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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 November, 2003, 15:11 GMT
Latino culture sweeps across US
Benicio Del Toro in Traffic
Benicio Del Toro won an Oscar for Traffic - much of which was in Spanish
Three years ago, Latinos became the largest ethnic minority in the US - and the rise in their numbers is having an increasingly dramatic effect on American culture.

Among the most recognisable are actors and singers like Jennifer Lopez, Benicio Del Toro and Enrique Inglesias, but there is also a massive growth in Latino media, art, and books.

In September, a merger between the main Latin TV and radio networks created the first Latino media giant in the country, reaching 80% of the Spanish-speaking market.

"There's changes every day," Carey Davis, vice-president of New York's La Mega radio station - the first Spanish-speaking station in the city to reach the number one position in the entire market - told BBC World Service's Living Beneath The USA programme.

"Every week we see new evidence of the power of the Hispanic community in New York, from fashion to food, to TV, to music, to the way people talk, the way people dance - in absolutely every area."


Mr Davis said the reason behind his station's success was "a combination of good radio and a big population."

He also said that Latinos were now the "hot market", and that one indication of this was the numbers of non-Latinos now working in Latino-targeted media.

Hispanic shoppers in Denver, Colorado
Latinos are of ever-growing importance within the framework of American culture
Edward Sullivan, New York University
"That's a big change from 10 years ago," he said.

There are now more than 35 million Latinos in the US.

In the last year, Spanish has become the most popular foreign language in American high schools and universities.

Public officials are also being encouraged to learn the language.

In Phoenix, Arizona, every firefighter who starts learning Spanish gets a bonus of $100 a month.

And universities are seeing a massive increase in the number of Latino students, prompting changes to the curriculum.

"I initiated the studies of Latin American art, and in the academic year just finished, 2002-3, I worked for the creation of a Latino Studies programme," explained Edward Sullivan, head of Department of Fine Arts at New York University.

"This is the first time we are instituting this at New York University."

He added that while the department had for a long time offered studies in Latin America, this was the first programme dedicated to Latino cultures inside the United States.

"I think that we realise that this is an ever-growing portion of our student population, and also an ever-growing importance within the framework of American culture."


The Latino influence is also reaching the screen as producers seek to cash in on the market.

Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez is possibly the world's most high-profile Latino star
Many television shows and films now feature Hispanic characters.

Even a recent televised debate amongst Democratic party presidential hopefuls was available in both English and Spanish.

"You find on television most shows have some kind of Latino presence," Luis Santago, writer of the groundbreaking 1970s bilingual TV series Que Pasa USA, told Living Beneath America.

"For example in children's' shows, on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, they're all trying to do shows which have Latino presence. Even in animation it's changing."

However, Mr Santago said that there still many who held stereotyped views of Latinos.

"It is changing and it is getting better, but in California the vision of a lot of producers is still that the Latinos are the maids and the gardeners," he said.

Indeed, Jennifer Lopez - possibly the world's most famous Hispanic star - last year starred in the romantic comedy Maid In Manhattan.

Author Ed Morales, one of many Hispanic writers finding a great number of publishers keen to take on Latino literature, said that there was a lack of understanding of what exactly Latino culture was - both amongst non-Hispanics and many Latinos themselves.

There was no Latino experience in the US, he said, which could compare with that of Black Americans.

"African-Americans have a kind of narrative that they can draw from - the negative experience in this country, their liberation through the civil rights movement, and a lot of their sports and athletic history," he argued.

"This narrative is not clear enough, or is not as well known, about Latinos.

"Latinos have to move into the mainstream of the narrative of US culture, and I think that that's going to start to happen in the next few years."

Hispanics overtake blacks in US
19 Jun 03  |  Americas
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20 Aug 01  |  Americas
US schools 'failing' Latinas
25 Jan 01  |  Education

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