The history, architecture and art of New Mexico have strong roots in the culture brought by settlers from Spain, and they continue to be influenced by immigrants from Latin America. Latino and Hispanic culture and customs have a major presence everywhere in our city, from street names to adobe architecture to visual arts, dance and music.
A prime example of Hispanic influence is found at historic Old Town, where adobe buildings surround a central plaza, a common feature of Spanish colonial towns. Anchoring the plaza is the San Felipe de Neri Church. Built in 1793, San Felipe de Neri is the oldest building in the city and the third-oldest Hispanic church in New Mexico. Old Town Plaza and the church are central to many Hispanic traditions in Albuquerque, including the San Felipe Fiestas held each year at the end of May and early June. A procession of the patron saint is part of the three days of entertainment, food and festivities.
Anyone interested in the Hispanic heritage of our city and state should be sure to visit the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), the only national cultural institute dedicated to the study, advancement and presentation of Hispanic culture, arts and humanities. The NHCC stages many excellent art exhibitions and hundreds of programs in the visual, performing and literary arts. Programs have featured local, national and international artists, scholars and entertainers. The NHCC provides venues for visitors to learn about Hispanic culture throughout the world and is a resource not to be missed.
Another long-held Hispanic tradition is the setting up of luminarias, sometimes called farolitos, on Christmas Eve in Old Town Plaza, followed by Midnight Mass at San Felipe de Neri. A traditional luminaria is a brown paper bag, weighted by sand, with a lit votive candle inside. If you visit Albuquerque in December, don't miss the Luminaria Tour on Christmas Eve, during which hundreds of people wander through the golden glow of thousands of twinkling paper lanterns in Old Town and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Another major contribution of Hispanic culture and customs to our city is in a wide variety of arts and crafts. In Albuquerque's founding days, many artworks were created primarily for the church. Santos, or sacred images of Roman Catholicism, are among the most popular and enduring Hispanic art forms, with some early pieces from New Mexico dating from the late 1700s. In colonial times, the artists (santeros) were commissioned to create these sacred images by churches, families and devout individuals. Today the tradition of the santero continues in New Mexico, using historical styles and techniques. Retablos depict a vast number of saints, trials of the Virgin Mary, and the passion and crucifixion of Christ. Bultos are carved images of the saints.
Early tin art included nichos (niches), often glass-framed boxes, meant to hold and protect the small bultos. Tin art, sometimes called "poor man's silver," soon entered into homes as frames for the colorful prints of saints that arrived with the French and Italian priests settling here. Tin was also used as frames for mirrors, which became more common as the territory of New Mexico saw increasing trade with the United States. Along with the appearance of imported tin cans in the mid-1800s, European prints framed in tin came into vogue. Until 1890, when commercial picture frames began to replace tin frames, and coal and gas lighting replaced the need for candle holders, tin artists made tinwork for pennies. Today the works sell for thousands.
At the annual Mariachi Spectacular, enjoy traditional mariachi music featuring the world's finest and most accomplished mariachi musicians. Key features of this remarkable event include the Mariachi Showcase Concert, the Mariachi Spectacular Concert and fantastic Mariachi Plaza programming, held downtown at the Civic Plaza every summer. Feel the sounds of the guitarones, violins and trumpets as they fill the air with vibrant rhythms and lush melodies. Check our events page for more details.
For more information, please visit the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.