WASHINGTON, DC - An automobile technician by day, Miguel Ramirez often returns home in a mostly white Dallas suburb to a world of romantic telenovelas, World Cup fútbol or the latest U.S. noticias on Spanish-language TV.
"When there is a Mexican soap opera that is really juicy, my wife and her mother are so focused on watching you can't talk to them," said Ramirez, 52, of Frisco, Texas, with a chuckle. "It's a chance for my young daughters to watch and learn since they don't get to speak Spanish in school."
An Associated Press-Univision poll finds many U.S. Hispanics who speak mainly English like the Ramirez family are turning to Spanish-language TV and radio. The main appeal: sports and entertainment, a cultural connection and a nagging feeling among some Latinos that English-language media portray them negatively.
The enduring interest in Spanish media has helped fuel a surge of Spanish marketing in a bid to reach the fast-growing U.S. Latino demographic of 48 million people _ from Spanish music and college recruiting to a bit of politics _ even as many cities and states consider English-only policies amid a contentious immigration debate.
"In the political world there is this angst. But the business and multinational world understand to be engaged with the consumer you want to use every opportunity to create a touch point," said Jose Cancela, author of the book, "The Power of Business en Espanol" and a 30-year veteran of Spanish-language radio and television.
"Just because Hispanics learn English, it doesn't mean they go away from Spanish. It's an important part of their psyche," he said. "Speaking Spanish gives you the upper hand."
The nationwide poll, also sponsored by The Nielsen Company and Stanford University, found U.S. Latinos spent at least some time each day _ in many cases, several hours _ consuming Spanish-language media. They included almost 90 percent of Spanish-dominant Hispanics who watched TV and roughly 75 percent who listened to Spanish radio.
Among Latinos who spoke mostly English, about 4 in 10 said they turned to either Spanish TV or Spanish radio for programs such as news or entertainment and sports, which recently included the World Cup soccer championships won this year by Spain.
English-speaking Latinos also were somewhat skeptical of English-language news and programs. About 35 percent said English media portrayed Hispanics mostly in a negative way, nearly three times the share who said it was mostly positive. Still, 50 percent of Hispanics said English-language media was neutral.
"In the movie programs, it's like the bad guy has a Spanish name like Carlos who is from 'the hood' or the slums, or the characters are maids," said Damaris Marrero, 34, a home health aide from Puerto Rico who lives in Oviedo, Fla. "They never portray Spanish people who are successful and who live a good life."
Ramirez, of Texas, says he will sometimes flip to a Spanish channel to get a different news take on the Latino community.
"From what I see most of the time on English TV, it's always about Hispanics and immigration, and how we're all here illegally presumably," he said. "Spanish TV has more interviews with Hispanic people in terms of what's going on."
The media consumption of Hispanics is drawing increased attention as many businesses and political groups battle for their loyalty. The nation's largest minority group, Hispanics now represent 16 percent of the total U.S. population, a number that is projected to grow to about 30 percent by 2050. The Census Bureau estimates roughly 3 out of 4 U.S. Latinos speak some Spanish at home.
The Latin influence has been evident for years in the music industry, where Spanish-speaking performers Ricky Martin and Shakira made it big by singing in English, and stars such as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Nelly Furtado then kicked it the other way with music in Spanish.
The impact has now spread elsewhere. Organizations such as the Boy Scouts and colleges including Bryn Mawr, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas-El Paso are stepping up their outreach to Hispanic families, offering Spanish translations of their handbooks, brochures or websites.
White House candidates in 2008 participated in the first presidential debates ever broadcast in Spanish, an acknowledgment of the strength of Spanish-language media and their audience of Hispanic voters. President Barack Obama has since given numerous interviews to Hispanic media, while Republicans taped Spanish-language versions of their response to Obama's State of the Union address.
Other AP-Univision poll findings:
- Hispanics who have children in the home are more likely to have a computer: 71 percent of English-dominant households without children have a computer, compared to 85 percent for those with children.
- There are some limits to the influence of Spanish-language media. English-dominant Latinos often favored English media when making big decisions, such as news about a disaster or information on major purchases of appliances or electronics.
- Less than one-third of English-dominant Hispanics reported spending any time going to Spanish-language Internet sites. Almost half of Spanish-dominant Hispanics said they spent time on English-language websites.
Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino, said she is worried that Spanish-language media will neglect the later generations of younger Hispanics, who tend to be English-dominant, web-saavy and often have sway over the decisions of their immigrant parents who may be less adept with English.
She noted that preliminary survey data indicated U.S.-born Hispanics were less likely to participate in the 2010 census, partly because they had little exposure to the federal government's $25 million Spanish-language ad campaign that promoted the benefits of the population count.
"In order to reach Latinos in general, we have to create media that speaks to them in English with a Spanish cultural sensibility," Kumar said.
Erika Sanchez, 14, of Washington, D.C., is among those who regularly go online for news and information when she's not on Facebook. The high-school sophomore often checks English-language websites for two hours a day while her parents watch Spanish TV news. Because it's so convenient, Sanchez says she's teaching her mom to use the computer, and her parents have started to join her in reading news online.
"My computer opens up to Yahoo. There's celebrity news, and then it goes on to what's going on in the world," she said.
The AP-Univision poll was conducted from March 11 to June 3 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Using a sample of households provided by The Nielsen Company, 1,521 Hispanics were interviewed in English and Spanish, mostly by mail but also by telephone and the Internet. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.