(Let’s Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month!)
BY: Gabriel Lopez Kafati
In August of 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from the coast of Spain; venturing westbound; and convinced his expedition would find an alternate route to India. Sure that the mission would fail, Fernando and Isabel de Castilla, Spanish Monarchs, granted Columbus the use of three small vessels- La Niña, La Pinta, and La Santa María. A couple of months later, Columbus’ expedition finally found land! Thinking he had reached India, he called the natives “Indians” and the newly-found land “The Indies.” Subsequent voyages kept finding more and more- Beautiful beaches, exotic fruits and plants, lots of gold and silver, but, most importantly, a very unique and trusting culture. Locals were mesmerized by some of the items introduced by the Europeans; such as mirrors, shoes, and guns. Not understanding the concept of “market value,” natives exchanged items like a gram of fine gold for a small mirror.
The following three centuries were known as the period of “Colonization.” Understanding their richness, Spain declared these lands as part of its Monarchy; only admitting to share the portions of “The Indies” with other European reigns who started venturing West on their own, like Portugal. To aid in the process of conquering and colonizing, European monarchs started offering positions of rank to those who agreed to settle in these “new” territories and represent the Monarchy. When the locals started exerting resistance against these foreigners who were claiming ownership of their native lands, Europeans decided to bring along African slaves to aid them in the process of conquering and working the land.
While it may be arguable if Spaniards and Portuguese brought a new sense of civilization to Latin America, or if they trampled the traditions of its natives, what is true is that three centuries of sharing the same land, gave birth to an entirely new and diverse population. The term “Hispanics” encompasses the rich and diverse culture that was born from the mingling of Natives, Europeans, and Africans. The richness and diversity of Hispanic heritage can be found in its language, gastronomy, music, family values, and more.
Even though Spanish and Portuguese are the predominant languages in Latin America, each region has a strong influence from its native tongue. Let’s take the word “child,” for example; the purest Spanish translation is “niño.” In México, the Aztec influence gave birth to the word “chamaco;” in Honduras, the Mayan influence gave birth to the word “cipote;” and in Peru, the Incan influence gave birth to the word “chibolo.”
The fusions created by Hispanic gastronomy are unique and rich in flavor. Tortillas or arepas can be found in most Hispanic homes; corn and beans can be transformed into multiple dishes; spices and herbs like cumin and cilantro highlight some of the distinct flavors of many Hispanic dishes. In any case, the local flavors incorporated some of the European influence to create a perfect balance of flavors. The geographic location of each Hispanic country has also marked the direction in which the local kitchens go; for example, yuca is very common in the Caribbean, while beef is the pride of Argentina. It is worthy of mentioning that both, Mexican and Peruvian cuisines have been deemed World Heritage by the United Nations.
The musical arrangements that are formed by a combination of marimbas, strings, African drums, and even seashells have given way to the genres known as mariachi, bolero, trios, merengue, salsa, cumbia, samba and reggaeton among others. Today, the entire world enjoys either courting a loved one or dancing to one of these catchy and inspiring rhythms.
Some family values and traditions are so distinctive of Hispanic culture, that some times a family name is not necessary to connect the dots. Perhaps you will hear a proud mom planning a “Quinceañera” to celebrate a daughter’s 15th birthday. Sometimes you may wonder why a countryman in Central America is collecting pineapple husks; well, whenever you have a chance, and if you are over 21, try sampling some good “Chicha,” an adult beverage concocted using pineapple husks, sugar cane, and other aromatic spices. If you are trying to meet up with someone who tells you they can’t make it because Fridays is their day to take care of “abuela,” it means that family member is sharing the task of watching over the elderly of the house. Very important, don’t be confused when you hear that an entire family is preparing lots of foods and drinks for several days; that may well be a party or a funeral service.
Hispanics will make a feast out of anything. They can be passionate about something they love, or dramatic when they don’t care for something. In any case, a genuine heart and a fiery passion are part of the Hispanic Heritage. For the most part, Hispanics are very giving, and they will share as little or as much as they can. If you visit a Hispanic home, depending on the time of the day, you will be greeted by either a tortilla with refried beans; a cup of coffee and its respective pastry, which you will be expected to dunk; or a piece of “carne asada” fresh out of the grill. If you refuse, you will just face insistence accompanied with the phrase: “Donde come uno, comen dos;” which means: Where there is food for one, there is food for two.
Christopher Columbus died without knowing that he had encountered a land rich in culture, traditions, foods, natural beauties, and millennial values. Many believe that Columbus “discovered” America. The reality is that he just found a route from Europe to a continent already inhabited by a diversity of groups and populations. The three centuries of colonization were cruel and oppressive. The process of liberation from the European Monarchies was not easy; many lost their lands, their loved ones, their lives! However, their resilience made it possible for their roots to stay present in that new culture that emerged. Let’s honor and celebrate the beauty, the richness, the diversity, and the immense wealth gifted to our world by Hispanic Heritage!