This post is part of a series of interviews with families like ours, who are ‘mixed’ and Latino. Read more interviews here: MixedFam Q&A
Jonathan A. Barrera Mikulich is the owner of Latino Branding Power, a web portál dedicated to exploring the ideas, strategies, and insights that deliver cultural value within Hispanic marketing communications and branding. Jonathan is a West Michigan based professional and has close to twenty years experience in graphic design, marketing, brand management, advertising, and public relations. He is also an aspiring musician and lives with his wife and family in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
What is your individual, family and/or relationship mix? (culture, ethnicity, language, religion, etc.)
I am an individual of both Mexican-American and Eastern-European decent. My maternal grandparents were immigrants from Michoacán, Mexico. Although I didn’t grow up bi-lingual, in 2005 I took a sabbatical to Mexico that increased my proficiency in Spanish. My wife Evelyn is of Puerto Rican heritage. She was born in Pennsylvania but spent her formative years in Puerto Rico. Although I consider “family” within an extended context (cousins, second-cousins, friends, etc.), in my personal family unit I have two adult stepchildren and a granddaughter.
How have travel and/or the communities that you’ve lived in impacted your personal and family identities?
Travel has had a significant impact on me personally. I had the privilege to grow up with parents that valued traveling and seeking new experiences. These experiences, I believe, impacted me for many years to come. As I mentioned, I took a sabbatical to Mexico in 2005 that impacted my view of life in a very profound way. I consider it a life changing experience that further opened my mind about how I see myself and the world around me. It also enriched my family outlook too. In Mexico I connected with relatives (cousins of my Grandfather) that I hadn’t even known existed prior.
How do you keep your bicultural or multicultural Latino identity alive at home? How do you instill your personal heritage to your children?
Luckily, with regard to my step-children, they are very much aware of their Latino (Puerto Rican) identity because of Evelyn and her family. They did spend their time as children in Puerto Rico. I support Evelyn in her efforts to keep her heritage alive in her children. I also see them as individuals that will hopefully continue to carry their heritage on.
As someone who has worked in the bicultural Latino community, why do you think it’s so important for U.S. Latinos to find those connections to their roots in their daily lives? How does this need play a role in marketing to Latinos?
It is easier for me to speak personally about fulfilling a connection to Latino roots. Although I grew up being very much aware of my Mexican-American heritage, I did feel a strong desire to discover more about these roots intimately. When I traveled to Mexico, little did I know at the time I was engaged in what marketers refer to as “re-acculturation”. There are many young Latinos of second or third generation that also desire to fulfill a connection to their heritage. I had two cousins that also traveled to Mexico during their college years. They inspired me to do the same. From a marketing perspective, these types of insights can help brands empathetically understand the attitudes of young Latinos and deliver value.
Do you think that multiculturalism, multilingualism and multiracial identity are more common among Latinos? If so, how do you think this impacts the Latino community and Latinos’ perception of cultural identity?
In a nutshell, yes, all these “isms” certainly impact Latino communities and their cultural identities. Notice I used the plural term “Latino communities” as opposed to “Latino community”. I do this intentionally because, in my opinion, there are several Latino communities that exist as opposed to a monolithic Latino populace. Many of these communities exist based on nationality – Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Chilean, etc. Yes, Latinos can come together for common interests, but even among second and third generation Latinos, there is significant pride in one’s nationality. Even though reports indicate there is a large group of young English-dominant Latinos, Spanish will continue to be a significant factor. Language is not simply a tool for communication but also a way for individuals to express their culture. One misconception this that Latinos are a single race, which we know is not accurate. Latinos are a mixture and combination of different races and backgrounds, so it is more accurate to refer to Latinos as an ethnicity. That having been said, race can and does affect Latino identities and perceptions. Some of these attitudes were explored recently in Dr. Louis Gates’ historical series “Black in Latin America”.
What are some common misconceptions about Latinos in the U.S.? How do you address those misconceptions in your family life? In your professional life?
Interestingly enough, this answer will relate to the previous. The misconception I hear the most is the common idea that Latinos are a monolithic group. I try to use this misconception as an opportunity to inform and educate about the diversity within our Latino communities. For example, professionally, I am often asked what can be done to better connect with Latinos. My answer is to explain that there are various Latino communities based on nationality, acculturation, language, etc., and it is better to first examine what the product or service offers and how it can be properly aligned with particular Latino interests. As far as family life, Evelyn and I built our relationships on mutual respect. When cultural misinterpretations do happen, we try to make light of them and use them as learning experiences. We both would have some funny stories to tell you.
You designed a t-shirt for Surropa last year to address Arizona’s SB1070. What was that experience like and why do you feel it’s an important message to convey?
Last year Surropa, a Latino interest apparel distributor, asked their Facebook fans to submit t-shirt design ideas in response to Arizona’s SB1070 law. On a whim, I quickly submitted a design and was honored that it was chosen to be printed and distributed for sale. Yes, I did feel it was an important message and still do. Obviously, since then several states have implemented similar laws. I believe the law and others like it have perpetuated a climate of racism we are now experiencing in the U.S. These laws, in essence, have given people permission to engage in publicly racist attitudes.
You’re a designer and the owner of Latino Branding Power, a marketing communications and branding company that specializes in Marketing to Hispanics in the U.S. What have you learned about bicultural and multicultural Latino lifestyle and identity through your professional career?
I recall a great learning experience several years ago when I first started working within our local Latino communities in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was at a presentation meeting with a potential client and, with several years working in design and marketing for large clients under my belt, was feeling pretty confident about my skills. The meeting was with a first-generation immigrant small business owner that ran a modest taqueria of authentic Mexican cuisine. In the middle of what I considered a normal presentation, the owner stopped me and asked that I not treat him like a “big shot”. For him, my “normal” mode of presenting was way too formal. I learned that not all business perspectives are equal and individuals with different cultural experiences from my own required a different approach. It was a valuable lesson and one that I often reference to this day.
As someone who lives and works in the Midwest, do you think that Latinos in Midwestern states face unique challenges in cultivating their bicultural identity? How can these challenges be overcome?
Our Latino populations in the Midwest are strong but typically hidden from the general populations. With the exception of larger cities like Chicago, Latino communities in the Midwest live rather siloed. This has made them close-knit and they will support and cultivate each other for the most part. The challenge, I believe, is when our Latino families are required to access social service organizations in public sector or do business within the general population. Some of these challenges can be resolved by investing in qualified bi-cultural professionals to act as culturally competent links between our Latin American and general communities.
What has been your biggest inspiration for you work within Latino communities and what are your aspirations for the future?
Certainly my travels to Mexico and Puerto Rico have been the most inspiring. Becoming acculturated to a different perspective will open your eyes to new ideas within the world you hadn’t known existed. Today I find inspiration by doing what I can to support an understanding between cultures. It is hard for people to define their own culture because for the most part they are so absorbed within it. Like a fish in water that doesn’t know of any other environment, culture just is, we can’t explain it. I would like to become that conduit for providing relevant connections for people. As our nation becomes more diverse and the world more connected, I believe we will need more individuals that have these types of skills.
Thanks to Jonathan of Latino Branding Power for sharing his personal and professional story with us! Read related articles here:
- Branding & U.S. Latino Culture
- Marketing to Latinos in the Midwest
- Hispanic Marketing: Better by Design