Trip Tips: Latin Americans infuse New York with Hispanic culture

NEW YORK Fri Aug 15, 2014 5:00am EDT

NEW YORK Aug 15 (Reuters) - Newcomers from Mexico and Central and South America are streaming into New York City in greater numbers, joining the long-standing communities of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans and enriching the chorus of Latin voices in the Big Apple.

Spanish is now spoken in nearly a quarter of New York homes and the variety of accents is growing, along with the variety of regional cultures.

The city's Hispanic neighborhoods offer culinary and cultural offerings close to the heart of the Big Apple, where landmark museums have mounted Latin American exhibitions.

Here are tips for getting the most out of a Latin-flavored trip to New York from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.

CULINARY NOVELTIES

To visualize the vibrancy of Latin American urban culture, visit the International Center of Photography's (www.icp.org) show "Urbes Mutantes: Latin American Photography 1944-2013."

The exhibit showcases life in Latin American cities, exploring themes like identity, protest and displacement.

For a glimpse of local Latin life in the city, take the No. 7 train, dubbed the "Immigrant Express," to Queens, a borough where nearly half the residents are foreign-born.

Exit at the 74 Street-Broadway stop and enter the kaleidoscopic Roosevelt Avenue stretch between 75th and 103rd streets.

Along the 1.5-mile- (2.5-km-) long strip, there are more than five dozen restaurants and bars specializing in food and drink from Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Argentina. One block away, on 37th Avenue, are Uruguayan and Salvadoran eateries.

Sample culinary novelties such as the central Mexican torpedo-shaped tlacoyo, which dates from the pre-Hispanic era, and smell the aromas wafting from the Buenos Aires Bakery, which sells Argentine yerba mate tea and soccer paraphernalia.

The Las Americas Bakery is a landmark for Colombians, serving cheese-infused national specialties such as the bun-like pan de bono, almojabana and pan de yuca.

MUSIC, BOOKS AND SPIRITS

A few steps from Roosevelt Avenue, Terraza 7 offers Latin American fusion music, which mixes folk traditions, jazz and rock. Or wander to the Spanish-language bookstore Barco de Papel (centroculturalbarcodepapel.org), which hosts literary workshops and readings.

Don't miss the botanica stores, which have long catered to followers of Caribbean religions that blend Roman Catholicism and Western African beliefs.

Botanicas sell devotional amulets, statuary, candles, perfumes, necklaces, potions, herbs and instructional booklets.

With the recent influx of Mexican immigrants, Roosevelt Avenue botanicas have started to sell articles bearing the image of Santa Muerte ("Saint Death"), a female grim reaper venerated by a small but growing slice of Mexican society. The biggest Santa Muerte statues on sale are shoulder-high.

Return to Manhattan on the E train to the 5th Avenue stop and head to the Museum of Modern Art's (www.moma.org) retrospective on the late Brazilian artist Lygia Clark.

The show traces Clark's evolution from an abstract painter to a sculptress known for her installation art and interactive work.

Further uptown at the Guggenheim Museum at 1071 Fifth Ave. visit "Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today" (www.guggenheim.org). The exhibit, with art from 15 countries, illustrates contemporary approaches to topics like conceptualism, post-modernism and political activism.

The nearby El Museo del Barrio (www.elmuseo.org), which focuses on U.S. Latino and Latin American art, is also worth a visit. On Sept. 4, it will open an exhibit of politically inspired art from 1970 to 2013, and on Oct. 9, it will begin a show on Marisol Escobar, best known for her block-like sculptures. Both shows will run until January.

LATIN LORE AND MAMBO KINGS

From the museum turn right to Lexington Avenue to view murals, created mainly by Hispanic artists, between 100th and 124th streets and in the 110th Street subway station.

Listen to Puerto Rican plena music performed at Camaradas El Barrio (camaradaselbarrio.com/) and sample Puerto Rican cuisine at La Fonda Boricua (www.fondaboricua.com).

To rub shoulders with Latin music lore, take the No. 5 train to Prospect Avenue, in the South Bronx, to visit Casa Amadeo. Founded in 1941 as Casa Hernandez, it is regarded as the city's oldest Latin record store.

For decades, record companies and bandleaders flocked there to hire mambo and salsa performers, who congregated in the store, according to the National Park Service, which lists it on the National Register of Historic Places.

Store owner Miguel Angel "Mike" Amadeo, 80, a composer whose songs were performed by such Latin musical legends as Hector Lavoe and Celia Cruz, greets customers. Amadeo is a repository of New York Latin music history and has a street named in his honor.

For an overview of modern Latin American architecture, visit the "Beyond the Supersquare" exhibit at The Bronx Museum of the Arts (www.bronxmuseum.org) (Editing by David Gregorio)

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