By Christopher Munden
The essence of the American experience is our willingness to explore, honor and adopt the traditions of our fellow citizens. As Philadelphia prepares to celebrate the dynamic sights, sounds and flavors of our region’s diverse Hispanic population, Chris Munden asked potential revelers to riff on the cultural significance of enjoying a good beer with friends and relatives.
From Munich to Missouri, Amsterdam to Rio de Janeiro, from South Philadelphia to Kensington, Penn’s Landing to the Parkway, some things unite us all: good beer and good people. For Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15th through October 15th, we have a look at key events and the beers that might accompany them.
“For Spanish people, it’s all about the music,” says Yuan Valcarcel, a Puerto Rican Philadelphian married to a Mexican immigrant. “For Puerto Ricans, it’s salsa. It’s everywhere. Whenever there’re people, there’s music. Wherever there’s beer, there’s music.”
Alicia Gonzalez Weise agrees. “People don’t get together to drink beer thinking you want to get drunk,” says the social worker who moved from the Dominican Republic to complete a master’s degree and met her Mexican husband here.
“We get together for food and music, and beer accompanies the celebration.”
Philadelphia’s Hispanic Heritage celebrations kick off with the annual Feria del Barrio on September 17th. Centro de Oro, the historic heart of Hispanic Philadelphia (North Fifth Street between Huntingdon and Somerset streets) transforms for a festival of food and culture. On the same day, the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing moves to the rhythms of the Brazilian Day Festival. Part of the PECO Multicultural Series showcasing world cultures, this festival of art and culture centers around the vibrant music and dance of Brazil.
On September 24th, the party moves to the Ben Franklin Parkway for the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. Over 1,500 performers from local youth organizations, churches and musical groups dance and ride floats down the wide boulevard.
Roughly one in eight Philadelphians identify as Hispanic, but the population is far from heterogeneous. While the majority of Hispanics in Philadelphia are of Puerto Rican heritage, the city has large populations of Mexican, Dominican, Central American and South American immigrants.
Alejandro Barreto, a Colombian who moved to the United States to be with his Puerto Rican-born wife, gives a brief run-down of stereotypical national beer tastes: “Puerto Ricans drink Medalla at the beach. Colombians barbeque and enjoy a mix of beer and soda called Refajo. Dominicans like Presidente and play dominoes. Mexicans enjoy Coronas, Tecates or Victorias watching fútbol [soccer].”
According to Carlos Acosta, an Ecuadorian-American who lives in Kensington, even in America, “Hispanic immigrants go for their hometown beers. So, Mexicans still like Dos Equis and Dominicans still like Presidente.”
If there’s any trend it’s that, “the preference is for lighter beers,” says Barrato. “Lighter beers fit the warm weather of their home countries.”
“We want something to kill the thirst,” says Acosta.
Gonzalez Weise agrees, “Dominicans drink mostly pilsner- style beers; it’s something about them being refreshing in our permanent summer.”
“But,” she adds. “I like a nice framboise too.”
Of course, there’s an increased focus on craft beer among Hispanics, as there is in Anglo communities. “Like on the mainland, Budweiser is the old school beer of Puerto Rico,” says Valcarcel. “But there’s also a fever for artisanal beer at beer gardens.”
“We still like beer fresh, like life, but we want taste too.”