- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

“Suddenly Spring” is the trademarked name of one of Glade’s new scented-oil refills for plug-in room fresheners. So is “Sorpresa de Primavera,” as the product is called in Spanish translation.

Pillsbury’s slice-and-bake cookies now feature colorful directions, in Spanish.

Dora the Explorer welcomes visitors to the $55 talking dollhouse she shares with her Mami and Papi by saying, “Hola.” When it’s time for lunch, the Nickelodeon cartoon character says, “Tengo hambre.” (“I’m hungry.”)

As the national debate over illegal aliens heats up, consumers in the United States are noticing that more and more companies are competing for the rapidly growing, mostly young Hispanic population by offering bilingual instructions and warnings on packaging. While Spanish-speaking consumers are grateful, some wonder if English will someday be obsolete.

In fact, assimilating into American consumerism for Hispanics has never been easier: From automated teller machines to 411, DVDs, Crest White Strips and cake mixes, all now come in Spanish. Recently, General Motors Corp. announced it will offer a car navigation system “Turn-by-Turn” that will feature computerized directions in both English and Spanish.

Hot-Line identity-theft and credit-card-protection service now has a Spanish version.

Toy companies say Hispanic-themed products like the bilingual Dora the Explorer talking dollhouses and kitchens (with 20 Spanish phrases and songs) are the fastest-growing products in the industry. The toy line, made by Fisher-Price, sold rapidly and was named by Parents magazine “Best Toy of the Year.” Then there’s the $29.99 Bilingual Smart Driver by Chicco, an interactive steering wheel for tots featuring words and music in both English and Spanish.

The bilingual toys are not only a hit with Hispanic immigrants; American parents buy them, hoping their children will grow up to be bilingual.

Currently, there are more than 42 million Hispanics in the United States — half younger than 27 — with an estimated spending power of $800 billion. Hispanics — who also make up a large share of the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens — are the fastest-growing minority and the largest ethnic group in the country, and the business world is responding.

“Some of the companies are doing it because they have to,” said Carlos Vassallo, chief executive officer of LatinVision Media in New York, a company that serves as a liaison between the Hispanic community and American businesses. “They want to be politically correct. Also, they know it’s the fast-growing market.”

The national pharmacy chain Walgreens began printing prescription instructions in Spanish in 2002 and now has a Spanish Web site (www.walgreens.com /spanish) with health information.

Since 2002, more than 4 million Spanish-speaking patients have signed up for the service.

Said Mr. Vassallo: “A lot of companies want to prove that they are reaching out. They want to be able to say, ‘We’re active in this community.’ ”

Hasbro Inc. of Pawtucket, R.I., includes game directions in Spanish and is adding the language to its DVD Candy Land game. The $20 billion toy industry is well-aware of the baby boom trend. According to statistics, one in four babies born in the U.S. is Hispanic. In Denver, where many illegal aliens have settled, state health officials said the figure was higher: More than half of the births are to Hispanics.

Beauty and household products also are going bilingual. Even vacuum bags come with “instrucciones para cambiar” (“instructions for changing”).

Sometimes consumers don’t need to understand Spanish to get the message. Pantene Pro-V hair-straightening cream promises to do the same job in English and Spanish: “Controlla el Frizz.”

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