. They would know that it's not about language or last name, but about culture and a variety of other measurable metrics. But noooooooo!
So now I get Spanish language flyers in the mail and Spanish language robo-calls, which pitch me every new product imaginable. Only one problem, I DON'T SPEAK SPANISH and am not making a major buying decision based on a language I haven't mastered. I feel like I'm stuck in a Monty Python sketch with John Cleese yelling at me, "You cannot escape the Spanish Imposition!" (I realize the Python boys said, "Inquisition," thus the play on words) Why do all these major brands insist on imposing Spanish on us, when the English dominant Latino audience is the Golden Goose? Perhaps I should change the last letters of my name to ski, but try as I might, I'm just not feelin' Jeff Valdezski.
It's not just marketers, it's also Hollywood. I had a meeting at a major cable channel last week to pitch a comedy show, in English of course. I have actually known the exec for fifteen years. He enters the room with an associate and the first words out of his mouth were, "You know, my associate speaks Spanish and is a specialist in International Affairs." I promptly responded, "But I don't speak Spanish and I'm originally from Colorado." He then insisted that I have produced Spanish language programming throughout my career. I informed him, "I have never produced five seconds of Spanish programming... English only." Houston we have a problema.
For the record, I'm not anti-Spanish, au contraire; I think bilingualism is an asset. My friend Eddie Olmos' character in the movie Selena said something quite beautiful to that regard, "To possess a second language, is to possess a second soul." I agree. My wife and 14-year-old son are trilingual (English, Spanish and French) and my 11-year-old son is bilingual. However, the three of them consume ZERO Spanish language media.
When I launched the cable channel SíTV (that was 100 percent in ENGLISH), we would go to cable and satellite operators, make our pitch and they would often say, "This will be perfect on our Spanish language tier." Aghhhhh! The channel is now called Nuvo TV and I'm sure the current management has the same hurdles today as ten years ago. It's the year 2013 and yet even they cannot escape "The Spanish Imposition!"
My favorite brief moment in time, was at a well known Wall Street bank -- I was dressed to the nines and had a killer power point presentation. At the end of the pitch, I stood anticipating questions about the viability of the plan and assumptions behind the model. Instead, the exec looked at me and said and I quote, "Wow... you speak English really good." I reacted by commenting, "Actually, I speak English, WELL! My family like many other Latino families, have been here since 1620, we had a few hundred years to iron out all the wrinkles." I politely thanked him for his time, walked outside and screamed at the top of my lungs, "Carajo!!!" (My limited Spanish does come in handy for those moments when English just isn't expressive enough).
Most of the people I have mentioned in these true stories have all attended institutions of higher learning and many were even Ivy Leaguers. They're educated, so they should get this, right? A lot of us have been out preaching this gospel for years now. It's sinking in, isn't it? After much reflection I've concluded that there are three groups that people in the industry fall into:
1. People who genuinely don't know the data
2. People who know the data, but don't know how to actually do anything with it
3. People that know the data and have no intention of doing anything (I believe they're operating out of fear and are afraid of "new possibilities," even though it will yield positive results. After all change isn't easy for any of us.)
Fear is a powerful block, so I would like to make a plea to the folks in all the columns: Please reach out so we can work together to improve this nascent and valuable market and nurture it to fruition. After all, I, like most American Latinos, speak English really, really... well.
P.S. send me your stories of fun little moments like the above that have happened. It helps all of us learn.