Hispanic Heritage Month Fun Facts

Now is the time of year dedicated to reflecting on our Hispanic heritage even as we are living here in the States.  It would seem that everyone has their own way of celebrating Hispanic Heritage month which is the beauty of it all: everyone makes it their own. So this is how I celebrate as a writer; by bringing you some Hispanic Heritage month fun facts.  Let’s get things started at the beginning.

Hispanic Heritage Month Fun Facts

The Reason for the Date

The countries of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala all have something in common: they all share the same independence anniversary date.  What date might that be?  You guessed it, September 15th the day that Hispanic Heritage month kicks off here in the States.

The Origins of the Hispanic Term

There has been a decent amount of web space dedicated to attempting to clarify the whole Hispanic vs. Latino debate but what many people don’t know are the deep down roots of the word ‘Hispanic.’  Originally (going back further than even the P.C. police were concerned) the term Hispania was used to refer to people from Portugal and Spain only.

Early Colonization

Everybody thinks of Plymouth Rock as the birthplace of American colonization but few people know that there are a couple cities in the United States that were founded way before the pilgrims landed on the East Coast. Santa Fe, New Mexico and St. Augustine, Florida were both founded, Hispanic cities before Plymouth, Massachusetts was settled.  Here you can test a bit of your Hispanic history knowledge.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

You have probably heard of the Mexican-American war of the 1800’s and you have probably even heard of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that resulted from the conflict but do you know how much the States agreed to pay for California, Texas and New Mexico for?  Approximately 15 million dollars.  What a deal!

Hispanic Heritage Month Fun Facts

Hispanic Heritage Month Fun Facts

The Unsolved Death of Oscar Zeta Acosta

Oscar Zeta Acosta was a lawyer, novelist and prominent figure in the Chicano movement of the 70’s but there is still mystery surrounding his disappearance and death.  His body was never found but he is believed to have been assassinated at some time during a trip to Mazatlán, Mexico.

Good Blood

Type O blood is the blood type that is most sought out by hospitals and guess which ethnic group has the most of it?  That’s right, Hispanics. It is estimated that type O blood runs through the veins of 60% of the Hispanic population.

Language

Did you know that Spanish is the 2nd most commonly spoken language in the world?  There are over 300 million native Spanish speakers in the world and that is just ahead of English speakers but Chinese still dominates in terms of how many people speak it as their native language.

Spanish Longevity

While there is some speculation it is generally accepted that Spaniards have been established in Europe in some form or another longer than any other European ethnic group.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed these Hispanic Heritage month fun facts and as you engage in various kinds of Hispanic culture traditions in the coming weeks, take some time to observe our rich history and learn something you never knew about us. Hopefully this was a good start.

10 Things Not to Do in Cuba

Here are the 10 things not to do in Cuba if you are traveling there.  While diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba have thawed in the last year and leisurely travel is much easier for Americans now, there are some things you should educate yourself on if in fact you are planning a trip to the island nation.  We have already talked about traveling to Cuba and what to do once you are there, but it is equally important to know what not to do.

10 Things Not to Do in Cuba

Don’t Spit

There are a handful of cultural differences between the U.S. and Cuba that can make your trip tense and awkward.  Spitting and blowing your nose in public are considered rude in Cuba.

Don’t Badmouth Castro

While the communist hold in Cuba seems to be waning every day, Fidel Castro is engrained in the history of the nation and is still seen as a hero in the civilian’s eyes.  Just like it is not a good idea to talk politics at the dinner table in America, it would be best to avoid the subject in Cuba as well.

Don’t Forget to Keep Some Pesos With You

Although the American dollar is accepted in Cuba, there are certain things that you can only pay for in Pesos such as the airport departure tax.  This tax may not apply to your airline but it is always a good idea to keep some Pesos with you no matter what.

Don’t Fall for Local Tricks

The Cuban economy is not the most stable so its locals often try to trick tourists into giving them money.  They tell sob-stories or unsolicited guide services and giving into one of them may be enough to make you a mark for all of them.

Don’t Over-Tip

Yes the Cuban economy is not that great but the people still have dignity. It is considered rude to over-tip and makes the locals feel like you are just another fat cat American throwing money around even if you have the best intentions.

10 Things Not To Do In Cuba

10 Things Not To Do In Cuba

Don’t Call Attention to Yourself

Wearing gaudy jewelry, being excessively loud and spending lots of money in a very public way are to be avoided in Cuba where engaging in such acts will only make you a target for thieves and scammers.

Don’t Take Pictures of the Police or Military

This is actually a crime in Cuba and you may be arrested as a spy if you take pictures of armed guards, police, military personnel or even airport security.

Don’t Stay at A Resort

This is really more of a preference but why not experience the real Cuba as opposed to one that is sheltered and made to be as much like The States as possible.

Don’t Drink the Water

Montezuma’s revenge is a real thing even in Cuba and you can get very sick if you drink tap water.  Stick with bottled water on your visit instead.

Don’t Bring Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks as well as some credit cards issued by American banks are not accepted in Cuba.

What to Expect in Cuba

While all this sounds like a lot you must avoid don’t for a minute think that you can’t still have a great time in Cuba. bYou can feel very safe in Cuba because the crime rate is very low and as long as you are not a complete idiot with your money, you will never encounter a street-hood or run into a bad situation.

Cuba has much to offer in culture with their numerous museums and architecture, great food, awesome Jazz and music clubs and of course, fine Cuban cigars so take this list of 10 things not to do in Cuba not as a guide of restrictions but as a way to successfully navigate the country and to find the many things there are to be enjoyed there.

Puerto Rican Culture

The more I researched Puerto Rican culture and attempted to make myself more privy to it, the more I got the feeling that it mirrored the way in which the American cultures was cultivated. In no way am I asserting that American and Puerto Rican culture are one in the same rather the manner in which each culture took shape are closely related. Puerto Rican culture came about as a conglomeration of foreign influences just like the culture present here in the states.

At a glance, there is very little that binds Puerto Rican and American culture other than the fact that Puerto Rico is an American territory and English is a prominent language on the Caribbean island but the more I learned, the more I found that the evolution of Puerto Rican culture is a strong parallel to American culture.

Location

One of the most important factors that shape any culture in the world is geography and Puerto Rico draws its cultural influences from one of the most unique geographical placements in the world: the Caribbean.

The reason the Caribbean is so unique is its proximity to both Africa and South America.  If you read through the history of Puerto Rico, you will know that it was conquered by the Spanish who found the indigenous Taino Indians.

The echoes of the Taino can still be heard in Puerto Rican culture even in music as a traditional Taino instrument called the guiro is still used in Puerto Rican music but the Spanish brought language and Catholicism which are both very much engrained in every day Puerto Rican life. The Spanish also imported Africans to the island and the African influence can definitely be seen and heard in Puerto Rican through bomba music and dance.

More recently, Puerto Rico’s location has made it a locale for Cuban refugees fleeing from Fidel Castro’s communist regime and Dominican Republic expatriates who came to Puerto Rico seeking a better life and more economical opportunities.  All of these influences shape the Puerto Rican culture with regards to food and integration.

Puerto Rican Culture

Puerto Rican Culture

Food

At this point you can probably just assume that any article on this site will involve the discussion of food in some way shape or form and I would be remiss to write an article about Puerto Rican culture that did not touch on the food.  For any culture in the world, cuisine stands as a distinguishing factor and a representation of the spirit of a nation, the fruition of a people’s efforts and the nature of their land.  Puerto Rico is no different.

Since Puerto Rico is essentially a tropical island, it grows lots of tropical fruit such as plantains, coconuts and papaya which all make their mark in traditional Puerto Rican dishes.

Chicken Adobo is a common dish as are a variety of exotic stews.  The influence that is most prominent in Puerto Rican fare comes from Spain but many Caribbean spices are also contributors to the flavors of the island.

Differences

Puerto Rican culture differentiates itself from other Hispanic nations thanks to its location and long history.  While African factors played no part in the development of other Latin countries, it was very crucial to the evolution of Puerto Rican culture. The fact that Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island also gives the whole vibe there a more tropical and exotic feel.

Linking Parallels

In many ways, Puerto Rican culture is the result of an amalgamation of foreign cultures. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t that how America formed and continues to form its culture as well?  That is what struck me the most when preparing to write this article; Puerto Rican culture can almost be seen as a microcosm of American culture. It draws from historical events, foreign contributors and is marked by the acceptance of such foreign cultures.

In any case, Puerto Rican culture which you can read more about in the article Christmas in Puerto Rico, stands as an example of how diversities are not something to be shunned but celebrated and of how the work of the entire globe can form a unique culture.

 

Coca and Andean Culture

How is it that coca and Andean culture are so intertwined?  There is somewhat of a complicated relationship between coca leaf chewing and the rest of the world but in Bolivia and many other South American countries, there is no complication.  While the U.S. may take issue with the practice of coca leaf chewing and the coca leaf chewing effect, the reality is that it is an integral part of Andean culture and has helped shaped many South American countries.

Effect

To understand how coca leaf chewing has ingrained itself in Andean culture you must understand what the practice is and what it does.

Coca leaves release a mild stimulant similar to the buzz you get from caffeine. Placing the leaf on the inside of your cheek (you aren’t supposed to actually chew the leaf) and combining it with a bicarbonate powder activates this stimulating effect.  The practice actually helps with the digestive process, acts as an appetite suppressant (which may or may not be a good thing) provides something of a boost of energy and even has anesthetic properties.

Coca and Andean Culture

Coca and Andean Culture

Uses

Because chewing coca leaves does so much it has been used in many different ways.  First of all it has been used for many many centuries.  The first evidence of coca leaf chewing in fact dates to prehistoric times.  Back then the practice was more akin to religious rites and closely tied with tribal myths. The coca leaf became a sacred plant and symbol in ancient times and would often be used as a sacrifice to ancient gods.

Today however the uses of coca leaves are much broader.  Workers use it to power them through the day and there are even coca breaks in the normal Bolivian work day similar to coffee breaks here in the U.S.

Coca leaf chewing has certainly made its way into the social culture of Bolivia where parties and gatherings often include coca leaves being passed around for members to share.  Coca leaves are often given as gifts as well and it is very common practice for a young family to build a coca garden on their property where they can grow the plant.

Still there are many coca leaf myths and the plant is still very much associated with mystical rites and tribal religions.  Coca leaves are chewed and predictions of the future are made.  It is used to bless a person and to protect him or her from curses.  It is also still offered up as a sacrifice to appease the gods.

Coca and Andean Culture – Varying Roles

Cocoa and Andean culture, which you can read more about in the article Festival Virgin de la Candalaria are inexorably tied but you also must understand that its usage varies a lot depending on where you go and who you interact with.  For example in some small villages, the leaf is so important that it is actually used as currency.

By and large however, if you visit Bolivia you will more than likely see people on the streets with leaves in their mouths and these people are using the plant for its most popular purpose: a mild stimulant.  In terms of usage it is no different than how we Americans order a cup of coffee or slam an energy drink to give us a boost.

The difference is that the coca leaf is a much more important aspect of Andean culture than coffee and energy drinks are for us.  It represents their history, heritage and even acts as a symbol for the working class.  There is no sordidness about chewing coca in Andean culture nor should there be anywhere else.

Puerto Rico Facts

Puerto Rico facts was an interesting topic to research and an interesting piece to write and I hope that it will be an interesting article for you, the reader because Puerto Rico has a very rich history, geography and culture.

My main goal for this article was to come up with facts about the country that you would not normally know. Whether this incites a visit or simply further research into this archipelago country is entirely up to the reader but my hope is that it will motivate something inside you.

One of the more fun facts about Puerto Rico is that it boasts the world’s highest collection of bioluminescent waters.

What are bioluminescent waters? Well, in layman’s term, they are ocean waters that glow an ethereal blue. More technically, bioluminescent waters are the result of a gathering of dinoflagellates which are single-celled organisms that live in the ocean and have the bioluminescent ability to glow a bluish-green.

Some of the most astounding pictures of this natural phenomenon have been taken off the coasts of the Puerto Rican islands.

His Name is John?

Yes, or at least, his name was John. This is the motto of Puerto Rican and it comes from a Bible verse and more recently from the original name given to the archipelago that we know now as Puerto Rico, San Juan Bautista. For those who don’t know, Juan is the Spanish version of John. Hence the motto, “His Name is John.”

One of the more fun geographical facts about Puerto Rico (especially for those who live in the States and are use to a fluctuation in seasons and daylight hours) is that the country gets pretty much the same amount of sunlight all year round. Since the country is located so close to the equator, the sun sets at almost 7pm local time all year round.

Puerto Rico Facts

Puerto Rico Facts

Have you ever seen the James Bond movie GoldenEye? Do you remember the climax sequence when James is doing battle with the Bond villain on what looks like a giant antenna? That is actually the world’s largest radio telescope and it is located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico also served as the gateway to the Caribbean. It was discovered in 1493 and was claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain and has one of the most frequented harbors in the Caribbean Sea. The Spanish resisted many invasion attempts by the French, Dutch and the British but today, if you are born in Puerto Rico, guess what? You are an American citizen!

Puerto Ricans first began migrating to the States (mainly New York in the mid-19th century but the country was still under Spanish rule. Then after the Spanish-American war, they were Puerto Rican Citizens. Today, Puerto Ricans are essentially Americans and can even run for office in the states.

Looking for more useful Puerto Rico facts?

Try these on for size: if you are thinking about traveling to the country you don’t need a passport just a valid ID like a driver’s license. You also have no need to exchange your US dollars because the national currency of Puerto Rico is the USD.

The national holiday of Puerto Rico falls on November 19th and is the day that it was discovered. There is much more to know about Puerto Rico facts in my Puerto Rican Holidays and festivals article.

Aside from these fun and interesting Puerto Rico facts, you may also find it useful to know that in Puerto Rico, the legal drinking age is 20 and the rum flows like water. Enjoy responsibly!

Three Kings Day Traditions in the U.S.

For most communities in the United States, the Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas Day. But for Hispanics, there really are twelve (more) days of Christmas. They end the season with Three Kings Day traditions on January 6.

El Dia de los Reyes Magos is the celebration of Epiphany amongst Latinos in the U.S. and is based on similar celebrations throughout Latin America and the rest of the Catholic world.

Epiphany is the day that the Three Wise Men, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, visited the Baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Three Kings Day Traditions and the Birth of Christ

Three Kings Day parade in New York.

Three Kings Day parade in New York.

As a commemoration of the gift-giving, and as the end of the Christmas season, Three Kings Day is a celebratory time with many traditions, particularly amongst Latinos.

Many Three Kings Day traditions have their roots in the Biblical story of the birth of Christ.

As a child, the most exciting part of the day starts the night before, when they put out their shoes for the Three Wise Men to fill. Children also can’t forget to put out hay and grass, since camels get hungry.

This tradition is a lot like leaving milk and cookies for Santa. Waking up the morning, kids see the hay spread around, often leading in a trail to the presents that the Three Kings left them.

Rosca de Reyes

Another delicious tradition is called the Rosca de Reyes (Ring of kings). This sweet bread, shaped into a circle and topped with candied fruits, is meant to resemble the crowns worn by the Magi.

Baked inside the bread is a figure of a baby, representing the Baby Jesus who had to be hidden after his birth. Whoever gets the baby in their slice has to host a party before February 2, El Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas).

If you’ve been to Louisiana, you might know a second cousin of the Rosca de Reyes: king cake, which is also eaten during the Epiphany season and has a plastic baby baked inside.

This tradition of rosca de reyes came from Europe and is still present in a number of countries.

Variations in Three Kings Day Traditions

Since Three Kings Day traditions in the U.S. generally originate in Latin America, they can vary based on the country of origin. It can also be hard to celebrate some of them.

Traditionally, kids play with their toys all day on the 6th, much like others do with gifts received on Christmas Day. But since Three Kings Day isn’t generally a holiday in the U.S., children open their presents and then head out to school.

In cities with large Hispanic populations, in recent years it has become easier to find Three Kings Day celebrations. Parades, complete with the Wise Men themselves and even live animals, are becoming more common, such as the annual parade in East Harlem.

You might also find children’s activities such crown-making at museums and community centers in Latino areas. Even Disneyland has gotten in on the festivities.

So even if your family doesn’t usually celebrate Three Kings Day traditions, remember: There’s never a bad excuse to have a party – or to give gifts.

Do you celebrate Three Kings Day? Tell us about your traditions in the comments!

Burning the Muñeco: A New Year’s Celebration in Peru

Even for those of us blessed with good health and happiness, sometimes there are those years.  Hard years, challenging years – years that make the celebration of New Year’s Eve something particularly meaningful. If this has been one of those years for you, you might try a trip to Peru, where their tradition of Burning the Muñeco (Doll) is a visual representation of the change from the old year to the new one.

Peruvians burn the muñeco in the New Year’s celebration.  This doll is similar to a scarecrow or an effigy, and can, in fact, be considered an effigy of the Old Year.

The muñeco dresses in rags or is made with paper, and totally filled with flammable material or sometimes fireworks.  At midnight it is set on fire on New Year’s Eve.

Although some still make them at home, these days, many stores sell them commercially.

New Year’s Celebration in Peru and Burning the Muñeco

Many countries practice this tradition throughout South America and parts of Mexico.

This tradition is yet another example of religious syncretism, or a combination of different cultures into one belief system, common in Hispanic religion due to the influence of the Spanish.

Also a tradition in parts of the Old World, the burning of the Año Viejo is considered to have come from pagan rituals in Europe.

The burning of the muñeco is at its most basic a real-world representation of the common desire that most people have to leave bad events of the year in the past and to start the New Year with a positive attitude.

Different Kinds of Muñecos

Muñeco waiting to be used.

Muñeco waiting to be used.

One of the unique aspects of the New Year’s celebration in Peru is that muñecos often deal with current events, both local and national. For example, you can find politicians and famous Peruvian celebrities on store-bought muñecos, depending on what has happened in the country during the year.

Communities will also have figures of famous (or infamous) locals. Interestingly, many muñecos are actually based on respected or popular figures, not just those with negative opinions.

Muñecos and Waquis in Parco

As with most traditions, there are regional differences. One of the more well-known places they celebrate by burning el muñeco in Peru is in the District of Parco, in central Peru about four hours from Lima. In this Andean region, inhabitants accompany the muñeco by waquis, dancers that represent the Old Year as locals bid it goodbye.

The waquis dress in rags, with tattered hats and sandals, wearing wooden masks expressing different emotions. Each dancer plays a role in this representation of the old year, and the dances demonstrate the pain the year feels at having to leave.

With handmade rattles and more modern instruments, the parade plays songs with the Andean rhythm huayno. They also play the fool to the amusement of the town residents, hiding their “pain” with clowning and mocking of those in attendance.

In this area, the celebration goes very late. The “quema del muñeco” actually takes place in the early hours of January 1, after musicians and the waqui dancers traverse the different streets of the area waking up residents, who say goodbye to this representation of the year from their doorways.

Residents soon make their way to the plaza, where the giant Muñeco is waiting. The party continues from there, with traditional food and drinks and a celebration that last until the wee hours.

The New Year’s celebration in Peru and other countries is a vivid representation of how ancient traditions have survived through history and how they continue to be culturally relevant today.

Burning of the muñeco is part of good Peruvian Christmas traditions, because no matter how you celebrate the holidays, everyone wants to have a happy New Year.

Would you like to burn away the old year? Tell us about it in the comments!

Hispanics and The Virgin Mary – Our Great Devotion

Have you ever wondered about the strong connection that Hispanics and the Virgin Mary have? Going beyond simple Catholic faith, Our Lady and Latinos have a special bond.

Perhaps the most important reason that Latinos are so devoted to the Virgin Mary is due to specific apparitions that she has made in Latin America.

Many devotees attribute miracles and other interventions to the Virgin they revere, they have a direct, powerful connection to the Virgin.

Beyond personal miracles, another common theme that joins Latinos and the Virgin Mary is the protection of the poor and the marginalized, a group which unfortunately has historically encompassed many throughout the continent.

Hispanics and The Virgin Mary: Apparitions

Your opinion about the accuracy of the appearances of Mary depends much on your personal belief. Catholics in Latin America feel that they are the truly the representation of the Virgin Mary.

Although the Catholic church does not officially recognize every reported apparition of the Virgin, those it recognizes are considered to be authentic expressions of divine intervention.

The instances remind believers of some aspect of the Christian message. These apparitions are evidence of the Virgin’s continuing presence and intervention in the life of the Church in Hispanic religion.

Importance of La Virgen in History

An altar to la Virgen de Guadalupe.

An altar to la Virgen de Guadalupe.

Apparitions of the Virgin Mary can inspire such devotion that, in fact, they change history. The biggest example in Latin America is the Virgen de Guadalupe. When Juan Diego reported this vision in 1531, the church leaders in Rome didn’t pay much attention.

However, devotion to the Virgen added some eight million new Catholics in Latin America in only six years, at a time that Catholicism in Europe faced great challenges.

The Virgen de Guadalupe continues to have a major impact on Latin Catholicism. The basilica dedicated to her is the most significant for Hispanics and the Virgin Mary, and is actually the third largest Catholic church in the world.

There are others, however, who consider apparitions an example of religious syncretism, or the combining of contradictory schools of thought into one system of belief.

Apparitions of the Virgin in Latin America

While Latin American Catholics tended to be Marian (devotees of Mary) no matter which country they are from, there is a unique cultural and national aspect to that devotion: most Latinos venerate “their” Virgen.

Even the Virgen de Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas, is for the most part venerated primarily by Mexicans.

Many countries or regions have been blessed by the apparition of the Virgin Mary: in Costa Rica, the Virgen de Los Ángeles (also called La Negrita); in Venezuela, Nuestra Señora de Coromoto; in Paraguay, the Virgen de Caacupé; in Argentina, Nuestra Señora del Rosario de San Nicolás; and in Colombia, Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá.

These Virgins are the source of much devotion, often inspiring pilgrimages which draw thousands of people. In many cases, they are the patron saints of the country where they appeared.

Not surprisingly, the bond between Hispanics and the Virgin Mary continues in Latinos in the United States. Visiting a primarily Latin area, you are likely to see numerous images venerating the Virgin.

Which Virgen do you venerate? Tell us about it in the comments!