Shopping for Identity
The Marketing of Ethnicity
By Marilyn Halter
(Schocken, Paperback, 9780805210934, 256pp.)
Publication Date: July 23, 2002
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In America today, you can connect to your ethnic heritage in dozens of ways, or adopt an identity just for an evening. Our society is not a melting pot but a salad bar--a bazaar in which the purveyors of goods and services spend close to $2 billion a year marketing the foods, clothing, objects, vacations, and events that help people express their (and others') ethnic identities. This is a huge business, whose target groups are the "hyphenated Americans"--in other words, all of us.
As immigrant groups gain economic security, they tend to reinforce--not relinquish--their ethnic identification. Marilyn Halter demonstrates that, to a great extent, they do it by shopping. And their purchasing power is enormous. How has the marketplace responded to this hunger? Instantly and wholeheartedly: tweaking old products and inventing new ones; launching new brands in supermarkets, new music groups, vacation itineraries, language courses, toys, greeting cards, et cetera. This nexus of business and ethnicity is already seen as the hottest consumer development of this decade, and Halter is uniquely qualified to describe its origins, the exponential growth of products and advertising, and the phenomenal sales of items from salsa to Chieftains CDs.
She addresses her subject with an abundance of anecdotal evidence, telling examples of ethnic marketing, and interviews with entrepreneurs (many of them immigrants) who are vigorously seizing the opportunities offered by the business of ethnicity.
Shopping for Identity is provocative, intriguing, and farseeing, illuminating an important aspect of our contemporary way of life while validating the yearning we all feel for connection to our roots.
Marilyn Halter, a member of the history department and the American Studies program at Boston University, is also a research associate at Boston University's Institute for the Study of Economic Culture. She is the author of Between Race and Ethnicity and the editor of New Migrants in the Marketplace. She lives in Lakeville, Massachusetts.
"Original in premise, thoughtfully researched, and eminently readable"
—Joshua Glenn, Bostonia, Spring 2001