Latin America can be a treasure of almost immeasurable proportions, but it is often misunderstood by North America. Why? We in the United States have largely been exposed to the Anglo-European theatre, opera, and arts. We study, absorb, and reflect upon this rich history in performance and entertainment--and, as manufacturers, understand the markets where it comes from. Likewise, our fascination with Asia--and its productivity and electronic know-how--causes us to focus our attention on the great potential its markets have to offer. We are eager to explore, and even take great risks, to have an opportunity to offer our products and services in those countries.

Knowing what we do about Asia, including its rich cultural history, we are justified in taking these risks. We have the education and training to understand its theatre and television markets--we possess the knowledge necessary to pursue new ventures. We are ready to travel into these markets and make wise business decisions.

Do we feel this confident about Latin America?

We know very little about these markets. I know, I know--many critics will say this isn't so, that doing business in Latin America is like doing business in any other part of the world. But can we honestly say that we know how to make sound business decisions in these markets? What do we know about them? What do we know about culture in Latin American countries--their performing arts, TV, and entertainment? We can't ignore that our school curricula very rarely include Latin American theatre and TV as a subject (or for that matter Spanish theatre or TV)--quite unlike our exposure to the arts of Europe or Asia.

We know very little about our great neighbors to the south, and what we know is often misinterpreted or misunderstood. No doubt a great deal of this lack of knowledge is due to the so-called language barriers and the lack of printed material on the subject. However, we cannot continue to ignore that there exists a wide gap between our neighbors and ourselves in Latin America, culturally and artistically speaking.

We need to learn more from each other, and understand what makes all of us unique as we jointly pursue our passion in theatre, TV, and the performing arts. We must understand the artistic foundations these countries are built on, and know more about their design philosophies, before we can honestly say that we understand their needs as consumers. Conversely, these countries need to know more about our culture, and what we can offer them with our technology and North American know-how.

Some of these Latin American cultures have different perceptions of our values. They have turned their attentions to their roots, or to countries like Spain, Italy, and Germany--the European wellspring of their arts. They ignore their neighbors to the north.

ExpoLatina offers all of us a remarkable opportunity to reach out to each other. The show will give us an opportunity to learn more about cultures that we know little or nothing about. We manufacturers, representatives, and distributors of technology need to build a bridge of understanding--a solid one--between our two cultures. We need to share more of our skills in production and design with our neighbors. We owe it to ourselves to consolidate our love and passion for the performing arts. And we need to do all of the above in each other's languages--sensitivity to this is a very important element too often ignored.

ExpoLatina is offering us that first step to Latin America, in the comfort of own backyard. The show puts us at the gateway of these markets in Miami Beach, exploring how to make better business decisions in this most promising of marketplaces.

Hiram Perez is the director of Latin American and Caribbean sales for Barbizon Inc. in Miami Beach, FL.