Common Misconceptions about Cinco de Mayo & the Hispanic Culture

Posted by on April 16, 2013

Sometimes referred to as the “Mexican St. Patrick’s Day,” Cinco de Mayo (held each year on May 5th) is one of the most misunderstood holidays we celebrate in the U.S., even by people of Mexican heritage.

Despite its reputation, Cinco de Mayo does not mark Mexico’s Independence Day. That is celebrated on September 16, the day in 1810 when Father Miguel Hidalgo took to his pulpit in Dolores, Querétaro, and urged his congregation to join him in efforts to overthrow the Spanish tyranny in Mexico. The celebration is also known in Mexico as El Grito de Dolores or “Cry of Dolores.”

Cinco de Mayo is actually a regional holiday in Mexico, called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla, celebrating Mexico’s victory over the French on May 5, 1862, during the Battle of Puebla in the American Civil War. Although Cinco de Mayo is a big holiday in Puebla, it is actually celebrated more in the U.S. than it is in most of Mexico. In the U.S., Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with parades and festivals that offer plenty of traditional Mexican food, cold beverages and music for participants. The holiday has really become more about celebrating the Mexican way of life than about remembering a battle that happened 150 years ago in Mexico.

Just as there is a misconception about Cinco de Mayo, there are also common misconceptions about Hispanics and the Hispanic culture of which credit unions looking to better serve this market should be aware. These include:

- All Hispanics are Mexican. “Hispanic” is a U.S. Census term often used to refer to people of Latin American and Spanish origin regardless of race. U.S. Hispanics have roots in 21
Latin American countries, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, South or Central America. Some areas of the U.S. have higher population concentrations of Mexicans, like California and Texas, but others like New York have a stronger Puerto Rican and Dominican presence.

- All Hispanics are Catholic. About 62 percent of Hispanics are Catholic, but there is a growing conversion rate from Catholicism to other religions. In fact, the Mormon church recently reported the number of Spanish-speaking Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregations in the U.S. rose from 389 in 2000 to more than 760 at present. According to a Pew Hispanic survey, 83 percent of Hispanics claim a religious affiliation, and one in five (19 percent) say they are Protestant. Fourteen percent of Hispanics say that although they are religious, they are unaffiliated with a particular religion.

-Hispanics speak several different forms of Spanish. While not all Hispanics speak Spanish, Spanish is the overarching language for many Latin American countries. According to Pew Research, more than 80 percent of Hispanic adults say they speak Spanish. Even though there are cultural nuances in the Spanish language, there are not completely different forms of the language in Latin American countries — the basic language structure of Spanish is shared.

That said, there may be different colloquialisms or words, phrases or statements, unique to a certain culture or region. To best serve your local Hispanic community, it is important to learn the make-up of the local population. Coopera can help with a comprehensive market analysis.

Rest assured, however, the basics of the Spanish language will be understood by your Hispanic members regardless of the Latin American country from which they hail.

-All Hispanics are poor immigrants. Not all Hispanics are immigrants (foreign nationals born outside of the U.S.), and the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there were over 2.1 million Hispanics in the U.S. with personal income over $65,000 in 2011. Today, the U.S. Hispanic population is made up of multiple generations of people from different countries of origin, from different income levels and different life experiences. Each Hispanic in the U.S. today can claim his/her own characteristics, beliefs and behaviors.

The Hispanic market in the U.S. is rapidly growing and changing, which presents important opportunities for credit unions that invest the time and resources in preparation for further expansion. One way to learn more, and to prepare your staff, is by investing in a resource like CUNA’s training-on-demand resource Hispanic Immigration Course. By becoming more familiar with the nuances of the Hispanic population, credit unions will be better positioned to provide for these members’ needs.

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