Latin America culture is a mix of predominantly native and European influences. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the region, Amerindians reigned supreme, building communities and even major cities that captivate the imagination. Pre-Columbian cities in Latin America aren’t just the stuff of imagination, however. You can actually visit some and gain wonderful insight into what life was like before European intervention. Examples of such cities include Palenque in Mexico, Copan in Honduras, and Machu Picchu in Peru. Of course, ancient cities are just one of the many facets of Latin America culture. Other examples include the region’s colonial architecture, its food, its dance, and its overall traditions.
Latin America Traditions
Latin America Traditions Image: Mary P Madigan (flickr)
Latin America is a vast region that includes Mexico, most of Central and South America, and parts of the Caribbean. Because of its size and high number of countries, the region is home to many different traditions. Each country has its own unique traditions, though there are some that are commonly shared. Carnival is widely celebrated throughout Latin America, for example, with Brazil boasting the world’s most famous carnival celebrations. Many Latin America traditions are invariably related to religion. The primary religion throughout the region is Christianity, with Roman Catholicism being the most prevalent sect. Patron saints are worshiped with great reverence during religious-based festivals, and it is common for Latin American countries to celebrate Holy Week. Christmas is another example of a common Latin America celebration, and one that the region’s people take seriously. During the Christmas season, the Latin American community on the whole takes the opportunity to display the best of its culture and people.
Latin America Dance
Latin America Dance Image: René Mayorga (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
Dance is a huge part of Latin America culture. What would Argentina be without the tango or Brazil without samba, for example? Another well-known dance from the region is salsa. It has its origins in Cuban son and Afro-Cuban rumba and has developed into one of the world’s most popular dancing styles. Many Latin America dance styles have African influences. Coincidentally, there have been African influences on the region’s religion and cuisine, especially in such countries as Brazil, Panama, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. This is the result of the introduction of slaves from Africa during colonial times. It should be noted that some Latin America dances emphasize sexuality and are quite sensual. The same can be said about some of the music that has evolved in the region. Speaking of music, it is common for Latin America dances to derive from and be named after the type of music that they are danced to. Examples of such dances include salsa, samba, tango, bachata, merengue, cha-cha-cha, and mambo. Also, while solo variations exist, Latin America dances are primarily performed either with a partner or as a social dance.
Latin America Food
Latin America Food Image: puroticorico (flickr)
No discussion about Latin America culture would be complete without touching on the region’s food. Since Latin America is a very diverse region with many different nations, it is home to various cuisines. That being said, similarities exist. Maize-based dishes are common, as are the use of salsas and other condiments. Examples of maize-based dishes include tortillas, tamales, and pupusas. In addition to salsas, popular Latin America condiments include guacamole, pico de gallo, and mole. As far as proteins are concerned, meat is greatly consumed throughout the region, as is seafood. In pre-Columbian times, turkey and other wild game were used for meat. Europeans introduced other meats to the region, including pork and beef. Rice, cheese, and sugar cane were just some of the other foods that were introduced to Latin America by Europeans. On the other hand, native Latin Americans introduced chocolate and vanilla to the Europeans. (Who did who a bigger favor could be an interesting topic for debate.) As for desserts, arroz con leche, flan, dulce de leche, tres leches cake, alfajor, and Teja are popular in Latin America. For those wondering about Latin America beverages, they are just as distinct as the region’s food. Some even date to pre-Columbian times, as is the case with cacao. Other popular Latin America beverages include Pisco Sour, atole, chica, horchata, mate, and aguas frescas. Also worthy of note are two of the region’s most famous spirits: tequila and rum.