Hispanic culture is a vivid thread in the tapestry of the Southwest. The merging of Spanish traditions brought by missionaries and the Mexican culture from across the border has brought colorful, joyful accents to music, art, festivals, and everyday life throughout the region.
Hispanic folk art often combines religious belief with artistic expression, such as in the carved, painted wooden figures of saints, known as bultos and santos. Bold ceramics and tin decorations are also popular. The latter originated in Mexico, where tin was a cheap substitute for silver, and are cut into shapes and punched with designs or brightly painted.
Colorful garlands of dried red chiles are known as chile ristras. They make delightful decorations, and you’ll see them throughout New Mexico. They can be bought as an unusual souvenir at markets in Santa Fe and in Hatch, where most chiles are grown.
One of the most beautiful and moving sights in the Southwest is the decoration of walls and buildings with hundreds of luminarias. Also called farolitos, these simple ornaments consist of a candle set in sand in a paper bag, but they create a warm and wondrous atmosphere. They are often displayed during religious festivals, especially in the build-up to Christmas.
Join in a vibrant fiesta to see Hispanic culture at its liveliest. These celebrations take place throughout the year, particularly on saints’ days or at the annual Cinco de Mayo festivities. You’ll enjoy Mexican music, traditional dance performances, festive foods such as tamales, and fun activities for all the family.
Hornos are unusual outdoor ovens made of mud and adobe in the shape of a beehive, and are used for baking bread. They were originally introduced in Spain by the Moors, and in turn the Spanish missionaries and settlers brought them to the Southwest USA, where they were also adopted by Native Americans. They are still used today, and you can see demonstrations at El Rancho de las Golondrinas in Santa Fe.
You’re bound to hear a mariachi band on your visit to the Southwest. This lively style of music comes from Mexico, and the musicians play trumpets, violins, and traditional Mexican instruments such as the guitarrón (base guitar).
Singer Linda Ronstadt produced two Grammy-winning albums of mariachi songs from her Tucson childhood: Canciones de mi Padre (Songs of my Father, 1987) and 1991’s Mas Canciones (More Songs.)