Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Más change in America

IN A MATERNITY ward in a hospital somewhere in America sometime in the last year, a newborn baby became more of a milestone event than his or her parents could have possibly imagined. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that’s when the American future arrived. That’s when the future of a nonwhite majority America passed from demographic theory to national fact.

The Washington Post reported (among numerous other news outlets weighing in) reported that Census Bureau population estimates “show that 50.4 percent of children younger than 1 last year were Hispanic, black, Asian American or in other minority groups. That’s almost a full percentage point higher than the 49.5 percent of minority babies counted when the decennial census was taken in April 2010.

“The latest estimates, which gauge changes since the last census, are a reflection of an immigration wave that began four decades ago,” The Post reported on May 16. “The transformation of the country’s racial and ethnic makeup has gathered steam as the white population grows collectively older, especially compared with Hispanics.

“The census has forecast that non-Hispanic whites will be outnumbered in the United States by 2042, and social scientists consider that current status among infants a harbinger of the change.”

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As opposed to immigration from other countries — what used to be a prime demographic mover of the national identity — native-born newborns are the emerging canaries in the coal mine of our great national transition. The changes in the national complexion are being driven internally.

The photographs and newsreels we grew up with, the one showing mostly European immigrant families crowding the decks of ships as they approached the Statue of Liberty and America beyond, are suddenly more quaint now than they were before, more obviously the product of another time, and of another kind of America, than ever before.

Interviewed by The Post, Kenneth Johnson, a University of New Hampshire sociologist, grasped the moment of the moment. “The population is literally changing before us, with the youngest replacing the oldest,” he said. “This is the first tipping point. The kids are in the vanguard of the change that’s coming.”

The new immigrant story of the United States is happening within the United States.

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BIG BUSINESS has started to make changes in marketing and advertising to address the coming tidal shift in the American population. Officially launched in March, and most recently seen in ads placed during the NCAA Championship and the NBA Western Conference SemifInals, Taco Bell’s new marketing campaign taps into the rise of the Hispanic market.

In one commercial for its new Doritos Locos Tacos product, we get the customary clutch of young, iPlugged-in Latino teens savoring Locos Tacos. The ad ends with Taco Bell’s new defining tagline: Live Más. “Más” is Spanish for “more.”

The move points to Taco Bell’s decision to finally think outside the “Think Outside the Bun” campaign that it’s had for at least nine years, but in potentially groundbreaking ways.

Other fast-food chains have been making tweaks in their marketing in recent months. “Burger King dethroned its eccentric King mascot and replaced him with luscious images of fresh produce and sizzling meat. McDonald’s Ronald McDonald clown has been absent for a while as the chain brings its farm and ranch suppliers to the fore,” the Los Angeles Times reported in February.

But their changes, at least the ones we’ve seen, double down on the primacy of English as the language of choice. Taco Bell, a California-based chain that’s made Mexican food the focus of its menu and esthetic for 50 years, has just doubled down on its own Latino identity within the United States, coming up with a motto that wires English to Spanish in a visceral, forward-thinking way.

The result: a juxtaposition that boldly (and maybe even provocatively) mainstreams the Latino experience. Taco Bell’s marketing relaunch manages to both anticipate the impact of the Census Bureau figures, and reflect the change that’s already taken place in this country.

Or make that the change that’s taking place in this country ... one maternity ward at a time.

Image credits: American newcomer: NBC News. Taco Bell Live Más video grab: Taco Bell via YouTube.

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