My first arrival and final anchoring in the United States was through Pittsburgh. Downtown Pittsburgh has changed considerably, but at the time, in the late ’70s, the brick building and tall chimney of Heinz & Co, was always a guiding post. For most of us who lived outside the United States, Heinz was synonymous with ketchup. After mayonnaise, ketchup had been the leading condiment in the United States for decades, but during the early ’90s—due to the increase in the Latino population in the United States—sales of tomato salsa surpassed those of ketchup. Heinz still has the largest share of the ketchup market, but another company, Frito Lay, owns the brand that captures most of the salsa market: “Tostitos.” Entrepreneurs saw an opportunity and several companies entered the market. Heinz also produced its own version of salsa and even won a major award in 2005: in Germany!
The market changed, so business entrepreneurs changed their line of products.
Latino demographics have also changed the world of politics and the market of ideas.Intellectual entrepreneurs, however, have not changed as fast as business entrepreneurs. Their think tanks, especially those that are committed to the free society, have only recently created educational and policy programs targeting Hispanics. The Latino Partnership, of the American Principles Project, was founded in early 2010. The Heritage Foundation, which has the coveted Libertad.org domain, also started an outreach program in 2010. The Libre Initiative was founded soon after. Other efforts, mostly web based, such as Elcato.org, or Hacer.org, usually post Spanish translations. Opinion makers, like the well-read think tank leader turned radio talk show host, Mark Levin, are also trying to reach this market. Levin just came out with a Spanish edition of his best seller “Liberty and Tyranny.”
Sharing the importance of the free-enterprise system with recent Hispanic immigrants requires a personal and hands on approach. Apart from communicating ideas, there is a need to learn to work within their culture. With many in public schools neglecting to teach the best freedom traditions, and with a federal government promoting entitlements rather than entrepreneurship, the task is not easy.
Intellectual entrepreneurs in the think tanks mentioned above have begun efforts that go in the right direction. One of the most innovative groups is led by Ismael Hernández, a talented communicator. He recently started the Freedom and Virtue Institute in Florida. His goal is not only to teach but also to foster positive change in minority communities across the country. He is structuring programs that are relevant beyond academic circles and promote a kind of research that serves the human person in his or her community. In his words, “the living of freedom is as important as the philosophy of freedom so we create projects that are simple, practical, meaningful, measurable, and replicable. Freedom must be understood well, its history taught correctly, and it must then become a flesh and blood reality in the lives of communities where such expression is often absent.”
A native of Puerto Rico, Hernández created Self-Reliance Clubs at public schools where students work, learn economics, earn, and buy their own school supplies—instead of getting a handout. The project connects reward to accomplishment and can be adapted to any program attempting to help the poor. He also works through churches using a similar approach.
I completely understand those who fear that developing entire new programs to reach Latinos and other minorities might water down their incentives to learn our language, that it might weaken our vision of “e pluribus unum”—or “out of many, one.” As a U.S. citizen who was born in Argentina, I, for one, became enamored with the American dream and was ready to live it as an American, not as a minority, or as someone who needed to be approached in Spanish and offered salsa. In fact, I never even had salsa until I came to the United States.
The entrepreneurs who perfected the consistency, unique bottles, and applied the best marketing techniques to sell ketchup, learned that not all customers are alike. Latinos in the United States can watch at little or no cost several TV programs from their native lands, call their home abroad on Skype, and hear Latin music in Pandora. They remain close to their customs. They want salsa, so entrepreneurs give them salsa.
Intellectual entrepreneurs working for the free society also meet Latinos who want salsa. Giving them ketchup with a label in Spanish will not do the trick.
Dr. Alejandro A. (Alex) Chafuen '84 is president of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and a member of the board of advisors for The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is also the president and founder of the Hispanic American Center of Economic Research. (The opinions expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Grove City College, Atlas Economic Research Foundation, or their boards of trustees.)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at Forbes.com.