It’s been a tough couple of years for people of color in Donald Trump’s America, especially Latinos. For starters, the immediate discontinuation of the DACA program put “Dreamers” on the brink of deportation. Then came the Central American “caravans,” a pilgrimage of poverty that in prior times consisted primarily of young men looking for work. Now because of drug punks, gangs and violent crime, entire families were crossing into Mexico and heading north with plans to claim asylum in the United States. Parents were separated from their children as the Trump administration scrambled to change laws, most which have been challenged in federal courts.
The importance of family is a major component in Hispanic culture, and it doesn’t matter if you’re from Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Cuba or tiny Costa Rica. It is the glue that defines a special kind of resilience and character. And if you befriend a Latino family, that bond becomes contagious and you transform as an extension of that family. They have your back and would give you the shirt off their back. If you happen to be a gringo, who cares? It doesn’t matter if your skin color is white, black, brown, green or blue.
That’s why it was so disappointing to hear the comments of retired news anchor Tom Brokaw recently on “Meet The Press.” The topic of discussion was Trump’s wall and while falling short of defending the president’s pet project, Brokaw switched gears and went on an ill-informed “off the wall” dialogue.
“Hispanics should work harder at assimilation,” suggested Brokaw, 78. “I’ve been saying this for a long time. And they should make sure their kids learn how to speak English.”
Such stereotype comments might be true for a farmer and his family who live in a shack near the fields where he picks grapes for 12 hours each day. Or perhaps Brokaw employed a housekeeper who lived in the barrio because the rent was cheaper. But nowadays, 58 million Latinos live in this country and according to the Pew Research Center, 40% intermarry with other races, primarily Caucasian. Many of these folks have built entire communities in the city and suburbs. How is this not assimilation? Furthermore, their children thrive in school and speak excellent English. In fact, according to Pew, 99% of third generation Hispanics speak English as a first language and their Spanish is not strong enough to be considered bilingual. In my opinion, that is unfortunate.
So in honor of Señor Brokaw, we wanted to introduce a list of top cities and towns that offer a slice of Americana, Latino style. Yes, these are diverse communities, predominately Hispanic, where everyone lives in harmony. We purposely skipped New York and Los Angeles because well, those cities are no brainers.
San Antonio, Texas
A big city gem with a distinct Mexican flavor, San Antonio is an awesome place to both visit or live. Market Square or simply El Mercado is a sprawling, three block layout of over 100 shops of all varieties. The beautiful Riverwalk is a city park with a maze of excursions, river tours, shops and restaurants. The city has eight championship golf courses and is home to the Spurs NBA basketball team, a SeaWorld location, a Six Flags theme park and of course, The Alamo. There are an endless number of hotels, ranches, resorts and B&B inns for every budget. And you won’t believe the number of restaurants, from international gourmet to authentic Tex-Mex.
San Antonio is also an ideal place to raise a family or retire in style. The cost of living is reasonable, the schools are good and the job market is decent. The city is also home to several military bases, including Lackland Air Force Base, Randolph Air Force Base and the Brooke Army Medical Center. The bases carry a major presence in the general community and employ a large number of civilians. The city has healthy growth with a population of about 1,600,000, 65% which are of Mexican heritage. One of my favorite spots to dine : Boudro’s Texas Bistro. Amazing Southwestern cuisine with an extensive menu in an outdoor setting on The Riverwalk. Tel 210 224-8484.
San Diego, California
This is another growing metropolis, second only to Los Angeles in the entire state, but it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, locals here like to call San Diego, “America’s Finest City.” Top tourist attractions include SeaWorld, a world famous zoo, Wild Animal Park and Legoland, with beautiful beaches, local mountains and deserts only a short drive away. The Old Town area and Balboa Park offer amazing historical landmarks and museums that punctuate the city’s Mexican heritage. There’s so much to do in San Diego that you don’t need to travel any further than a 10 mile radius of the Gaslamp downtown district. Within that area is the world famous Hotel Del Coronado and lodging of all types, plus hundreds of incredible restaurants and cafes. Don’t forget also that this border city is only a stone’s throw from Tijuana, Mexico.
San Diego is best described as a tourist and military town, similar to San Antonio. If you’re thinking about bringing your family there permanently, the climate and transportation system can’t be beat. The cost of living can be steep, but crime is low for a city its size and the schools are excellent. Again, San Diego mirrors San Antonio in urban population, and nearly 35% are Latino. However, that percentage is misleading because large incorporated county cities like Chula Vista, located in the South Bay area, is nearly 60% Latino. It’s difficult to pick a favorite restaurant in San Diego because there too many to mention. But for fine dining Mexican food, the expert’s choice is Casa Guadalajara, a landmark establishment in the Old Town district. Call 619 295-5111. And for exceptional Italian cuisine, Filippi’s is an established local chain with huge, tasty pasta dishes you’ll need to take home for leftovers. The original restaurant opened in San Diego’s Little Italy district in 1950 as a small Italian grocery store and still exists as the flagship eatery. The pizza rivals anything you’ll savor in lower Manhattan. The address is 1747 India Street on the San Diego waterfront. Look for the long line assembled on the sidewalk, but no worries. It moves quickly.
With the exception of maybe New York City (including all five boroughs), there is no city in America quite as diverse as Houston. While the Caucasian/Hispanic population leads the pack, there is also a significant representation of African Americans, Southeast Asians and folks who immigrated in the 20th century from India. The mixing of cultures, natural disasters and its numerous successful professional sports teams in Houston seem to bring everyone together as one. This is the Bible-belt region and a majority of Houstonians identify with Christianity, mostly Protestant with a large Catholic diocese. But religious tolerance is widespread and includes Buddhists, Hindi, Jews and Muslims. It’s not unusual to see fiestas of all races and faiths mixing together in harmony.
Houston’s vibrant economy and its importance as an energy giant attracts visitors and corporate types world-wide, and the Theater District plus the Space Center are places of interest to spend some time. However, Houston’s main appeal is to those who decide to live there and share the experience. Jobs are plentiful, expenses are fairly low and there are nearly 400 neighborhood parks for families to enjoy. Latinos make up about 44% of residents in urban Houston, but in surrounding suburbs the ethnic population has seen substantial growth. The climate can get hot and muggy in the summer, and shivering cold in winter. That said, the more time you spend in this city, the harder it is to leave. My favorite restaurant perfectly defines this city’s cosmopolitan complexion: Perry’s Steakhouse & Grill. This is a small chain that never disappoints regardless of the location. Aged prime meats like only Houston can feature are dressed with a mild salsa. Lobster, chops and prime rib are also featured on the menu. And if you’re not that hungry, drop by for delicious bar bites and signature hand-crafted cocktails. I like the Katy Hwy restaurant because it has a nice lounge with live entertainment. But each spot has its own style with the same great food and service.
Albuquerque is a one of a kind city. The state of New Mexico has the largest percentage of Hispanics in the country. And the population of Albuquerque is approaching 50% Latino. But a strong Native American culture mixed with traditional Mexican customs has created an interesting contrast. The city is basically divided into four districts, but the people “assimilate” nicely because Native American Indians and Mexican Americans have a lot in common. That statement needs no explanation.
This is a city at least 5000 feet above sea level. There are peaks and valleys, highlands and deserts and everything in between. New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment, meaning that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Albuquerque is chilly in the winter, dry and mild in the summer. Folks don’t come to this city for the wild night life or a busy nonstop itinerary. Because the landscape is so amazing, a hot air balloon excursion can be breathtaking. Or you can take a ride on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway that climbs to over 10,000 feet. But people mostly visit Albuquerque to chill and visit the numerous shops and museums of Hispanic and Pueblo importance. Tingley Lake is nearby with a wide beach and area to explore. And there are many nature parks to visit featuring native wildlife. We like the Best Western Rio Grande in the Old Town area for accommodations. Best deal, comfortable and home-like with a restaurant and grill on the grounds. Otherwise for meals, Pueblo Harvest inside the Cultural Center is great for native New Mexico fare.
Las Vegas, Nevada
An endless construction boom coupled with the service industry has made Las Vegas one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. for Latinos. Employment is plentiful, the cost of living is low, and a good portion of night life and sporting events cater to Hispanics. Many families have settled outside the city in North Las Vegas, a thriving middle class area with nice neighborhoods and community parks. This is a place where folks definitely “assimilate” and feel at home. Las Vegas is also home to several travel baseball and soccer programs, and youth tournaments are held on a regular basis. Latinos frequent the Strip as visitors and feel right at home at the clubs. And when the Raiders finally arrive, look for another surge in population.
With all the hotel discounts and package deals, I’m not going to endorse any particular spot to stay in Las Vegas if you’re passing through. But I can recommend several great Mexican restaurants. Los Lupes, 5255 Decatur Bl. is a low key place located in a strip mall, but it’s dressed up and authentic inside with great traditional dishes. And Casa Don Juan 1204 S. Main St. in the revitalized downtown area has a menu with a variety of very good seafood selections. Both spots have a full bar and a lot of amistad.
Small Town Flavor
The Latino/gringo mix seems to be working in small town America as well. The locals on the front lines will tell you that with no hesitation. Here are a few places where Hispanics are welcome and part of the landscape.
The agriculture belt of the great Northwest in Yakima Valley, they grow apples here in the tall nourished trees. You can also add cherries, hops for beer, corn and wheat. The population of Grandview is about 1500, and 80% are Latinos. Go figure…
This town of about 35,000 residents is 50% Hispanic, recruited there as part of the carpet industry. That textile has diminished in recent years, but there is plenty of work in Georgia and the Latino population has increased in the state by at least 150% over the last several years.
This historical railroad town is known as the Pittsburgh of the west due to its steel production. The town is slowly growing with a population approaching 120,000, of which 49% is Hispanic. And if President Trump’s wall becomes reality, there will be lots of additional work. Truth be told, more and more Latinos are moving to Colorado, including Denver and the surrounding areas.
Another town of railroad importance, Reading had been in decline but now seems to be on the rebound with an influx of alternative industries. Real estate is booming and Puerto Ricans from New York and Philadelphia have made the move to escape big city life for the betterment of their families and pay lower rent. They number 59% of current residents and spend their money in Reading, which has helped jump start the economy. Crime has also dropped because Latinos in general tend to take pride in their community.
One of California’s oldest communities has always dealt with ethnic controversies. Chinese immigrants once tended the vast farmlands, but most would later move to San Francisco to become merchants. During World War II, the area became a main detention site for folks of Japanese descent in one of the more tainted times in our history. Since then, Mexican migrants took over the fields, marking the Bracero era, Cesar Chavez and you know the rest. Today, nearly half of Salinas residents that number about 175,000 are Hispanic. A small percentage are “jefes” or business owners live in the city. The majority however, work the crops and some of those folks are undocumented. Local police frequently raided the area and to make a long story short, the concept of “Sanctuary” cities was born. While many of us are not a fan of this idea, these people in the fields are not criminals and perform a service for all of us who enjoy our garden salads, fruit treats and drinks.
Facts show that since the year 2000, crime is down in Salinas, Modesto and other farming communities. They work difficult 10-12 hour days. Do they have time to commit crimes or “assimilate” with gringos? The answer is no. But Hispanics are the largest growing minority in America. They are lawyers, teachers, IT executives, police officers and military heroes. And that’s a fact, Tom Brokaw.