Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo, unless otherwise noted
Miami, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles.
These are a few of the obvious places where you can experience Latino culture in the United States; after all, they’re among the cities that have the largest Hispanic populations in this country. In any of these urban centers, you can find more than Latino restaurants and night clubs; you’ll see Spanish-language bookstores and movie theaters, celebrate Hispanic holidays like Three Kings’ Day, and enter neighborhoods where no “Se Habla Espanol” sign is needed because everyone knows that’s the default language.
But what about the many other American cities and towns where the Latino population is growing? The Pew Research Hispanic Center reports that while two-thirds of Hispanics live in five states– California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois– five other states have seen the largest Hispanic population growth since 2000: South Carolina, North Carolina, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Arkansas.
Increasingly, so-called second-tier cities are the preferred places to call home for Latinos; they’re more affordable and often offer more opportunities for work and quality education. As the number of Latinos in second-tier cities increases, so do the cultural offerings of their communities.
Here are four unexpected places to learn more about–and experience–Latino culture in the US:
1. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
“Everyone thinks ‘Florida-Latinos-Miami,'” says Alfredo Gonzalez, vice-president of tourism and international business for the Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, “but more and more Latinos are moving to Fort Lauderdale and tourists are coming here because they want to experience Latino culture.”
Those “people” include some big names, like Grammy-winning American songbook crooner Tony Bennett, who recorded his latest album, Viva Duets in Fort Lauderdale, inviting renowned Latin American musicians like Gloria Estefan, Ricardo Arjona, Chayanne, Juan Luis Guerra, Marc Anthony, and Thalia to sing with him. In addition to recording most of the album’s tracks at the nearby Cutting Cane Studios, many of the music videos for the album were filmed around Fort Lauderdale.
Bennett and his singing buddies have come and gone, but Fort Lauderdale is giving special attention to its Hispanic heritage this year, participating in the “Viva Florida” celebration, a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de Leon’s exploration of Florida. The city will be hosting a number of events that tie together its Hispanic history and its contemporary Latino communities. Gonzalez hopes that the celebration will be an opportunity for visitors to realize that Miami isn’t the only hotbed of Hispanic culture in Florida.
2. Seattle, Washington
“While Latinos are only 5% of the total population, [Seattle] has been growing significantly over the past decade–62% according to census data,” says Hope Nardini, a writer and recent transplant to the city. Nardini, who has worked at an immigration clinic in the city, says that many Latinos she’s met moved to Seattle to work on Alaskan fishing boats or at berry farms and apple orchards. The city’s big tech firms, like Amazon and Microsoft, also recruit internationally, so Seattle’s Latino community is culturally diverse. “I’ve met people from Mexico, Colombia, and Panama who have moved here for job opportunities,” she says.
Nardini, who loves salsa dancing, says the diversity of Seattle’s Latinos has given rise to a large and active community of musicians and dancers. “There is a place to go out dancing every single night and all types of Latin dance,” she says, from bachata and kizomba to rueda and reggaeton.
Her favorite spots? She recommends Century Ballroom in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which she describes as “the hub of the social dancing scene. They have salsa, bachata, tango, and a few other ballroom style classes and social dances,” she says, adding that “Latin nights” are held on Thursdays and Saturdays, with $7 and $10 cover charges, respectively.
Her other picks include Babalu, which has live bands on Wednesdays, Cellars in Belltown, which features live samba, and the social dance nights of dance studios like SalsaNSeattle, Salsa Con Todo, and Belltown Dance Studio.
3. Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore’s Fell’s Point neighborhood has a large Hispanic community that’s growing exponentially.
As a result, the neighborhood has become the hub of Hispanic life in Baltimore, sponsoring the Cinco de Mayo Festival and National Hispanic Heritage Month activities.
Visitors can learn more about the past and present of Baltimore’s Latino community by taking a food, sightseeing, or immigration history tour; all three of these reference Fell’s Point’s Hispanic heritage.
While sightseeing, keep an eye out for statues honoring famous Latin American heroes, including Simon Bolivar (pictured here) and Jose Marti.
When you’re done learning about Baltimore’s Hispanic history, you can experience the city’s nightlife at Latin Palace or Havana Club, two music and dance clubs that are favorites among locals.
Philadelphia’s so committed to promoting itself as a destination to learn more about Latino culture that it created an entire department of its tourism board to promote “Latino Philadelphia.” It’s not just a marketing scheme, though; of the places on this list, Philadelphia’s my personal favorite for experiencing Latino culture.
The city has a curated list of “Latino Philly” destinations that can be visited any time of year; you can read and print the list here. They also maintain a list of events and celebrations the city hosts throughout the year, including a summer concert and theater series and festivals like the Puerto Rican Day Parade and Mexican Independence Day Festival.
What are your favorite Latino cultural experiences in the US? Share your tips in the comments below.