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Growing up in NYC in a Puerto Rican household, I was exposed on a daily basis to what most Americans are now calling the "Latin crossover into mainstream America". Listening to salsa music was a daily staple in our 2 bedroom Queens apartment, along with all the smells, sounds and sights that are now a part of our pop-culture. I was one of the first kids on my block who owned a Menudo lunch box featuring a young Ricky Martin. So, although I was surprised to see the recent explosion of Latino influence all over the United States, maybe the world, it did not come as a complete shock. The Latin way of life has an awful lot to offer.
Salsa music has its roots in African tribal ceremonial music. Similarities exist in its hard driving bass rhythm, its cultural significance, and its effect on those who listen to the music. Today’s salsa music also has its pioneers: Tito Puente, Celia Cruz just to mention a few. I'm sure that Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Mark Anthony and the band Santana, if asked, will cite one of these artists as having an influence on them. A great video to rent on this subject is “The Buena Vista Social Club”.
Hispanic foods share one common bond....spice! Order any dish in a Mexican, Cuban or Caribbean restaurant and chances are you will need a constant supply of water just to keep up with the meal. One of the most popular fast food chains at the moment is of course Taco Bell. The combination of spices, sauces and hearty texture of the food are quite attractive to eaters. This, along with a great Mexican beer such as Corona or Dos Equis, is a great culinary adventure. Puerto Rican based dishes are rich in fried foods and heavy sauces, along with a good dose of rice. A favorite dish of most Puerto Ricans is white rice, red beans and pernil (roast pork). In any Hispanic household, dinner is definitely a family affair, filled with food, drink and family conversation. So check out a local Latin restaurant when you have a chance, it beats take home pizza any day.
These two topics share one common denominator: family. Visit any park in a neighborhood of any major city in the United States that has a great number of Latinos in its population, and chances are good that you will find loud speakers playing Latin music and enjoying home cooked Spanish meals that were brought to the park for this occasion. Latin music, Latin food and family just go together. I remember listening to my grandfather tell stories about growing up, and having a family sit down meal almost every night of the week. During my own childhood, I also recall that dinner time was always a family affair. It was a rare night when I did not have both my parents and my 2 sisters at the table for dinner. And I look back with fond memories at all those weekends spent at a local city park with music, food and our extended family joining in on the festivities. Everyone ate together, and danced to our music together.
The current popularity of the Latin culture on America’s mainstream may have its roots in all of the above, and maybe not. But think about all the current news stories involving the so called decline of the family unit, and the loss of family values and maybe, just maybe there is a connection. Nowadays when a Latin song is played, its not only broadcast on Latin radio stations, but mainstream stations also. Two of the best selling albums on the North American pop charts for the past two years belong to Ricky Martin and Santana. Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas are both well known and popular movie stars. Taco Bell is right up there with American giants such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, the list goes on and on. Latin culture is fast becoming an excepted way of life in these United States, and most of non-Latino America is joining in on the fun.
So I pose this question to you, the reader: Is this just a passing fad, and how much of it deals with the connection the family situation these days?