The Latino culture is extremely diverse, and there is no singular Latino experience. The identities of Latinas and Latinos are filled with many layers, shaped by factors such as geography, heritage, race, and gender. Latinas and Latinos have spent centuries expressing and preserving these identities, which have all contributed to the culture of the United States.
Learn more about the unique Latino identities.
The experiences of the Latino community can be seen throughout the American entertainment industry. From sharing styles of dance to being leaders in sports, Latinas and Latinos continue to bring their unique experiences and perspectives as they provide strong contributions to our society.
Music and Dance
Many forms of music and dance have been spread throughout the United States from the influences of Latinas and Latinos. For example, Puerto Rican-Mexican-American dancer and choreographer Tina Ramirez founded Ballet Hispánico in 1970 to celebrate Latino communities through dance. Ramirez later went on to become a National Medal of Arts recipient.
Another National Media of Arts recipient, Celia Cruz, helped to popularize salsa music in the United States by embracing her heritage. Salsa music arose in New York in the 1960s and 1970s and blended Cuban and other Afro-Latino musical traditions. Cruz, known as the Queen of Salsa, broke boundaries as one of the few women to succeed in the world of salsa music and celebrated her Afro Latino culture by performing in Spanish during the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
With music styles like salsa, merengue, and reggaeton, which have become global music phenomena, Latinas and Latinos continue contributing to the music and dance industries in the United States.
Learn more about famous Latinos and Latinas.
Latinas and Latinos have been game changers in the United States sports industry. One of the sports that showcases the talent of Latinas and Latinos is the U.S. national pastime – baseball. Throughout the last century, Latinas and Latinos have used baseball to build communities and transform American culture. After World War II, some Japanese Americans started baseball teams after returning or relocating to rural areas. The Mexican American teams also located in those areas played them while many white teams would not. Through the game of baseball, Latinas/os, African Americans, Asian Americans, and ethnic White Americans crossed racial lines and often formed lifelong friendships along the way. Today, Latinos are well represented among the Major League’s rosters with players like Francisco Lindor and José Altuve.
Baseball isn’t the only sport where the Latino community has held a strong presence. Mexican American athlete Mark “Gonz” Gonzales has also been a pioneer in the world of sports by pioneering the street style of skateboarding in California. Many other athletes are representing the Latino community as trailblazers within their sports, such as professional golfer Lizette Salas and former professional soccer player and National Soccer Hall of Fame member Marcelo Balboa.
Other Cultural Influences
The Latino community’s many contributions to American culture continue to evolve. For example, the margarita is a common beverage in Mexican American restaurants that became popular in bars along the California-Mexico border in the 1940s. By the 1970s, the margarita surpassed the martini as the most popular American cocktail. In 1971, Dallas restaurant owner Mariano Martinez partnered with a friend to adapt a soft-serve ice-cream machine that created a consistent mixture for the still well-liked frozen margarita.
American culture has long included Mexican American cuisine through the popularity of Tex-Mex-style restaurants. Among the early entrepreneurs who helped transform this style of food was Adelaida Cuellar. Cuellar’s family migrated to Texas in the 1890s and she began selling tamales at her county fair. She opened a restaurant in 1928 and it was later expanded into the El Chico Tex-Mex restaurant chain that operates globally. Entrepreneurs like Cuellar paved the way for other Tex-Mex-style restaurants and fast food chains, like Taco Bell.
Art and literary contributions are another form of expression where the Latino community has transformed American culture over the years. Writers like Sandra Cisneros and Rudolfo Anaya have drawn on their unique experiences to create works that have enriched American literature.
Mexican American artist Judy Baca painted a series of murals retelling the history of California in a way that includes everybody’s stories. Baca has used her art as a tool to empower her community and advocate for social change. She is joined by many other groundbreakers in this industry, including Mexican American artist Ester Hernández and Cuban-American performance artist Ana Mendieta.
Since our country’s beginning the Latino community has impacted national culture. From areas like art and food to being some of our country’s strongest boundary breakers, Latinas and Latinos continue to shape the nation.
Learn more about Latino art and artists.