Latino Leisure Lifestyles

views updated


The year 2000 marked a milestone for Latinos in the United States. For the first time in U.S. history, the U.S. Census recorded Latinos, with a population of 35 million, as the largest ethnic group. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the three largest ethnic groups were Latinos (12.5 percent), African Americans (12.3 percent), and Asian Americans (3.7 percent). By 2050, the U.S. population will be more culturally diverse, with less than 53 percent of the population categorized as Anglo/European American; 15 percent African American; more than 24 percent Latino; nearly 9 percent Asian American, and about 1 percent Native American. People of Mexican descent constitute 58.5 percent of all U.S. Latinos. People of Puerto Rican origin embody nearly 9.6 percent of all Latinos, while people of Cuban descent (3.5 percent) and "other" Latinos (28.4 percent) account for the remainder of the Latino population in the United States. Latinos are geographically located in the "corners" of the country: northeastern United States is predominantly Puerto Rican and Dominican; southeastern Florida is predominantly Cuban; and the Southwest is predominantly Mexican and Central American. The majority of Latinos live in and around urban centers such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Dallas, and Chicago.

However, the 2000 census revealed that several of those Latino capitals were changing due to shifts in the nationalities of Latino immigrants. For example, Puerto Ricans once dominated the Latino culture of New York City. Puerto Ricans declined by 12 percent from 1990 to 2000, while Mexicans (the fastest growing Latino group in the U.S.) increased by 208 percent over the same time period (Miller). Chicago followed an analogous situation, with the majority of Latinos switching from Puerto Rican to Mexican due to emigration from Los Angeles and Texas. Similarly, Miami was once dominated by Cubans. Puerto Ricans increased by 9 percent from 1990 to 2000, while Cubans represented less than 45 percent of the Latino population, and the remainder was comprised of multiple Latino nationalities. The general immigration patterns of Latinos indicated two phenomena: (1) Latinos were continuing to locate in traditional Latino strongholds, however, the Latino market was more diversified with respect to national origin, and (2) Latinos were becoming more mobile, and beginning to venture outside of the traditional areas.

In areas where Latinos represented a strong majority, very little adaptation to American leisure patterns was noted, and there was a general resistance towards mainstream assimilation. Rather, a reinforcement of Latino cultural homogeneity was often realized. For example, the huge growth of the Mexican population in Chicago (75 percent of Chicago's Latinos) was "reflected in cultural developments like the Chicago Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, located in the Plilsen/Little Village neighborhood, the largest Mexican community in the Midwest" (Miller, p. 34B).

Unlike assimilation and immigration patterns and behaviors of previous decades, Latino immigrants of the early twenty-first century were maintaining their ties to their cultural origins. Puerto Ricans were indicative of this general pattern. For example, from 1900 to 1945, Puerto Ricans primarily settled in New York City, and maintained strong cultural ties to the island. Puerto Ricans began expanding into neighboring states around New York City and as far as Chicago between 1946 and 1964. After 1965, Puerto Ricans began a "revolving door" migration pattern, where there was continuous back and forth migration from the island to the mainland. Although other Latino immigrants did not follow the exact pattern of migration because Puerto Rico is part of the United States, many cultural ties were maintained through affordable flights to the country of origin, thereby reinforcing and maintaining cultural ties.

As a result of demographic changes, recreation and leisure providers in the United States will have tremendous challenges ahead in terms of service delivery, policy-making, and identifying participation patterns and Latino recreation styles and lifestyles. The purpose of this entry is to identify recreation characteristics, patterns, and general leisure lifestyles of Latinos. More specifically, this entry focuses on the Latino events/holidays, sports, dance/music, and outdoor recreation. The intent is not to be comprehensive, but rather to illustrate unique features of the Latino recreational lifestyle. Because the Latino ethnic group is very broad, this commentary will center on the two largest Latino groups (Mexicans and Puerto Ricans), but will include other Latino groups when necessary.

Latino Events and Holidays

Leisure and recreation for Latinos tend to be very social. In general, Latinos participate in recreational activities in larger groups than other Americans, and these groups are composed of family members, extended family members, and close friends. Many formal leisure occasions revolve around family or religious matters.

An example of a unique family leisure occasion in the Latino culture is the quinceañera. The quinceañera is a girl's fifteenth birthday party. In the Latino culture, the quinceañera is the girl's "coming of age," and it designates her entry into womanhood. After a wedding, it is the single most important formal event in a girl's life. It is also a communal event—family and close community friends are invited, and there is often a blessing from a priest at the event. It is not uncommon to have more than 300 persons invited to this event. Although the quinceañera varies by Latino group, a typical quinceañera might have the following: a court of men and women representing different ages up to age fifteen; a consort for the fifteen-year-old girl; the first pair of high heels that the "new woman" will walk in (the father walks her in the heels, presenting her to the community); and the traditional song called "La Quinceañera."

A religious event found in Mexico and celebrated in the United States is El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). The roots of this celebration date back to the Aztecs, and were transformed by the influence of the Catholic Church during Spanish colonialism. El Día de los Muertos is celebrated in the first two days of November. Families visit the graves of their ancestors and decorate them with bright flowers and religious artifacts. Traditionally, the family has a picnic around the gravesite and dedicates the meal in memory of their loved ones, while telling stories of the ancestor's accomplishments or antics. This celebration has a very enjoyable feel to it, and it reminds the Mexicans of the human cycle of life.

Another special time of year for Mexican Americans is the month of May: 1 May is Mexico's Labor Day; Mexico's biggest spring holiday is Cinco de Mayo (the Fifth of May), and it is one of the most celebrated festivals throughout the southwestern United States; Mother's Day (in the United States it is the second Sunday in May) is a big holiday because Latino mothers are highly adored; and 15 May is both the Feast of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers (Waldrop), and Teacher's Day, which is celebrated in Mexico.

A communal event found in the Puerto Rican population is the Christmas season, which begins in early December and continues through mid-January. The most prominent characteristic of this communal time is the parrandas (family/friends partying and singing aguinaldos, the typical/traditional songs of Puerto Rico). The parranda begins in the late evening hours (when people are sleeping) and lasts until daybreak. Typically, people will not be advised prior to a parranda's arrival. It begins with a few people that honor family/friends with the parranda, and they are rewarded with food and drink. They eat, sing, and dance, and then some members from the family receiving the parranda join the trulla (group of performers) and go on to another house. This pattern continues into the night, and the highest honor is bestowed upon the last house of the night, which may have easily more than fifty people to host.

In addition to parrandiando (parranda-ing), the Christmas season includes: aguinaldo masses, nine days prior to Christmas; La Misa del Gallo (Midnight Mass); Navidad (Christmas); La Despedida del Año (New Year's Eve/Day); and Día de los Reyes (Three Kings' Day, the Feast of the Epiphany). Dia de los Reyes (6 January) celebrates the visit to the baby Jesus by the three Magi kings. Children leave grass in a small box under the Christmas tree for the kings' camels, and are rewarded with presents. Because of the tremendous cultural impact that this season (and its myriad of leisure activities) has on Puerto Ricans, it affects seasonal visitation and tourism patterns to the island. December is a heavily traveled month in Puerto Rico, with corresponding higher airfares.

Similar to Puerto Rico's December celebrations, Mexico has the posadas. Typically, a village priest chants the story of Las Posadas, of how Mary and Joseph tried to find a room at an inn and were turned away from that shelter and others, again and again. The house(s) selected as the "inn" is blessed by the priest, and a series of celebrations and festivities follow where relatives, friends, and neighbors congregate. The tradition of the piñatas in Mexico is said to have begun during the posadas, and the first piñatas were white stars representing the star of Bethlehem. These celebrations are repeated nine nights in a row, with the final night being Christmas Eve.

Latinos and Sports

Latinos in the United States favor some sports over others. Latinos of Mexican, South, and Central American ancestry tend to favor fútbol (soccer). Latinos from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean favor the sports of pelota (baseball), boxeo (boxing), and baloncesto (basketball), and the game of dominoes is their favorite pastime. These sports are commonly played and well-known in the United States. However, some other sports, also played in the United States, are not given much publicity.

A sport rarely played sport in the United States is jaialai. This sport has its traditions in the Basque area of Spain and France. During Spain's colonial era, the Basques brought jai-alai to the new world, most notably to Mexico and Cuba. In the United States, jai-alai is mostly concentrated in southeast Florida (Miami), and most jai-alai enthusiasts are Cuban. Jai-alai achieved international recognition at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

There are certain sports that are not common throughout America, but are particular to certain countries. For example, cock fighting is prevalent in Puerto Rico (which is part of the United States), Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, and Venezuela. And, although illegal in most states, it is still practiced in areas that have large concentrations of Latinos from these five areas of Latin America. Another sporting event that is not found in the United States, but is watched on television by many Latinos (especially Mexicans), is bullfighting. Neither of these sports prosper in the United States due to animal rights advocacy.

Latinos and Entertainment

The majority of Latino entertainment involves dance and music. Although there are no specific Latino leisure zones, per se, most bar districts in urban areas with a sizeable Latino population have Latino night clubs (or section of a club) and/or Latin dance nights. Unlike the general aversion to dance shared by most men in the United States, Latino men are expected to learn to dance. An integral part of Latino cultural expression, dancing ranges from the traditional to the modern. Traditional Mexican dances are numerous and vary according to region and influence (European, Aboriginal, or African). Several of these dances can be seen in the U.S. Southwest during Mexican American festivals and celebrations.

Latinos from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean have traditional dances/music (danzas and boleros ), and more modern dances/music (merengue, salsa, and bachata ) that have been imported. Of particular importance is salsa music, which has traditionally contained politically oriented messages. In the 1960s, salsa grew out of a musical movement generated by New York Latinos, mostly Puerto Ricans. Salsa is to Latinos what blues music is to African Americans and rock music is to Anglo Americans. Salsa quickly grew internationally as a symbol of Latino solidarity and a cultural resistance to Americanization. The music commented on Latino urban life in the barrios (neighborhoods) of the United States, and the affirmation of Latino identity, pride, and unity in the face of socioeconomic marginalization. The Latin musical culture in the United States is heavily influenced by music from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. The majority of informal musical gatherings for social (such as birthdays, quinceañera, and graduations) or religious (baptisms, communions, confirmations) events are held in rented clubs or halls due to the generally large number of extended family members.

Latinos and the Outdoors

Latinos, in general, have a very different view of the outdoors compared to other Americans. Most of the literature on Latinos in outdoor recreation has been on Mexican Americans in the U.S. Southwest. Mexican Americans differ significantly from Anglo Americans: Mexican American recreationists tend to be younger in age; they participate in recreation activities in larger groups; and they like to be concentrated together versus being dispersed throughout the recreation site. Additionally, Mexican Americans prefer to have developed areas in the outdoors versus more pristine or wilderness areas. In character with their socialization and sense of communalism, Mexican Americans mostly enjoy picnicking, relaxing, and other forms of passive behaviors in the outdoors.

Puerto Ricans in New York City have a different approach to outdoor recreation—they construct vegetable gardens on empty lots and rooftops in South Bronx and other Latino neighborhoods. Puerto Ricans have had gardens since the 1930s, and trace their yearning for a garden to their jibaro (independent peasant from hills of Puerto Rico) roots. In addition to gardening, fishing (a favorite pastime) offers Puerto Ricans therapeutic, social, and psychological value.

Latinos and Leisure Presence

The Latino population in the United States is extremely varied. Latinos come from several countries, and as their numbers increase, they will continue to influence leisure patterns, behaviors, and lifestyles in their adopted country. This is evident with the increase of radio and television stations, such as Telemundo, Galavisión, and Univisión, which have catered to Latinos since the 1970s. Additionally, Latino music stars such as Selena, Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, and Marc Anthony have bridged Spanish and English music markets. Latinos, such as Jose Canseco (Cuban), Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rican, member of Baseball Hall of Fame), Pedro Martinez (Dominican), and Sammy Sosa (Dominican) are making inroads into Major League Baseball in the United States. As the United States becomes more demographically varied, and the Latino population increases, the nature of recreation and leisure in America will change to accommodate diverse users of recreation and leisure resources. For example, parades (such as Cinco de Mayo in various urban areas, Puerto Rican Parade in New York City and Boston) and commercial events (for example Miami's Calle Ocho dances and parades) are catering to the growing Latino population.

See also: Racial Diversity and Leisure Lifestyles


Chavez, Deborah J. "Hispanic Recreationist in the Wildland-Urban Interface." Trends 29 (1992): 23–25.

Comas-Díaz, Lillian. "Hispanics, Latinos, or Americanos: The Evolution of Identity." Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 7, no. 2 (May 2001): 115–120.

Lynch, Barbara D. "The Garden and the Sea: U.S. Latino Environmental Discourse and Mainstream Environmentalism." Social Problems 40, no. 1 (February 1993): 108–124.

Manuel, Peter. "The Soul of the Barrio: 30 years of Salsa." NA CLA Report on the Americas 28, no. 2 (September/October 1994): 22–29.

Miller, M. U.S. "Latino Capitals in Flux: Immigration Patterns Are Changing the Culture of Some of the Largest Hispanic Markets." 2002 Hispanic Market Report: Urban Markets. Multichannel News, 23 (2002), 34B.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Census 2000: Summary File 1. (October 2001). Available from

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Profiles of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000. (May 2001). Available from

Waldrop, Judith. "The Mexican May." American Demographics 14, no. 5 (May 1992): 4.

Edwin Gómez