I’ve always been enthralled with Hispanic culture. When I was growing up, I loved the Spanish language and was lucky enough to have a close friend who lived in Guatemala. Each time she’d come to visit, I loved hearing stories about her homeland, and was excited to wear whatever Mayan inspired clothing and jewelry she brought with her. It always made me feel welcome, the way she greeted everyone with a hug and a kiss rather than a handshake. From her I learned about refried beans, avocado with salt and lime, and of course fresh fruit with every meal. Throughout the years, my interest in Hispanic culture grew, and I've been lucky enough to meet wonderful people from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Spain, and other countries - and they were all more than happy to share their food, traditions, and culture with those around them.
In the past 7 years, I’ve also been lucky enough to visit my wonderful friend in Guatemala, spend a month in the Dominican Republic, see the beaches and hills of Barcelona, and most recently, enjoy a relaxing week on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. From my foray into the beautiful world that is Hispanic culture, I’ve picked up a few lessons on how to enrich my life and improve my health and wellness.
1. The (traditional) food is actually really good for you
Within Hispanic countries, there are - of course - many different types of cuisine. However, a few common threads are that most meals focus on healthy, vegetarian sources of protein and fiber (think beans, rice, and sweet potatoes), and locally sourced seafood and vegetables. I remember being in the Dominican Republic, where locals were happy to take you out fishing for the day. Once you caught a nice Dorado fish, you could take it home and cook it up, along with some seasonal veggies and rice. Yes, today everything seems to be Tex-Mex and smothered in cheese, but traditional Latin cooking is very heart healthy, and contains lots of delicious fats like avocado and coconut. Along with always having deliciously fresh fruit, the cuisine is balanced, healthy, and tastes amazing! One of my favourite Mexican foods is easy homemade salsa - a recipe my friend Ana shared with me from her hometown of Mexico city.
2. Movement is a part of life
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - most countries incorporate natural movement into their daily lives much better than North Americans. Yes, part of this is due to city planning and land usage, but again, the Hispanics seem to have a leg up in this area. Walking, cycling, and swimming are a part of everyday life in Central and Latin America. When I arrived at the resort in Mexico, the concierge shared with me that instead of walking the 10 minutes from my room to the beach, I could opt for a ride on the local shuttle. I shared with her that I was more than happy to walk 10 minutes to get to one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, and she responded with “Oh, thank goodness! A lot of tourists come and don’t want to be bothered with having to walk on their vacation.” We were given strong, capable bodies for a reason, and using them to get around is one of the best ways to stay fit and live a long life. I find that walking and biking are two of the best ways to explore a new city. I've also been able to practice yoga in each of the countries I mentioned, and most of them have beautiful coastlines to walk along - one of the most calming things you can do for yourself!
Another form of movement that is never missing from Hispanic culture is dance! Be it salsa, bachata, or whatever moves you just made up, Latin@s are never afraid to bust a move. I love the way that music and rhythm are a part of everyday life in some countries, and truly wish we had more of that in Canada and the U.S. Dance puts you in touch with your body, burns calories, and keeps your joints young. I’d say that’s something we can all get on board with!
3. Community is valued and encouraged
This is probably my favourite part of Hispanic culture. A sense of community is valued, appreciated, and encouraged. When I attended my friend’s wedding in Guatemala she had over 300 people in attendance - mostly family and close friends. All of them were warm and welcoming, and were always ready with a hug, kiss, and listening ear. They ate together, danced together, and celebrated life together. Seeing such strong bonds reminded me of the Roseto effect - the phenomenon where close-knit community literally protects against heart disease and other ailments. A common thread in the Blue Zones as well, having strong social ties leads to a better quality of life, as well as a longer lifespan. That’s something I’ll drink and dance to any day of the week!
What do you love about Hispanic culture? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!