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One of the best things about New York State is its history of welcoming immigrants and different cultures from around the world. Hispanic culture and its impact on culture in the United States can be experienced by visitors across New York in the form of neighborhood explorations, historical artifacts and art, dance, sports, comedy, theater, and of course, the food! Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15, but you can enjoy many of the following activities all year long.
Some of these attractions have had to move their activities online due to COVID-19, but others are open—though it’s best to call ahead and to check the attraction’s website or social media channels before planning a visit to celebrate and commemorate Hispanic culture in New York.
Immerse Yourself in a Vibrant Neighborhood
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Lin Manuel Miranda’s popular musical In the Heights was inspired by the immigrant community and culture in NYC’s Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods. In addition to some of the most incredible views in Upper Manhattan, it’s here you can find authentic cuisine favorites or something new to try, such as the croquettes that make people line up at Cuban-owned Floridita Bakery, Dominican burgers (aka chimis) at Luisa Chimi, or Venezuelan street food at Tu Cachapa (much more on food later).
In East Harlem, also called Spanish Harlem or El Barrio, explore La Marqueta, where in the 1950s and ‘60s more than 500 local vendors sold specialty products and foods under the elevated tracks between 111th and 116th Streets. Today, you’ll find Central American, South American, and Caribbean offerings, a farmers market, and gathering places. Also in El Barrio is an impressive display of street art and murals and El Museo Del Barrio, specializing in Puerto RIcan, Caribbean, and Latin American art, cultural festivities, and educational opportunities.
Buffalo’s designated Hispanic Heritage District, Avenida San Juan, is home to a renowned mural by Betsy Casañas entitled “Homeland, Perhaps, It Is Because I Wish to See You Fly, That My Flight Continues to be Yours” (pictured) as well as Hispanic-owned shops and restaurants, including Colombian cuisine at Sabores De Mi Tierra and authentic Puerto Rican dishes at La Flor Bakery.
Learn about the Latin American Experience
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At Lower Manhattan’s Tenement Museum, take the “Under One Roof” tour that explores the stories and homes of a Puerto Rican family and a Chinese family living in the same building and experiencing similar challenges in the 1960s and ‘70s while working in the garment industry and navigating a new environment.
Honor Icons From Today and Yesterday
Visit the “¡Viva Baseball!” permanent exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. In some years, 30% of Major League Baseball players are Latin American and the sport is a rich tradition in countries such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. This bilingual exhibit honors trail blazers Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal, and Hector Espino, as well as more recent athletes such as Albert Pujols and Mariano Rivera.
At the International Boxing Hall of Fame, visitors can learn about the lives and careers of Latin American boxers including five-time world champion Julio Cesar Chavez and “The Explosive Thin Man” Alexis Argüello.
In Jamestown at the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum (pictured), see costumes, memorabilia, and sets from I Love Lucy, co-starring Desi Arnaz, born in Cuba. Visit a recreation of Arnaz’s character Ricky Ricardo’s nightclub Tropicana and get ready to laugh a lot.
Travel with Your Tastebuds
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Taste dishes such as mofongo at Mi Ecuador Juice Bar in Rensselaer. In Rochester, order Puerto Rican takeout at Cocina Latina, find empanadas at Rochester Public Market at Juan and Maria’s Empanada Stop, or try the tres leches cake at Carmen’s Cooking in Rochester. The Cube Inn in Tarrytown has Cuban favorites like ceviche, tostones, and a classic El Cubano sandwich. Large portions of delicious Dominican dishes such as rabo (oxtail) and pernil (roasted pork) are served in the Catskills at Angel’s Latin Restaurant.
Different types of Mexican cuisine can be found in all of New York’s vacation regions. Try Cosme (with local ingredients from the Hudson Valley, ranked as one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2019) and Casa Enrique (traditional Chiapas dishes with a Michelin star) in NYC. Upstate options include El Rancho in the Finger Lakes (pictured), The Pepper in the Adirondacks, Tico’s in the Thousand Islands, and Diego’s Taqueria in the Hudson Valley.
Experience Theater and Dance
Repertorio Español has been producing excellent Spanish language theatre performances for more than 50 years in New York City. Current and upcoming productions include “La Breve y Maravillosa Vida de Oscar Wao” (based on the popular novel by Dominican-American author Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), Filomena Marturano: A Marriage to the Caribbean, and Quinceañera, a comedy by Saulo García.
Puerto Rican Traveling Theater has developed hundreds of Latino performers since 1968, traveling through the Bronx and Manhattan presenting original plays and musicals. Each year, the theater puts on in-person events such as performances at community gardens and online events are now available as well.
At Nuyorican Poets Cafe (Puerto Rican New Yorkers Poets Cafe) on the Lower East Side of NYC, visitors can attend poetry slams, open mic nights, Latin Jazz and Hip-Hop concerts, and more. The space was founded in 1973 and quickly became a hot spot for a range of storytellers and artists.
Catch a stunning ballet performance by Ballet Hispánico, started in 1970. The dance school and performing arts troupe has entertained millions and describes themselves as "the foremost dance representative of Hispanic culture in the United States."
In the summer, join in on Salsa Sundays at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, an event that has been held for more than half a century with DJs and live Salsa bands and the opportunity to get in on the action yourself.
Marvel at Historical Art and Artifacts
In NYC, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an impressive collection of ancient art and artifacts across Mexico, Central America, and South America, including pieces from the Aztec, Incan, Olmec, and Mesoamerican cultures.
This fall, Yager Museum of Art and Culture at Hartwick College in Oneonta hosts “For the Moment, Living Images”: Masks from Mexico and Beyond, in addition to a collection of South American artifacts.
Celebrate Culture at a Parade or Festival
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There are a number of cultural celebration parades to attend throughout the year across the state. The National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City along Fifth Avenue is considered America’s largest cultural celebration. Puerto Rican Parades are also held in Brentwood on Long Island, in Buffalo, and in Rochester. The Dominican Day Parade in Washington Heights in NYC is on the second Sunday of August. The Latino Festival in Syracuse offers musical performances, cultural demonstrations, and traditional food.