Celebrating Latino Culture During Hispanic Heritage Month
September 15 to October 15 marks Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when cities across the country pay tribute to our rich heritage during lively festivals and colorful parades, complete with Latino entertainment, traditional dance and our treasured music. It’s also the perfect time of year to reconnect with our culture, and learn more about the many contributions Latinos have made to this great nation.
Take Long Beach, California, on the West Coast for example. This travel destination offers fresh seafood, gorgeous shoreline, waterfront dining and cool evening breezes. Many moons ago, I visited Long Beach with a close-knit group of friends. We had our sights set on seeing picturesque Catalina Island, the legendary Queen Mary ocean liner and the spectacular Aquarium of the Pacific. Then we discovered the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA). Lucky us!
MOLAA, located at 628 Alamitos Avenue, has been open almost two decades. This museum is dedicated to modern and contemporary Latin American fine art, and its groundbreaking exhibitions showcase the works of 350 artists from Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Twenty Latin American countries are featured among the 1,300 works of art, which include photographs, paintings, sculptures and much more. One of my all-time favorite Colombian novelists, Gabriel García Márquez, is honored in the fascinating exhibit of paintings, titled Magical Realism and Modern Oaxaca.
If your travels take you to the Southwest, don’t pass up a visit to Albuquerque, New Mexico. After the Native Americans, the earliest settlers in the area were the Spanish. Today, this multicultural city is home to everything from spicy Southwestern cuisine, adventurous hot air ballooning and an abundance of golf courses to ancient ruins, historic missions and the beautiful Rio Grande Valley. I had the pleasure of going to the city’s Old Town district, where I purchased striking, handmade turquoise jewelry. During that trip, I also visited the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC). This prestigious institution houses an art museum that highlights significant Latino works of art from New Mexico, Latin America and Spain. Located along the banks of the Rio Grande at the intersection of Avenida César Chávez (1701 Fourth St. SW), the 10,000-square-foot museum is a must-see to learn more about our culture, the Latino diaspora and to view art contributions from across the globe.
Last but not least, let’s head over to the East Coast. What can I say about St. Augustine, one of the country’s oldest cities and quite possibly the most charming in Florida? First explored by Juan Ponce de León in 1513, the city’s many attractions include Ponce de León’s famed fountain of youth, Cathedral Basilica, St. Augustine Lighthouse, Ximenez-Fatio House Museum, Nombre de Dios mission and Fort Menendez.
For me, the larger-than-life Castillo de San Marcos is the most attractive site of them all. The great Spanish Empire began the construction of this 50,000-square-foot fortress back in 1672. Today, it is the oldest in the U.S., and includes the city’s original gate. Visiting this beloved fort is like stepping back in time, 450 years to be exact! From observing the coquina limestone walls to seeing the cannons on display to exploring the exhibits found in the casements — there is so much to learn in this national monument about Spanish colonial times.
Want to explore Latino culture in these cities? Book your tickets on Amtrak and explore these Hispanic heritage sites.