- Associated Press - Thursday, August 12, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) - An automobile technician by day, Miguel Ramirez often returns home in a mostly white Dallas suburb to a world of romantic telenovelas, futbol or the latest U.S. news 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,” Ramirez, 52, of Frisco, Texas, said 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, like the Ramirez family, mainly speak English 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,” said Jose Cancela, author of “The Power of Business en Espanol” and a 30-year veteran of Spanish-language radio and television. “But the business and multinational world understand: To be engaged with the consumer you want to use every opportunity to create a touch point.”

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 Hispanics who mostly speak Spanish 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 news, entertainment or 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 considered the English-language media 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 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 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 such as 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. Organizations such as the Boy Scouts and colleges such as 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.

In 2008, White House candidates participated in the first presidential debates broadcast in Spanish, an acknowledgment of the strength of Spanish-language media and 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.

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