DALE DAUTEN | THE CORPORATE CURMUDGEON

Look past stereotypes and find common values

"Like my father, I, too, was born in Central America - Nebraska." - Carlos Mencia (who, by the way, was born Ned Arnel Mencia, in Honduras)

If you've been around for a few decades, you might remember the old stereotype of Hispanics (or, as they were known back then to most of the country, "Mexicans").

They were depicted as a lethargic people, often dozing beneath sombreros.

These days, however, you think of Hispanics, and what image comes to mind? They're the ones doing the tough jobs.

(I recently asked one of the Anglo crews working on remodeling my house to take on the removal of some concrete. Their foreman shook his head, chuckled and said: "That might kill us. You need Hispanics for that.")

Speaking of Hispanic workers, when I formed a market-research company back in the '80s, my partner was of Cuban descent. We ended up doing research in the Hispanic market - it was "discovered" by big advertisers after the 1980 census - and so nearly all of the staff was Hispanic.

As I observed my co-workers and studied the market we were hired to research, I discovered they possessed attitudes that were more than useful; they were admirable.

What got me thinking about those old colleagues was a recent conversation with the man who replaced me when I left the company, Carlos Garcia.

He has since formed his own research company, Garcia Research, in Burbank, Calif.

He does a provocative presentation about stereotypes as they apply to marketing to the Latino community, and does it with good-natured charm, disarming any audience prepared to take offense.

Here are some samples from his lists of stereotypes, beginning with some pairs of observations on "Latinos as seen by Americans" (Hispanics often refer to Anglos as "Americans"):

Religion - Slavish, vaguely pagan

Food - Hot and fattening

Money - Not enough

Children - Too many

Pets - Cruelly treated

Homes - Loud, crowded

Elders - Omnipresent, weird

However, it gets even more interesting when Carlos turns the tables and gives us, with a wink, his stereotype of "Americans as seen by Latinos":

Religion - Sunday only

Food - Boring, shelf stable

Money - Highest priority

Children - Treated like pets

Pets - Treated like children

Homes - Antiseptic, cold

Elders - Disposable burden

Finally, he gives us "Latinos as seen by Latinos":

Religion - Spiritual, social center

Food - Exuberant, rich

Money - Functional

Children - Glorious

Pets - Functional

Homes - For heart, not investment

Elders - Revered

Having gotten to spend much of my life and career around Hispanics, my own "Latinos as seen by Dauten" lines up with Carlos's last set, and I suspect that's true for almost anyone whose worked alongside them.

However, I know that in some parts of the country, encountering large numbers of Hispanics is something new and unsettling. Are Hispanics going to change America? I hope so.

Look again at the three lists, and I believe you'll see that Hispanics aren't trying to undermine American values, but they're here to remind us of what they were and should be.

Hispanics are changing America by helping to bring us a culture that circles back to the best of what we already are.

Dale Dauten is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at dale@dauten.com.