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Latino culture, beyond heritage month


Hispanic Heritage Month, which started Sept. 15, has wrapped up. It was a great time of celebration and acknowledgement. But one of my personal pet peeves is how quickly the pendulum swings and the interest fizzles out.

I appreciate the celebration of the cultures and various ethnic groups since it is important to acknowledge these contributions. But then intensity and attention disappear (almost completely) until the next commemorative period. It’s like Latinos pack away their identity until the following year. Funny enough, I remain Latina the other 11 months of the year.

In that vein, check out these local artists, groups and places for your exploration throughout the year to truly connect to the Latino culture and experience in the United States.

Stephanie Ybarra, theater director of Baltimore Center Stage. The first Latina theater director in the country. And that happened in Baltimore! Her debut play, “Miss You Like Hell,” was a heart-wrenching mother-daughter story, drawn straight from the headlines.

Stephanie was not afraid to bring a play that explored the intersection of rich Latino values and challenge of today’s broken immigration system.  I laughed … and cried. Stephanie, you are making yourself known (and welcomed) in our Baltimore.

Conjunto Bruja. I was wowed by this all-women group of artists at a recent event. Conjunto Bruja (the name literally translates to the Witch Group) brings together ladies from Latin America and the Middle East whose ethnicity deeply influences their music. Their performances showcase folkloric traditions interlaced with strong feminism.  These chicas jammed out on their guitars and cajones, evoking pure joy in me. I find myself smiling just reliving the memory of their performance.

Jessica DeSantis. This fabulous Nicaraguan self-taught artist highlights the grit and beauty of Baltimore. Her paintings capture the vibrant and complex scenes of everyday Baltimore interwoven with her culture and ancestry like Mayan symbols, colibris and quetzals. In her own words, “Hers is a proud celebration of identity, culture, and belonging.”  I need to commission her to create a piece similar to her painting titled “El Espíritu de la Gente” (The Spirit Of The People).

Artesanas Mexicanas. This grassroots group launched out of Creative Alliance (another gem in Baltimore) to focus on celebrating the local talent in our own neighborhoods while providing training and professional development for Latino and immigrant artists.  They even provide workshops and after-school programs. These artists can be found at local festivals celebrating Día de los Muertos and traditional Posadas.

Sajhoma Restaurant. Delicioso! Enjoy real authentic Dominican food right on Fleet Street in Baltimore. There’s a daily spread of specials featuring roasted chicken, beef, moro de guandules, plantains and rice and beans and of course you can order a la carte. Bonus: They know how to serve Dominican beer properly, a cenizas!

The future is hopeful. Our students are coalescing and celebrating their biculturalism, where they relish their “Latinness” while also being proud Americans. They are both: Latino and American. They are changing our landscape and I’m thrilled to see this movement manifested in our local schools.

Get to know the Latinx Uni2 student group at BCCC; and the Latin American Student Organization (L.A.S.O.), flourishing in Towson University, focusing on leadership and community involvement. Both student groups often host events of a cultural nature year-round.  To clarify, these groups are welcoming regardless of race, ethnicity or background.

And amigos, this is just scratching the surface of just Baltimore. I didn’t expand into the treasures available in our surrounding counties or even digitally, like the Smithsonian Latino Center website Go ahead, explore, earn, and appreciate the rich, diverse and vibrant Latino culture in person or online. Expand your horizons the other 11 months of the year.

Veronica Cool is founder of Cool & Associates LLC, a business management firm specializing in financial wellness and diverse segment marketing. Her column appears each month in The Daily Record and online. Contact her at Follow her on Twitter at @verocool.