The history, architecture and art of New Mexico have strong roots in the culture brought by settlers from Spain, and continue to be influenced by immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. Latino and Hispanic culture and customs have a major presence everywhere in our city, from street names to adobe architecture to 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, the San Felipe de Neri church is the oldest building in the city and the third oldest Hispanic church in New Mexico. Old Town Plaza and the church are the center of 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.
Another one of the long-held Hispanic traditions is setting up luminarias, sometimes called farolitos, on Christmas Eve in Old Town Plaza followed by midnight mass at San Felipe de Neri Church. 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 where 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 one of 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 historic styles and techniques. Retablos depict a vast number of saints, trials of the Virgin Mary, and the passion and crucifixion of Christ. Bultos refer to carved images of the saints.
Early tin art included nichos (niches), often glass-framed boxes, 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 French and Italian priests who were settling here. Tin was also used as frames for mirrors which were becoming more common as the territory of New Mexico saw increasing trade with the United States. Tin art had a revival in the 1930s after the United States Army occupied New Mexico in 1846. 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 that today sells for thousands.
When listening to music or enjoying dance performances in Albuquerque, you'll often find an unmistakable Hispanic and Latino influence. You'll find plenty of salsa, mariachi, flamenco and Spanish classical performances throughout the city. Don't miss the largest Flamenco Festival in North America, Festival Flamenco International de Albuquerque, showcasing the finest flamenco artists in the world. This exciting summer tradition celebrates flamenco, the ancient form of artistic expression of the Spanish-Gypsy culture. The festival covers all aspects of flamenco dance, guitar, percussion and song, and is famous for its thrilling, full-house performances.
At the annual Mariachi Spectacular Showcase, enjoy traditional mariachi music featuring the world's finest and most accomplished mariachi musicians. Key features of this spectacular 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.
Finally, anyone interested in the Hispanic heritage of our city and state should make 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. Since its grand opening in Albuquerque in 2000, the NHCC has staged over 20 art exhibitions and 400 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.