1. Dallas is a Mexican Paradise.
They say that everything’s bigger in Texas… and that’s especially true for the Mexican community. Dallas isn’t left behind in this trend: in every corner of the Metroplex you will find a taquería and every snow cone vendor will offer to sprinkle chile on top. People wonder if I’m from southern Mexico because of my accent and I pleasantly joke saying… Just a little more south than you think. In reality, the Mexican influence was practically nonexistent in my native Venezuela. We only know about Mexican culture through telenovelas and mariachi music (fun fact: Venezuelan mariachis are actually Colombians). The perception of all Tejanos is that anyone with a Spanish accent must be from Mexico.
During my years in Dallas, I’ve come to learn and love everything about Mexican culture. The colors, the passion and Frida Kahlo, my personal hero.
2. And the Mexican presence is endorsed by the amounts of chile around…
When they tell you “no pica“, it means it’s super spicy. Here everyone will add chipotles or habaneros copiously to every meal… I mean, do you want any food with your jalapeños?
We are in a geographical place where hot spices are an important part of the cultural DNA. The Mexican peppers punch you from the left and Louisiana’s cayenne powder slaps you from the right. And everyone stares in surprise when this Latina confesses, “I don’t like spicy…”
3. Selena is still the Queen of Tejano music.
More than twenty years after her passing, Selena is still part of the hearts of US born Mexicans. Proudly hailing from Corpus Christi, you’ll hear her famous Bidi Bidi Bom Bom blaring from every Spanish speaking radio station. You’ll also see TV specials about her life on April 16, which was officially proclaimed as Selena’s Day by George W. Bush in 1995.
4. Latin and Caribbean food are precious treasures behind the Tex-Mex nacho platters.
In my closest circle of friends, I have a Canadian and a Russian who I wanted to take to a more Venezuelan type of restaurant, and that’s how my scavenger hunt begun. Soon I found Casa Vieja, an institution among the Colombians and Venezuelans in Dallas where bandeja paisa and lulo juice is served since 1997. I also found a small restaurant in Plano, called the Latin Pig, which serves amazing Cuban and Puerto Rican food. Their arroz con gandules is to die for!
However, my most valuable finding has been Con Sabor Venezolano, a little taqueria in the back of a liquor store called Flamingo on Beltline Rd. and Josey Ln. Rosie mixes Mexican delights with a touch of wonderful Venezuelan dishes: empanadas, arepas, pabellón and tequeños. If you’re in Dallas, you gotta try it!
5. Groceries… Dallas has got all the basics to support your own Latin cuisine endeavours.
As strange as it sounds, lots of Latino basics can be found in the Indian Bazars, from Leche Nido to the Colombian Colcafe instant coffee. If you can’t find it there, check out a variety of Mexican grocery shops and bazares. The biggest chains are Fiesta, El Rio Grande, El Rancho and La Michocana. They all have an aisle of Latin goods where you will find such delicacies as cajeta or arequipe, Toronto(Venezuelan chocolate), guarana sodas from Brazil, guava candy and the always reliant Galletas Marías. With time (and trial and error) you’ll learn that crema salvadoreña is the closest thing to nata, and that queso panela is an acceptable equivalent of queso cuajada.
6. There’s always a place to go when the rumba’s not at home.
Gloria’s is the big Latin representative, with a decent selection of goodies and a mean mojito made for the brave. They have live music on Fridays and Saturdays. The Salsa and Merengue will tingle your feet and make you want to move. Casa Vieja has live music as well: Salsa nights where you can listen to the Fania’s most famous songs and everyone knows each other like neighbors of a small town.
7. That big orange building the heart of downtown is the core of our local identity.
The Latino Cultural Center is the place to go for everything Latino related. Several times a year they hold exhibitions and conventions like Viva Dallas, where companies do their best to focus on Latinos for making business. The LCC is also a gallery for Latino artists, films and performances.
8. There’s no shortage of good Latino entertainment.
From Vicente Fernandez to Shakira, Chino & Nacho, Oscar De León and Mark Antony, there’s always a reason to wave your country’s flag among a sea of people. As soon as one of the stars of the Latin Hall of Fame confirms some dates, a swarm of friends will start calling, texting and opening new WhatsApp groups just to check who’s getting the tickets and who’ll carpool in whose car… and you’ll hear about the event for a lot of days to come.
9. You know that sunsets at the lake are something else.
No matter where you come from, if you’re Caribbean, Texan, or a Canadian dragged into the Latino craziness, we will always be able to relax on the shores of Grapevine or Rowlett during the summer. Dallas will offer her orange and golden rays of light dancing over the calm waters while we have our micheladas and cheer for this wonderful growing city that has opened its doors to us.