For Latinos, It’s All in the Familism

September 29, 2015


Like many of us this spring, I went to see “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” As I was sitting in the theater watching 20 minutes of trailers, downing a soft drink and passing the overpriced bucket of popcorn around with my wife and children, all I could think was: “I hope this movie delivers on the nearly $100 outing that this is costing me.”

It didn’t disappoint, of course. How could it? The movie was filled with many incredible action sequences, special effects and Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Actor Robert Downey Jr. is just cool. He brings sexy back for us 40-something guys with graying facial hair. But I digress. Middle-aged billionaires in formidable flying armor are a story for another time.

After the movie, my family and I engaged in our usual post-movie conversations. We break down every second of every scene: the acting, the plot, the fighting sequences, the new characters, and so on. Positing about superhero flicks is an especially entertaining ritual with my  9-year-old son because it usually concludes with a debate about which is the best. I favor the ingenuity of the terrestrial kind. He leans on the otherworldly costumed defender. It’s tough to argue against a Norse god.

We ended this latest movie bout in the same way we usually do: agreeing to disagree. But just before I thought we had put a period to the contest, my son told me something that not only ignited another conversation, but also inspired this article. He said, “The Avengers are one awesome family.”

A family? As a content developer, I found this fascinating.

The secret sauce

It had not occurred to me that Marvel’s secret sauce was familism. The Avengers’ social structure mirrors that of many Latino families, where the needs of the group are more important than any individual member — a framework, which resonates with the community and whose culture foundation is in helping family realize their potential and offering support in trying times.

A study by the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences measuring the effects of acculturation in the Latino community found three basic depths of familism: obligation, support and nationality.

La familia is something that all Latinos can agree on, despite tracing their roots or self-identifying from different countries. Familism is a core characteristic of all Latinos and, regardless of acculturation, family support remains. The obligation they have for one another is born from the overwhelming feeling of  “We’re in this together.”

When applied to storytelling, familism was one of the factors driving Latinos to the movies this past summer and boosting sales at the box office. (“Avengers: Age of Ultron” made $191.3 million in its domestic debut.)

A 2013 study by the Motion Picture Association of America found that Latinos are more frequent moviegoers than other ethnic groups. Repeat business is important. It not only increases ticket sales revenue, but it also increases the revenue of the theater concession stands. On behalf of my wallet, you’re welcome, AMC Theaters.

I relate to Iron Man, and my son relates to Thor. I coquettishly look at my wife as Black Widow and, given all of the mood swings that my preteen daughter is demonstrating, well… she’s the Hulk. At the center of the story are men and women of different ages and backgrounds committed to one another despite their differences. They work together defying the odds, which they couldn’t possibly do alone.

An authentic setting

It’s not just a movie of an adopted family of heroes that’s reverberating with Latinos this year. The latest edition of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, “Furious 7,” made more than $143 million out of the gate. The diverse cast, portraying a family-like group of friends, is credited with genuinely connecting with Latinos.

The two or two-and-a-half hours of a movie aren’t necessary to establish familism in storytelling. Companies like Wells Fargo are applying it to their total U.S. Hispanic marketing strategies. Additionally, the commercial “First Paycheck” features a young woman celebrating her economic milestone with family in an authentic setting — the home.

In order to produce content that is relevant with Latinos, it must be familiar, focusing on the community’s core values and centered on family. The key to success is in designing messages that promote a strong work ethic, the value of education, a celebration of achievement and responsibility to one another.

In other words, make sure to keep it all in the familism.

Hugo Balta

Hugo Balta is the senior director of Hispanic Initiatives at ESPN. His work focuses on collaborative projects across platforms and networks focused on best serving U.S. Hispanics. Find more articles like these on his blog, Straight Talk.


Diana Rubio says:

Bravo Hugo! Great post!

Oct. 5, 2015

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