Monday, May 29, 2006

Travel and Rediscover Your Latin Heritage


Your travel agent could suggest several destinations where you could spend a two-week vacation: a beach, a theme park, or a bustling metropolis. And all of those would be wonderful, but just a short detour away from the expected lies the unexpected--little havens in cities, exciting stops just outside the city limits or small enclaves right off the beach that are rife with cultural history and Hispanic heritage.

Hispanic Magazine took a look at some of these hidden gems in seven states that Hispanics often travel to. So next time you find yourself visiting family in Chicago or riding the double-decker buses of Manhattan, take a walk down these hidden paths and get in touch with your Hispanic heritage.

South Beach's sand, beautiful people, and glittery night life can blind a visitor to the appeal of Miami itself. Southwest Eighth Street, also known as Calle Ocho, and venue for the famous street festival of the same name, runs through the Cuban neigborhood known as Little Havana.

Salsa dubs, Caribbean cuisine, corner cafeterias and Cuban-style cigar shops line the storefront streets. And on any given day, devoted domino players head to Maximo Gomez Park. Throughout the street Hispamc stars and community leaders are commemorated with a monogrammed star cemented into the Walk of Fame.

A fresh-air arts and crafts market is the scene of Viernes Culturales or Cultural Fridays, which take place the last Friday of every month. More than 100 artists and vendors set up shop for locals and visitors to peruse in the cool of the evening hours.

Approximately an hour and a half from Walt Disney World in Orlando and an hour from the beaches of Daytona is the oldest city in the country--St. Augustine, founded in 1565. In the colonial Spanish Quarter, costumed actors depict life in the mid-1700s, when St. Augustine was one of Spain's outposts. Actors depict tradesmen, housewives and herdsmen in this living museum. Some 36 buildings from the colonial era are still standing and the architecture and street layout of the historic district reflect Spanish city planning. Plus it is home to the historic Castillo de San Marcos, a beautiful castle more than 300 years old.


When you visit a city with 350 days of sunshine per year, the outdoors beckon. Biking and golf lure tourists to the desert environ. Las Cruces is also known as a thriving art community with a myriad of galleries, museums, organizations and performing arts troupes. Plus, its southern vicinity at the edge of the desert makes for easy travel into E1 Paso or Mexico. The location has provided Las Cruces with an interesting mix of cultures from which it has formed a decidedly unique one. Not surprisingly, the area has Mexican and Spanish cultural history, but the infusion of Native American and Anglo tradition is what gives the area its distinction.

Nowhere is this mix more apparent than in the New Mexican cuisine, which takes its cues from its quadruple heritage. Foodies are easily pleased with the array of cuisine and the area's four wineries. The La Fiesta de San Ysidro, held the third weekend in May, celebrates the farming community and trumpets Mexican culture through dance, mariachis and, of course, food. Late May also sees the Southern New Mexico Wine Festival.

Just minutes away is historic Old Mesilla, a small town that gives visitors a taste of what an 1800s border town was like. The historic plaza is peppered with sites such as the 150-year-old San Albino Church, where mass is still celebrated for the local residents.

La Morena, named partly for the Virgin of Guadalupe, is the only walking tour of Mesilla and makes stops at battle sites, stagecoach crossings and discusses tall tales spun over the decades. Another attraction is the Fountain Theatre, a 100-year-old establishment that now shows independent and alternative films.

Far out of the reach of Mid town's Broadway lights is the Lower East Side, a largely Jewish community with a strong Puerto Rican presence. It's home to the Nuyorican Poets Café, a mecca for the Puerto Rican literary set both inside and outside the city. For 30 years, the café has drawn artists, poets, filmmakers and musicians to it's poetry slams, concerts and special events. It's a sanctuary for purveyors of urban contemporary Hispanic culture. Latino artists also veer toward Cuchifritos, a gallery and project space that takes its name from Puerto Rican soul food.

Author Piri Thomas used el barrio, or East Harlem, as the backdrop for his breakthrough novel Down These Mean Streets. But, the neighborhood has taken impressive strides to remove itself from the image portrayed in the gang novel. In the late 60s El Museo del Barrio found residence in this neighborhood and is the only art museum of its kind in the city dedicated to Puerto Rican and Caribbean art. In early June, it celebrates El Museo Week and hosts a free tour through four installations and exhibits, participates in the Museum Mile Festival and then the Miracles on 104th Street Festival.

The city is also the host of the Puerto Rican Day Parade to be held on Sunday, June ix, a date that draws nearly 3 million people each year.


As the second largest city in Arizona, only the capital, Phoenix, being larger, Tucson is a tourist destination in itself. Golfers have migrated to its courses just as often as socialites have hidden away in its indulgent spas. But, just southwest of the city on the Tohono O'odham Reservation lies Mission San Xavier de Bac. Named for St. Francis Xavier, a Spanish nobleman and missionary, the interior was designed to suit an aristocrat. Statues of Spanish saints and royal Spanish lions adorn the façade of this 209-year-old church. Mission San Xavier is considered one of the best examples of mission architecture in the U.S. and was even dubbed the Sistine Chapel of the New World.

If you aren't willing to venture far outside the city, the downtown area also offers some amazing cultural highlights. Some are located in the E1 Presidio Historic District, which is the remains of a series of forts that extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of California and was built to protect Spanish settlers in the 1700s. The main building is now used as Tucson's city hall. The El Barrio District, a historic neighborhood featuring wonderfully manicured Southwestern landscape and adobe structures, is now a residential and business district. Many of the buildings have been restored to their original splendor and tourists will be sure to take note.

Most tourists are drawn to places such as the Magnificent Mile or to marvel at some of the country's oldest skyscrapers in the downtown area. Continue south of downtown and you'll find the hub of Chicago's Puerto Rican community, and a neighborhood that is not to be missed by those on a cultural excursion through the second city. Paseo Boricua, a section of Division Street between Western Avenue and Mozart, is marked oneither side by two giant 45-ton steel Puerto Rican flag sculptures. The flags were installed in i995 as an homage to the area's cultural ties. And since that time the neighborhood has begun to undergo a modern-day renaissance. It boasts some of the city's most elaborate outdoor murals, in addition to dozens of shops, churches, offices and authentic dining spots, as well as a Puerto Rican culture center.

Clemente Park, named for baseball hero Roberto Clemente, also calls Paseo Boricua home.

Although the area is largely residential, the paseo welcomes visitors, especially to its three big annual special events.

Summer is a perfect time to experience the neighborhood as it hosts the Desfile del Pueblo or the Annual Puerto Rican People's Day Parade, in June.


A short ride from the beaches of Monterey Bay and just south of San Jose is the small city of San Juan Bautista, a city with a complex mix of Colonial Spanish heritage and progressive Chicano art and expression. It's the historic home of Mission San Juan Bautista, which was nicknamed the "Mission of Music" and is the biggest of all the missions on California's Mission Trail. The restored mission features gardens, the Guadalupe Chapel, and museum housed by the original priest's quarters. June 25 celebrates the anniversary of the mission and the city hosts a fiesta.

Contemporary Latina art is on display at Galeria Tonantzin, which takes its name from the Mexican goddess of corn. Directed by two women artists, the gallery frequently changes exhibitions as well as the variety of art it houses. Artists' work ranges from landscape renditions to the more conceptual.

El Teatro Campesino, a controversial and avante garde performance art and theater company, is minutes away from the mission. It sprung up as an activist outpost during the grape strikes of 1965. During that time campesinos of the United Farm Workers would come to see their stories portrayed on stage. The company also delves into classical Mexican plays and develops stage works with strong social themes. This summer the Teatro presents a work entitled "Corridos."

Located halfway between tourist hubs San Antonio, Texas and Monterrey, Mexico lies Laredo. For years, this border city has been a well-known shopping and dining destination for Texans and Mexicans, but Laredo is now luring outsiders. A main attraction for the shopping set is the Mercado, located just this side of the international bridge and offering hundreds of modern products and bargain prices.

The city has a unique, if complicated, history--surviving under by seven different sovereignties and seven different flags flying overhead. Originally a colony of New Spain, Laredo was founded in 1775. In the mid-1800s Laredo was the capital of The Republic of the Rio Grande, set up to anger Mexican Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna. History buffs will appreciate the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum set up in honor of the city during the revolution, and will love riding on a turn-of-the-century trolley that takes tourists to San Agustin Cathedral and St. Peter's Historic District.

A short ride over International Bridge No. 1 takes you right into Avenida Guerrero, the tourist district of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, the other half of Los Dos Laredos. Shopping is a must on this side of the border. Arts, crafts and jewelry are among the wares you can buy. But, if you cross the border and expect to buy, expect to haggle.

By: Rodriguez, Marissa, Hispanic, 08983097, May2006