The last Noche Latina of 2013 saw Los Bulls take down the 27-game winning streak of El Heat in remarkable fashion.
In-between quarters and during time-outs I got the urge to check out the hashtag for the NBA’s multi-cultural marketing efforts on Twitter. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for—at best I was hoping to find a few others “like me,” who also happen to be the target audience for this campaign, and at worst I figured I would be greeted with a few typical reminders that “this is America” (actually I did get one of those messages directed at me, but I think it was in jest; or at least I hope it was).
What I found was something unexpected, different and very intriguing in its own right: several tweets expressed an overriding bewilderment about the genuineness of a “Noche Latina” that “half-asses” the Latino part of the campaign by not fully translating the team names and instead settling for mere prepositions. People more or less wanted “Toros” and “Calor” splashed across the jerseys instead of Los Bulls & El Heat.
While the concern of many may be geared solely at critiquing the NBA for critiquing sake, there was some level of serious curiosity that I felt the need to address from a Latino perspective.
First, when I, and probably countless of other Latinos in the U.S., talk about the local NBA teams with our parents whose primary language is Spanish, I never refer to the Lakers as “Los Laguneros,” nor do I even make the least of attempts to Google whatever Clippers translates to in Spanish (barco of some kind, I’m sure). I refer to the teams as “Los Lakers” or “Los Clippers,” which is precisely what you’re seeing the NBA attach itself to with this campaign.
The team names and brands are so ubiquitous that even those who don’t watch basketball or speak English know what I’m talking about when I utter the word “Lakers.” In fact, there are probably more Spanish speakers who know who the Lakers are, even if they don’t know what a Laker is—by the way, how many English speakers know what a Laker is? (Seriously, somebody needs to shed light on this enigma)
As Spanish speakers, we have come to embrace plenty of English words around us, especially those of brands and teams. The process of acculturation involves the acknowledgement that English will be the primary way of communication in spite of our ability to be multi-lingual. In that respect, the NBA is not half-assing anything, but instead accurately depicting the sentiment of their target audience: bicultural and bilingual basketball fans.
If there is some level of unhappiness with the words “Los” and “El” being included in the national discussion of a sport that acknowledges and makes strategic efforts to court the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., it is nowhere near the levels of reactionary hate that would come from a full translation of an established brand into Spanish.
Not that we need that anyway. I, for one, am perfectly content with the nod to our language via “Los” and “El.”