Photo Credit: Ben McKeown, courtesy of the American Dance Festival

From Ballet Hispánico's mesmerizing performances to the cultural treasures housed in Buffalo AKG Art Museum, explore the mosaic of stories, traditions, and artistic expressions of Hispanic culture and heritage at these spots run by incredible Latinx leaders in New York State.

Masks are encouraged, but optional in most settings per New York State guidelines. Individual businesses or attractions may require mask wearing. Call ahead and check websites and social media to make sure attractions and amenities are open and available.

Andrea Alvarez, associate curator, Buffalo AKG Art Museum (Greater Niagara)

Andrea Alvarez, associate curator, Buffalo AKG Art Museum
Photo: Jeff Mace for the Buffalo AKG Art Museum

Growing up as a new immigrant from Quito, Ecuador, Andrea Alvarez had no idea that her career existed until an art history class in her freshman year of college set her on a path that would lead to her current role as associate curator at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. As a curator and member of an immigrant family, Hispanic Heritage Month connects Alvarez with her own story and affords the chance to expose people of all ages and backgrounds to learn about art, history, and the many career opportunities in the art world. “For me Hispanic Heritage Month carries special meaning because it’s a moment when I get to celebrate my own heritage and see that my own legacy and history is represented and celebrated at my place of work, which feels important,” said Alvarez. 

At the newly re-opened Buffalo AKG Art Museum, plans for the month include live bands, performances, and drop-in art workshops. Art in the collection by Hispanic and Latinx artists will be highlighted, and Alvarez has also curated an exhibit by Mexican-American artist Narsiso Martinez, known for his portrayals of agricultural workers, that will run from December 1 to April 22. For Alvarez, this show and Hispanic Heritage Month are opportunities to embrace a welcoming, inclusive shift at museums. “It’s really important to celebrate diverse communities because, for so long in spaces like museums across the world, we have done a really good job of celebrating a homogenous population,” she said. “What we can do to remedy that is to celebrate the diversity of the global community that we are all a part of.” - Michelle Kearns/Visit Buffalo Niagara

Eduardo Vilaro, CEO and artistic director, Ballet Hispánico (NYC) 

Members of Ballet Hispanico perform a routine
Credit: Ben McKeown, courtesy of the American Dance Festival

Ballet Hispánico is the largest Latinx/Latine/Hispanic cultural organization in the United States and one of America’s cultural treasures, bringing audiences together to celebrate the joy and diversity of Latinx culture. “For over 50 years Ballet Hispánico has provided a place of honor for the omitted, overlooked, and othered,” said CEO and artistic director Eduardo Vilaro. “As it looks to the future, Ballet Hispánico is pushing the culture forward on issues of dance and Latine creative expression.” The organization “initiates inclusive cultural conversations and explores the intersectionality of Latine cultures” through its performances, classes, and community events, which Vilaro hopes cultivates a sense of “appreciation for the totality and diversity of the Latinx diaspora.” “Dancers are storytellers, and it’s amazing how important discussions can be ignited after seeing a topic or particular theme explored on stage,” Vilaro said. “Looking at my work as a vocation, it’s my duty and pleasure to connect different ideas and bring them to life through dance, and to connect different choreographers, artists, and dancers, to highlight the beauty and diversity of the diaspora.”

Eduardo Vilaro, CEO and artistic director, Ballet Hispanico
Credit: Rachel Neville 

Vilaro, who first became involved with Ballet Hispánico as an artist and educator in 1988 under the leadership of its founder Tina Ramirez before returning in 2009 as artistic director, grew up in the Bronx after his family moved there from Cuba when he was six years old. “The music and dance of Cuba was what kept a lifeline to my heritage while I was growing up in NYC,” he said.  “During Hispanic Heritage Month, and every month, I get to share how Latinx culture has greatly impacted the art of dance and society overall.” Ballet Hispánico shares the rich tradition of dance with over 300,000 people a year with its school, community programs, and professional company, which had the honor of performing at the White House for President Barack Obama.  The company is on tour with upcoming performances in Peekskill and Stony Brook and Ballet Hispánico will be hosting Celebración Latina, a free family-friendly event with live music, dancing, and food on October 15. 

Antonio Arias, owner, ONCE Finger Lakes (Finger Lakes)

ONCE Finger Lakes is an homage to the region it calls home — from its name (once means “eleven” in Spanish, as in the 11 Finger Lakes), to its decor, to the local wines that are proudly poured within its modern tasting room overlooking Seneca Lake. “We are not a winery, nor a wine bar or a retail shop — we are a place that celebrates and brings the best of the best the region has to offer under one roof,” said owner Antonio Arias. ONCE showcases 12 of the region’s notable wineries in its warm and inviting space to take visitors on a unique tour to every corner of this esteemed wine region. Guests can embark on a tasting journey with curated wine flights that uncork the depth and breadth of the area’s finest wine makers from Dr. Konstantin Frank to Living Roots. Visitors can also find the perfect pairing with a signature flight and bites experience highlighting seasonal ingredients, enjoy a relaxing sip on the deck with breathtaking lake views and savory small bites, or join unique events from happy hours to brunches and farm-to-table wine dinners.

Antonio Arias, owner, ONCE Finger Lakes
Photo courtesy of Antonio Arias

Born and raised in Mexico City, Arias got the “wine bug” from the Spanish side of his family. After earning a degree in chemical engineering, he switched gears to pursue his passion for wine, earning a master’s degree in wine business and working in all facets of the industry from importing to retail with his journey leading to the opening of ONCE Finger Lakes. “I always loved the idea of living in an emerging wine region where I could be an active part of writing its story,” Arias said. “Especially as an immigrant, it has been incredibly rewarding to be able to not just become part of the community, but be able to do my part to contribute towards its growth, and build a better future for the next generations.” For Arias, it’s also not just about the wine. “One of the things I like the most about this region is its diversity,” he said. “It’s quickly becoming a destination for foodies while offering unrivaled outdoor activities and scenic beauty.”

Michele Agosto, co-founder, Los Artistas del Barrio Buffalo, an Artist Collective (Greater Niagara)

Members of the Latino Artist Collaborative pose in front of a mural honoring Roberto Clemente
Photo courtesy of Michele Agosto

In the seven years since Michele Agosto joined three other local Hispanic artists to form Los Artistas del Barrio Buffalo, the group of Puerto Rican and Caribbean artists has grown to 14 with an evolving mission to elevate art and ideas from the Hispanic community in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. The members are painters, mixed media artists, ceramists, a graffiti artist and muralist, poets, photographers and performers including a circus aerialist, dancers, and Latin jazz band. “We’ve created a platform for artists that identify as Latino, Latina, Latinx to share their artwork with our community,” said Agosto. “At the end of the day, it’s just about making connections, learning about one another, how we can help each other, and how we can do this through the universal platform of the arts.” 

Michele Agosto, co-founder, Latino Artist Collaborative
Photo courtesy of Michele Agosto

The group’s first public creation was a 2021 mural of Roberto Clemente, the late Puerto Rican baseball hero and Pittsburgh Pirates player who died in a plane crash while delivering aid to victims of the 1972 Nicaragua earthquake. “He died very young, doing a very humane and selfless thing and so Puerto Ricans just adore him,” said Agosto, who is also director of arts for Buffalo Public Schools. This year, poet Julio Montalvo Valentin led kite making and painting workshops that will culminate with a gallery show at Niagara Arts & Cultural Center in Niagara Falls from Oct. 1 – Nov. 25. Its timing, midway through Hispanic Heritage Month, is an opportunity that Agosto welcomes. “Hispanic Heritage Month is awesome. We are essential. We are a growing population. It’s an avenue to celebrate that,” she said. - Michelle Kearns/Visit Buffalo Niagara

Orlando Rodriguez, chef and owner, Graft Wine & Cider Bar (Finger Lakes)

A woman holds a wine glass over a table with food at Graft Wine & Cider Bar
Credit: Erin Panosian

Food has always been at the heart of every family event through Orlando Rodriguez’s life. “I grew a passion for food as everyone gathered in the kitchen eating, drinking, and conversing,” he said. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Rodriguez and his wife found a home for their family in 2007 in Watkins Glen. It’s here where Rodriguez’s lifelong dream of owning a restaurant came true in 2019 with the purchase of Graft Wine + Cider Bar, where he fosters the sense of food and family through a memorable dining experience that he shares with the community. “I love seeing the regulars and talking to my customers,” he said. “It all brings back memories to family.”

Chef Orlando Rodriguez of Graft Wine and Cider Bar
Credit: Erin Panosian

Graft exclusively serves a variety of New York State hand-crafted wines, ciders, and beer alongside a creative seasonally-focused menu with ingredients sourced from local farms within its charming and cozy space. Rodriguez’s Dominican heritage also plays a special role in the restaurant. “Once you walk into Graft you will feel a Latin vibe with the music in the background and you will definitely taste it in the food as well,” he said. “My culture and heritage is who I am and am very proud of. I love seeing people jamming out to the music playing and enjoying the food that is being served.” 

Lou Moreno, artistic director, Intar Theatre (NYC)

Actors on stage during a production at Intar Theatre
Photo courtesy of Intar Theatre

Founded in 1966 by Cuban immigrant Max Ferrá, Intar Theatre is one of the country’s longest-running Latino theaters, producing bold, innovative, and artistically significant plays that reflect diverse perspectives from within its intimate space in Hell’s Kitchen. INTAR brings to life works generated by Latin playwrights, composers, directors, choreographers and visual artists while also offering workshops and programs such as Unit52 (which provides emerging artists the avenue to hone their craft and launch their careers). “It's home for many of us,” said Lou Moreno, who has served as artistic director since 2010. “For the Latinos that come to see our show, I want them to feel like they are home, like they have been seen, like they see parts of themselves on that stage that only other Latinos can see.” 

Lou Moreno of Intar Theater
Photo courtesy of Intar Theatre

Intar puts on two full productions each year spanning all genres at its theater, which is housed in a fourth floor walk up at 500 W. 52nd Street. “I really like transforming the audience's experience, not just from when the curtain goes up, but from as they leave their New York City life to walk into our space,” said Moreno, who spent his formative years in Bogota, Colombia where he got into theater in middle school. “I kind of feel like Willy Wonka sometimes, where people get to walk down the street, see this unmarked building and come inside where there's just absolute magic that happens for you and you never know what you're going to see. I don't think we've ever produced the same show twice.” While Intar is a Latino theater, Moreno stresses that is not the surface of what drives their work. “We do plays about Latinidad not to teach culture to anybody that walks into a room, but to experience our culture, because that's just who we are,” he said. “We celebrate our culture and our stages in every way possible.” 

Jose David Martinez, chef and co-owner, UNION Restaurant & Bar Latino (Hudson Valley)

Tables and chair line the outdoor patio of UNION Restaurant & Bar Latino
Photo Courtesy of Union Restaurant & Bar Latino

Union Restaurant and Bar Latino showcases a diverse yet classic menu of Latin-fusion dishes within its home at the historic Pressler Building in Haverstraw. Within a year of opening its doors in 2007, it was named best new restaurant of the year by Hudson Valley Magazine, which also called Union’s culinary maestro Jose David Martinez one of the Hudson Valley’s hot new chefs. “I came from El Salvador to the United States and started working as a dishwasher in a restaurant,” said Martinez, who was a car mechanic in his native Metapán. “I became passionate about cooking, worked my way up and had a long time dream to open a restaurant.” Teaming up with partner-owner Paulo Feteira, the two brought together their shared vision, passion and talent to bring the restaurant to life.

Jose David Martinez, chef and co-owner, UNION Restaurant & Bar Latino
Photo Courtesy of Union Restaurant & Bar Latino

Martinez is a self-taught chef who picked up many of his culinary skills under the guidance of James Beard Award-winning chef Peter Kelly at the former Xaviar’s in Piermont, where Martinez met Feteira. He continues to experiment with ingredients and test recipes with his wife in their home kitchen to innovate and evolve Union’s menu with his distinct style of Latin-fused cuisine. “I can create any dish I want —  not a specific type of country's food, just influences,” he said, adding that he wants visitors to be transported through “the smells, the flavors, and the colors” of his dishes that reflect his culture and heritage. Whether it's pan seared scallops with mushroom risotto and calabaza chips or grilled skirt steak with queso, Salvadoran rice and beans, and chimichurri sauce, Union’s friendly and relaxed hacienda-style atmosphere makes for the perfect setting to explore Martinez’s creations and experience fine Latin dining. 

Mary Rutigliano, worker-owner and co-founder, Juana Avendano, worker-owner, and Blanca Jimenez, co-founder and worker-owner, Cooperativa Las Cazuelas (Finger Lakes)

A plate of ribs topped with onions and cheese prepared by Cooperativa Las Cazuelas
Enmoladas, shown alongside a tortillera, or tortilla warmer from Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca where worker-owner and co-founder Blanca Rodriguez is from. Credit: Third Eye Catcher Photography

Founded in 2019, Cooperativa Laz Cazuelas has been bringing homestyle Mexican food to Geneseo through monthly pop-ups that feature antojitos, everyday foods called “little cravings” like tamales, tacos, and empanadas paired with a spicy salsa, rice and beans, or a Mexican slaw along with aguas frescas made from mango, tamarind, and more. “You may not know it, but some of the best Mexican food in New York state is made in rural blink-and-you-miss-it towns,” said co-founder and worker-owner Mary Rutigliano, who manages orders and communications for the majority Mexican-owned project. “The Cooperativa brings that homestyle sazón, or taste, found on rural roads and farms to the larger community.” Community is at the core of the project as visitors come together each month to celebrate the flavors and traditions of Mexican food and culture at the popular and welcoming pop-up that’s hosted out of a local church’s commercial kitchen. 

Members of the Cooperativa Las Cazuelas pose at an event
Left to right is Blanca Rodriguez, co-founder and worker-owner, Juana Avendano, worker-owner, and Mary Rutigliano, co-founder and worker-owner. Credit: Third Eye Catcher Photography

Classics will sometimes get a fresh take, like in June when the group conjured up a strawberry horchata with berries from a local farm, but for special holidays it’s strictly traditional, serving up hot chocolate, tamales with mole, and pan de muerto for Day of the Dead, which also features a Community Ofrenda, or Altar, where visitors are invited to submit photos and remembrances of loved ones. “I am thrilled to share my culture with the community and I get to show my kids that our culture is loved not just by us, but by others, too,” said worker-owner Juana Avendano, whose family is from Oaxaca, Mexico. “I feel proud at every pop-up when people come for the food and tell us how good everything smells.” For Blanca Jimenez, co-founder and worker-owner, being part of the Cooperative afford " the opportunity to share my culture, traditions and the flair of Mexican food. Us women support each other in becoming more independent." The project has been embraced not only by the people, but other businesses on Geneseo’s Main Street and beyond, with the Cooperativa having collaborated with the likes of Three Falls Cider and Silver Lake Brewing Project. “We’re a non-traditional food business that’s about to celebrate our four year anniversary, and we owe so much of it to the community that’s welcomed us,” Rutigliano said. “It’s a real testament to the fact that rural communities do value a diversity of cultures and cuisines.“ "being part of the Cooperative the opportunity to share my culture, traditions and the flair of Mexican food. Us women support each other in becoming more independent." 

Share your New York State adventures with us on Instagram and Twitter with #iSpyNY and tag us on Facebook!