Every year right before 5 de Mayo, I find that I cannot turn on the radio without hearing about a celebration at a local club or bar, where people will be getting on their drinko for the cinco. Last year, I wrote a blog post about my experiences with this holiday as pertaining to some advocacy work I had been involved in with a group called Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo. Each year, I hope that the holiday will evolve away from the St. Patrick’s Day drunk fest that has become the tradition, but it seems less likely that will be happening, in part because of our community’s ties to the spirits and beer industry.
Last fall, a study from UT Austin’s School of Education and the University of Florida’s College of Medicine found that Latino students are exposed to more alcoholic beverage advertising than other students. Students attending schools with 20% or more Hispanic students see an average of seven times more alcoholic beverage ads than students at schools with smaller Hispanic populations.
One of the study’s authors, Dr. Keryn Pasch stated, “According to previous studies, Hispanic youth are at higher risk for alcohol use than either white or African American youth. Exposure to alcohol advertising has been shown to increase alcohol use and intention to use alcohol, and marketers are aggressively capitalizing on the rapidly growing Hispanic population, targeting their marketing efforts at this group.”
Additionally, the study found that alcohol advertising is uniquely catered to specific ethnic groups. Alcohol consumption advertising near schools with 20% or more Hispanic students tends to use the culture of the neighborhood. So with Latino communities, you see more ads incorporating Mexican flags, sports heroes, and celebrities. These carefully crafted ads build brand recognition with young people, putting them at an increased risk for substance abuse from an early age.
According to the US Health and Human Services for people 12 years and older, Hispanics have a 10% rate of substance abuse, which is lower than Native Americans (19%), but higher than the rate for whites (9.2%) and African-Americans (9%). Substance abuse care providers have historically seen more substance abuse in acculturated Latinos than in those who are recent immigrants. However, they are now seeing more immigrants turning to alcohol and substance abuse in coping with difficult immigrant experiences. We have already seen an increase in violent crime targeting Latinos, and often alcohol accompanies these incidences.
So why do Latino civil rights organizations continue to take money from the alcohol industry given these dismal statistics? In large part, organizations like MALDEF, NCLR, and even LULAC are not grassroots in terms of their donor databases. In Los Angeles, the MALDEF office is in a building sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, as is evidenced by its wall signage. NCLR is corporate partner with Coors Brewing Company and Miller Brewing Company. LULAC’s corporate alliance partners include both Anheuser-Busch and Coors. These organizations have been built and bolstered by donations from the very companies who cleverly target our young people. MALDEF, NCLR, and LULAC provide a portal into our community and give tacit approval to sell to our captive and growing market. On its Corporate Relationship Opportunities page, NCLR even boasts of Latino buying power and growing disposable income, citing that we have more than $736 billion in purchasing power, and then explaining how corporations can help ensure the American Dream for Hispanic Americans by partnering with the organization. Oddly enough, NCLR has a health policy section on its website, which deals primarily with obesity and nutrition, but noticeably absent is any information about alcoholism.
While I’m hopeful that with enough awareness, people will start questioning the conventional wisdom of letting spirits and beer companies underwrite so many community events and programs, especially given the prevalence of alcohol advertising in our community. It certainly sends a mixed message to our youth about substance abuse when our civil rights organizations have to utilize ‘liquor loot’. This 5 de Mayo I will pause before I consume any alcoholic beverages or perhaps I won’t have any to more clearly commemorate the Battle of Puebla.
Photo Credit: MALDEF Los Angeles Offices lobby sign, Wendy Carrillo