Don’t Ignore the Banks for the Stream

No hay mal que por bien no venga

Translation: There is no bad from which some good doesn’t result.

Transcreation: The bitterest trials are often blessings in disguise.

Jim Estrada uses this popular Spanish dicho (saying) early in his recent book, The ABCs and Ñ of America’s Cultural Revolution: A Primer on the Growing Influence of Hispanics, Latinos and Mestizos in the USA (Tate Publishing, 2013), to help set the stage for an insightful, easy to read and oftentimes snappy guide to understanding the Latino experience in the United States. Not surprisingly, Estrada, a longtime practitioner of ethnic marketing, is also purposefully speaking to those in the corporate sector charged with reaching the Latino consumer market, estimated by several sources as ranging between $1 and 1.2 trillion. I would note that there are important lessons in his book for those in the government sector whose jobs focus on ensuring that a deserving Latino public is adequately served.

Primordial point: Latinos are not shadowy cyphers of history and the present, not empty vessels for quotidian goods and nick-knacks, but, rather, a people whose complex and rich history, culture and language correlate to and drive its consumer decisions and voter preferences. With trillions of dollars and pivotal elections at stake one would think the commercial and political powers that be would pay close attention and proactively act. It is becoming readily apparent that those who don’t face bleak prospects.

«Transcreation» is a term frequently used by marketers to describe the process of adapting a message from one language to another while maintaining its original intent, style, tone and context. Transcreated messages can be effective in transcending the boundaries of culture and language in ways suitable and effective for reaching the Latino market. To illustrate the point, Estrada begins each of the 19 chapters in the book with a common Spanish dicho, followed by a literal English translation, followed by a transcreation.

Olvidado y nunca sabido vienen a ser lo mismo/Forgotten and never known come to be the same/The palest ink is better than the best memory. President Harry Truman once said, «The only thing new in this world is the history that you don’t know.» In his book Estrada makes serious use of beguiling word play to drive home the foundational point that most non-Hispanic whites — as well as a substantial number of the 50 million US-born, naturalized and undocumented immigrant Latinos — are unaware of the historic contributions the Latino population has made, and continues to make, in building this nation, and that by coming to terms with the forgotten or the never known and really getting to know the Latino community in all of its diversity and complexity is sound business practice and helps inform functional personal comportment and civic intercourse.

In his memorable stand-up performance, America’s Mexican (2007), comedian George López proudly boasts, «We ain’t going nowhere’s, eh! Nowhere’s!» López’s proclamation is part indictment of a broken immigration system, but I think is equally intended to point out that the Latino community has been here for a long time, is here to stay, is rapidly growing, and that majority communities and their associated business and government elite had better take notice and adjust their modus operandi accordingly. George López is a seriously funny vato (guy).

El idioma es el mejor reflejo de una etnia, pueblo o comunidad/Language is the best reflection of ethnicity, a town or a community/One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language. As noted, transcreated messages are designed to transcend the boundaries of language, so it’s worth noting the use of the Ñ in the book’s title. Ñ is the 16th letter in the Spanish alphabet. The Pew Hispanic Center found that 76 percent of U.S. Latinos are either Spanish-dominant or bilingual, so paying attention to important features of our language is important. I think those who know the difference between año (year) and ano (anus) would certainly agree.

The beloved North American philosopher Will Durant once wrote:

«Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things that historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians…ignore the banks for the river.»

In The ABC’s and Ñ of America’s Cultural Revolution, Jim Estrada has gifted us a poignant and highly usable guide to navigate the culture and the foundational importance of Latino USA. I, for one, am very thankful to have received this rare and practical gift. I invite you to also receive and enjoy it.


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