Latinos in American cities “Latinize” homes and use parks like plazas

As part of a larger article about Latinos in American cities and suburbs, here is an interesting section about how Latinos adapt American houses and parks:

In 2005, the California State Assembly published a paper by then Senior Legislative Assistant Michael Mendez titled “Latino New Urbanism: Building on Cultural Preferences.” In the paper, Mendez notes that in established Latino communities in California, Latino living preferences are often carryovers or hybrid forms of living preferences typical of Latin America.

For example, Mendez noticed that “the adaptive reuse of homes” in established Latino communities — and in particular, East Los Angeles — was often “neither entirely Mexican, nor Spanish, nor Anglo-American.” Instead, Mendez writes, “the introverted American- style homes are transformed to extroverted, Mexicanized, or Latinized homes.”

Mendez also discusses the role of the public plaza in Latin America as a community’s essential social hub. In Latin America, the plaza is a place for people to gather to talk, play, party, and do business. Citing a 1995 survey of behavioral patterns in California’s public parks, Mendez notes that Latino use of public parks as “a surrogate for the misplaced plaza…is a great contrast to Anglos, who primarily participated in mobile, solitary activities such as jogging, walking, bicycling, or dog walking.”

In 2009, Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty formally dedicated Columbia Heights Plaza. “Before, the plaza was an open lot full of drunks,” Toledo recalls. Now young people gather in the plaza after school and hipsters walk their dogs. During the summer, parents bring their children to play in the fountains surrounded by seating areas for people watching. Despite the decline in the neighborhood’s Latino population, Columbia Heights Plaza acknowledges the Latin American preference for public plazas in urban spaces.

It is too bad there aren’t more examples about residents and cities changing the physical form of space to accommodate Latinos and other groups. How far are cities willing to go to do this? In visiting such neighborhoods, would the average American pick up on the fact that the space has been altered or is used differently?

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