Spanish and Latin American Culture: Religion, Art, Sports, Media

By OptiLingo • 24 minutes read

What Is the Attitude Towards Religion Throughout the Spanish Speaking World?

A Long, Troubled History of Religion and Racism

The Spanish set out to America right after ridding Spain of the 800-year Muslim rule by the Islamic Moors from North Africa. During this period, there was an extreme intolerance towards other religions, which culminated in the fierce Spanish Inquisition seeking to root out heresy. All Jews and Muslims who were in Spain at that time were forced to either convert to Christianity or leave the country.

After subduing the Aztecs and other indigenous kingdoms in America, the Spanish established a hierarchical system of classifying people called the “Casta” system. Spanish-born “Peninsulares” were at the top of this hierarchy, followed by the “Criollos” (Creoles) who were locally born but of Spanish descent. “Mestizos” were in the middle and the class was composed of people of mixed indigenous and Spanish backgrounds; “Indios” (indigenous people) and black slaves who were brought in from Africa were at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Since independence, people in Latin America had celebrated indigenous heritage, especially between the 1920s and 1940s when writers, artists, and archaeologists began restoring structures that represent Latin America’s pre-Hispanic past. However, despite current gains in social mobility, the issue of racism still exists in significant levels. The Afro-Spanish communities of Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Guerrero started receiving recognition only recently. Up until 2015, there was no box to indicate the African race in the national census form. It took the efforts of activists to push for the recognition of the race. Consequently, more than 1.4 million Latin Americans and Spaniards registered themselves as being black or of African descent.

Creeping Suspicion – a Long History of Superstition

There are many superstitions in Latin America, which play a crucial role in the regions cultural traditions. Some of the superstitions originate from the European ancestors and others from the Roman Catholic Church, while others are from the surviving indigenous Latin Americans. The most popular of these superstitions is the belief that black cats are a sign of bad luck and that the number 13 is unlucky. However, unlike in Western culture, Tuesday 13 is the day that spells doom with bad luck rather than Friday 13. In cases where people feel the need to be wary of an impending disaster, they make the cross sign with their fingers in keeping with the Roman Catholic tradition.

In Latin America, witchcraft is not about the old witches on broomsticks but is an essential aspect of daily life. Markets in Latin America sell items believed to have the ability to bring good fortune and shielding one from harm. In rural areas, people believe that there is a type of curse called the “evil eye” (“mal de ojo”) that can adversely affect children. The children wear amulets to protect them from the evil eye and those believed to have been affected require the intervention of shamans to cure them. The art of witchcraft is widespread throughout the country, and the shamans, witches, and spiritual healers partner with doctors, as well as the church, to offer spiritual healing to those who require it.

Catholic Calendar and New Protestant Winds of Change

The Roman Catholic Church has been around in Latin America since the 16th century when native Spaniards brought Christianity to the region’s population. Given its long tradition in Latin America, the church greatly influences the Latin America region to date. More than 80 percent of the Latin American and Spanish population identify as Catholics, who widely practice all festivities associated with the Catholic Church. These celebrations dominate the calendar. The lives of most Latin Americans revolve around baptism, first communions, weddings, and funeral cycles.

The success of Catholicism in Latin America is a result of the high levels of pragmatism that were exhibited by Franciscan and Jesuit monks. The Jesuit and Franciscan monks led conversions into Christianity and allowed Spaniards, as well as indigenous Latin Americans, to integrate their cultural beliefs with the new form of worship. The integration of the two ways of life is evident from the folk festivals held on Catholic feast days and exhibit pre-Columbian aspects. Latin America’s and Spain’s Day of the Dead ritual makes the Latin Americans and the Spanish unique in the Catholic religion due to its playful and joyous nature.

However, the number of members joining Protestant denominations is gradually increasing. The shift is prevalent in Brazil, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Brazil has a significant number of people who identify as the Liberation Theology movement stemming from the Roman Catholic Church. Anglicanism is also taking root in Latin America.

The Improvement of LGBT Rights

Disapproval by the Roman Catholic Church and the macho culture hold back gay rights across the Latin America region. However, things are changing rapidly for the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) community. New laws in conjunction with growing social media campaigns have played a critical role in raising awareness of LGBT issues. These efforts have established higher levels of acceptance of the LGBT community in the Latina American and Spanish societies.

Mexico City has led the way in embracing LGBT rights despite being within a mostly conservative country. The city legalized same-sex marriage in 2009 and held a mass wedding in Zocalo, the main city square. Hundreds of LGBT couples from all over Mexico attended the event. The move faced stiff opposition from other parts of the country, but the government stepped in to ensure there was equality for all.

Annual LGBT events such as the Gay Pride Festival, which lasts for a week, happen in Spain and some Latin America cities. The festival entails carnival floats and processions in June. One particular place of interest is the Puerto Vallarta beach resort, which holds an LGBT party for twelve days in May. However, not everyone in Latin America and Spain is friendly to LGBT activities. There have been cases of police warning LGBT couples of indecency for exhibiting public displays of affection like kissing and holding hands. In response to such incidents, the LGBT community created social media campaigns and a ‘Kissathon’ to advocate their rights to have the same freedoms that heterosexual couples have.

The Art of Spain and Latin America

Refined and Active Options for Fun

Some Spanish artists are recognized all over the world. There is a vibrant art scene in Latin America and Spain. Some of the Spanish painters and poets are praised and recognized all over the world. The music scene is also diverse with classic and contemporary musicians gracing the entertainment industry. Mariachi is their signature music. Everyone enjoys a well done mariachi song. With mariachi bands all over the region, expats will learn mariachi songs within a few months.

There are also world level galleries and museums displaying colorful folk arts and showing the culture of the Spaniards and Latin Americans. Museums should be on your list of places to visit when you need to learn more on the culture of Spaniards and Latin Americans.

There is no doubt that telenovelas are award winning. Spain and Latin America has been able to produce some of the best movie directors, actors, and cinematographers.

Football, baseball, and boxing are spectator sports. The Spaniards have come up with other sorts such as a “charreria” (rodeo), freestyle wrestling, masks, caps, and tights. Those living in the city have introduced new sports and works of art. Basketball is finding its way into many schools and in different cities. As a way of staying occupied, there is also shooting and a couple of other sports that keep people entertained. Leisure sports such as bowling, darts, and pool are awash in cities.

There are arts and sports groups that an expat can join and showcase their talent. Some of the groups have English sessions, allowing foreigners to fit in.

A Wealth of Cultural Institutions

Latin American and Spain are culturally rich and diverse. Each region is committed to the preservation of their people’s history and traditional pastimes, while also welcoming modern shifts. The artwork that has been preserved ranges throughout a lengthy timeline that dates back to ancient civilizations, while modern pieces are also showcased in museums.

The number of cultural institutions across Latin America is greater than any other place in the world! Which means, the majority of the world’s museums are in these regions. In addition, their streets are almost always filled with buskers and theatric performances.

One of the most popular Spanish artists is Diego Rivera. The National Palace in Spain is host to his historical murals, which tell the history of the Latin American and Spanish people. Rivera is also known for his love affair with another famed artist, Frida Kahlo. Kahlo is one of the most famous modern female artists, as her style defied boundaries posed for women in her time. Many of her self-portraits are on display today across the globe. Kahlo is an icon of Latin American and Spanish culture. Today, both of their homes are open to the public as historical sites, as well as a glimpse into their personal and professional lives.

Other notable muralists are David Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco. Murals and street art have already played and continue to play an important part in Latin America’s art scene. Visit Mexico City to feast your eyes on streets filled with buildings covered in murals.

An Illustrious Cinema History

Spanish cinema reached its height between the 1940s and 1950s, a period known as the Golden Era. During this period, hundreds of films were shot across Latin America and Spain, with Mexico City becoming a major hub for film. Spanish director Luis Bunuel also rose to fame during this time with award-winning films like Viridiana and The Exterminating Angel. It was during this time that comedians Cantinflas and Tin Tan rose to fame, as well as vocalist Pedro Infante. The Golden Era was rich with musical, theatrical, and comedic performances.

The 1970s and 1980s spurred a TV takeover, causing the film industry to retreat. Sitcoms and dramas took over the airways and people focused less on going out to see films. Mostly low budget indie films were produced during this time. The scene that was maintained around film cratered to a specific crowd, which also contributed to taking cinema out of the mainstream spotlight.

After a brief quiet period, a renaissance emerged when new Spanish cinema rose in the 1990s. Out of this era came international hits, including Like Water For Chocolate by Alfono Arau. In 2014, Spanish cinema reached the Oscars when Alfonso Cuaron took home a medal for Best Director. The following year, Gonzalez Inarritu also received an Oscar for The Revenant. Meanwhile, director Guillermo del Toro’s film Hell Boy was receiving praise in Hollywood. New Spanish cinema continues to gain popularity among local and international populations. Many Spanish films are even shown with subtitles at big city multiplexes around the world.

Making a Social Statement Through Cinema

Spanish movies are a glimpse into Spanish society, capturing the national imagination. Director Gaz Alazraki’s 2013 film The Noble Family exposes the entitlement of spoiled rich children, a real issue for some of the Spanish and Latin American population. In the story, the kids are taught the meaning of working hard, which reflects the hard-working mentality that is standard among Latin Americans and Spaniards.

Movies are used to address a variety of social issues in Spanish culture, including the topic of gender. In Carmin Tropical, the transgender community is spotlighted.

Set in the fishing village of Juchitan, Oaxaca, the film delves into a third gender commonly found in Zapotec communities that dates back to pre-Hispanic times.

In addition, Spanish history is kept alive with films, such as Like Water for Chocolate, an awarding-winning movie created by Alfonso Arau. The movie’s backdrop is set during the Spanish Revolution. While The Crazy Pig looks at modern battles, delving into the drug war and the chaos that has ensued as a result.

The Brazilian film industry took off in the early 2000s. Films like City of God, a story portraying the rough streets of Rio de Janeiro, directed by Fernando Meirelles gained fans across the globe. The film was so popular that it was nominated for numerous awards and a spin-off show followed. In addition, Brazil has produced other international hits like Central Station and Elite Squad.

A Fascinating Musical Tapestry

Mariachi music grew out of the traditional cowboy lifestyle, originating out of the Jalisco state. Extending far beyond its origins, mariachi music has become an important part of everyday Spanish and Latin American culture. Mariachi music is played to serenade and celebrate, and it’s the common anthem of bullfights, rodeos, weddings, and birthday celebrations. Today, mariachi can be interpreted as a national expression of Spanish and Latin American culture.

Spaniards don’t just enjoy mariachi though; their musical tastes extend across a variety of genres. In fact, Spaniards and Latin Americans have embraced adaptations of rock and roll and country. In addition, traditional Spanish music continues to reign strong.

Traditional Spanish music is often associated with flamenco and classical guitar. However, the bagpipes are also a commonly used instrument in some regions. The “jota,” a traditional Spanish folk dance, is performed as part of this genre. Mediterranean influences resonate throughout the sound of jota.

Even though traditional Spanish music has not been abandoned, it has certainly taken a backseat to pop music. Considered “spirit lifting” music by the Spanish, pop music is the most popular genre in Spain and Latin America. It was Concha Velasco’s 1965 hit “La Chica Ye Ye” that ignited Spaniards and Latin American’s love for pop music. In the years that followed, Spanish pop music became distinctive among the pop genre. Today, Spanish popular music is reminiscent of the flamenco style, but also incorporates the light-hearted essence of familiar pop music.

The Mecca of Mariachi

Salon Tenampa, a bar located in Mexico City, is a tribute to the greats of mariachi. Opened by Juan Hernandez in 1925 as a place for live entertainment, Tenampa helped popularize mariachi music. Hernandez recruited musicians from his hometown to play at the venue. Most importantly, he tapped into an underground genre that had yet to surface in the mainstream. It wasn’t until the 1940s that mariachi became popular in the movies. Today, the walls of the venue are graced with the faces of mariachi’s greats and include Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Amalia Mendoza, and Lola Beltran.

Bars continue to be popular places for mariachi bands to perform. Patrons can usually request a song for around $10 US. In other instances, the band may pay you brief attention without asking. A traditional mariachi band includes vocalists, as well as a violin, trumpet, classical guitar, five-string guitar, and stand-up bass. Mariachi serenades are not only popular at bars, but also at weddings and birthday celebrations.

You may even be familiar with the “Ay, ay, ay” chorus in the mariachi favorite known as “Pretty Little Heaven,” which has become an anthem for Spain and Latin America. Undoubtedly, mariachi is an immensely important contribution to Latin American and Spanish culture, which has even been recognized by the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Today, traditional mariachi music is alive and well, while it has also fused with other genres. Lila Downs is one notable re-inventor of this style, making mariachi accessible to younger generations.

The Love of Football and Sports in Spain

An Athlete’s Paradise

Sports date back to pre-Columbian civilizations in Latin America and Spain. The famous “Popol Vuh,” a ritualized ball game (that incorporated human sacrifice), was played. Fortunately, athletics in Latin America and Spain have veered away from these violent roots.

Today, the most popular sport in Latin America is football or known to US citizens as soccer. However, other athletics are embraced as well. In fact, Julio Cesar Chavez, won six world titles as a featherweight, lightweight, and light welterweight. His career spanned over twenty-five years, thirteen of which he spent completely undefeated.

In Latin America, basketball is also particularly popular. In fact, the Argentinian men’s team took home an Olympic gold from the 2004 Summer Games. In 1994, their women’s team won the World Championship.

Brazilians love volleyball and they are good at it too! Both their men and women’s team have earned Olympic gold medals. The sport is also widely popular in Peru and continues to grow in Argentina and Venezuela. In addition, Argentina has won the world cup for rink hockey five times.

Sports that are on the rise in Latin America include tennis, golf, and Jai Al, a game that involves bouncing a ball off a wall at high speeds. Latin America has raised many talented tennis players, including four-time Grand Slam champion Guillermo Vilas and double Olympic Gold medalist Nicolás Massú. While cricket has a small presence in Latin American, it’s not widely played by natives. However, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile all have national teams.

The Rise of Football

In the mid-nineteenth century, Cornish silver miners brought their love of football (also known as soccer) to Real del Monte. The first team was formed around 1900 in Pachuca. Pachuca lives on as one of Latin America and Spain’s top teams, while football remains as Latin America’s most iconic sport.

Stadiums are filled to the brim on the weekends during football season. Locals are devout fans to their home teams. Those who can’t make it to the game, tune in on the radio to keep score, gather with friends around the TV, or head out to a sports bar to catch the action. And, if they’re not watching soccer then they are probably playing it!

El Tri has won the CONCACAF Gold Cup a total of seven times and qualified for fifteen World Cups. The game leaves fans on the edge of their seats, especially at matches like the 2016 Copa America. At this game, Mexico suffered a crippling defeat when Chile beat them 7-0.

Going to a game is about more than just the sport; it is also about partaking in the festive atmosphere. The stadiums are filled with all walks of life cloaked in their team’s colors. Fans keep a close eye on the game and respond with shouts of praise and disapproval.

In the Ring

Bullfighting’s history dates back to prehistoric bull worship in Mesopotamia. The first recorded bullfight can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Since then, bullfighting has grown into a professional sport. Spanish bullfighting, which is distinctive in Latin American culture, involves three stages. During the third stage, the fighter brings out the famous red cape, a color thought to anger the bull.

The sport itself is bloody and brutal, so much so that many have called for its ban. In fact, the sport is usually fatal for the bull. Severe injuries and death have also resulted in bullfighters. Over 534 professional bullfighters have lost their lives to the ring over the past three centuries. It is these statistics that cause harsh criticism of the bullfighting tradition. However, bullfighting is alive and well in both Spain and Latin America. In fact, Latin America hosts one of the largest bullrings in the world. The facility hosts 41,000 seats, which are mostly used for pop concerts today.

Bullfighting season runs from late October to May, which coincides with the recess in Spain allowing major names in bullfighting to fight in Latin America and Spain. US tourists also flock to the bullring, keeping the industry afloat. Interestingly, polls have shown that the majority of locals would support a nationwide ban. Statewide bans have already been issued in Sonora, Coahuila, and Guerrero. Animal activists have pushed for a nationwide ban since these state bans were instituted.

Rodeo Is the Rage

“Charreria,” the Spanish word for rodeo, is the official national sport of Latin America and Spain. The rodeo is a fusion of culture, tradition, costume, revolutionary history, horse riding, mariachi music, and mescal. The “charro,” Spanish word for cowboy, adheres to a traditional uniform that includes a sombrero and closely fitted suit. The costume is not only decorative but also practical. The tight fit of the clothing prevents the fabric from getting caught on the bull’s horns. Spurs, a small traditionally Spanish boot, are also worn to prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrups.

In 2016, UNESCO inscribed the sport into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The first charrerias were ranch labor competitions, for this reason, the sport is considered “living history.” Charreria traditions were transferred from Spain to Latin America in the 16th century and have been evolving ever since. Today, charreria is a national icon of Latin American culture.

After the Mexican Revolution, charro traditions began to dissipate. However, a few old-fashioned families kept charreria alive in the modern world. Today, some families’ participation in the sport extends back at least five generations.

The charreria combines nine events for men, while only one event is offered for women. Events included are reining, heeling, steer tailing, bull riding, team roping, bareback on a wild mare, forefooting, and forefooting on horseback.

Each event involves horses and/or cattle. As with bullfighting, charreria has been criticized for being inhumane to animals.


Luchadores, Latin America and Spain’s professional wrestlers, resemble comic book superheroes more than they do professional wrestlers. Don’t be deceived by their theatrical appearance though, these wrestlers take their sport very seriously. Luchadores engage in a style of wrestling known as “Lucha Libre” or “freestyle wrestling.” The sport actually originates from nineteenth-century Greco-Roman wrestling. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s and ‘40s, the sport adopted masks and elaborate aerial maneuvers.

Luche Libre’s most famous wrestler El Santo, came to fame in the 1950s. He was so well established and admired that he even appeared in cartoon strips and movies. Viewed as a hero, El Santo saved the world from aliens and werewolves in these fictional stories. El Santo was so connected to his experiences as a luchador that he was buried in his wrestling mask.

The actual competition is drama infused, pitting heroes and villains against one another during the match. More than healthy competition, the matches are seen as a battle between good and evil.

Female Luchadores have a league of their own. In addition, exoticos are flamboyant gender non-conforming wrestlers. The first gay luchador stood strong against homosexuality and macho attitudes sometimes found in the ring.

There are traces of exploitation in this sport’s history. Super Barrio headed a campaign in the 1980s to expose and combat this issue. Hollywood also produced a film called Nacho Libre, which was based on a character who’d been exploited as a luchador.

Spanish and Latin American Media

Mexico’s Offering of English Media

Of the millions of people that reside in Mexico, many of them are expats from the US. These expats tend to predominantly support English-speaking media. As there are so many consumers that read these publications, a lot of the newspapers and magazines offered in Mexico are popular publications from the US. Publications like the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune are commonly featured on newsstands in restaurants, grocery stores, and anywhere regular publications are likely to be displayed. Generally, because these English-speaking publications are brought to Mexico from the US, they are often a day or two behind the publishing date.

In addition to the popularity of the publications from the US, Mexico has a significant amount of its own publications that are published in the country. The News is primarily an English-language paper but is printed and based out of Mexico’s capital, Mexico City. The News is available Monday through Friday, often found around upscale or touristy areas in the city, as well as offered online. The cities that have a disproportionate amount of expatriates from Canada and the US offer their own weekly papers, like the Ojo del Lago and the Guadalajara Reporter. These weekly papers generally feature local events and the like, allowing residents to keep up with the latest happenings in their neighborhood, while also providing tourists with information on authentic events to partake in during their stay.

On TV in Mexico

In the Mexican television industry, the two most popular media corporations are TV Azteca and Televisa. Both have two channels each that show gossip, entertainment, news, game shows, and reality TV. Both Televisa and TV Azteca show US programming as well, including dramas, sitcoms, and cartoons that have been dubbed in Spanish.

Mexicans are starting to watch more of their television with cable or satellite. The companies that are predominantly used include SkyTV, DirecT, and Cablevision, offering their customers entertainment from the UK, US, and Canada. This allows customers to watch their favorite shows, no matter what country the shows are aired in.

Similarly, the popularity of streaming services like Hulu and Netflix has made it easier for people to access their favorite movies and shows from all over the world. This has created a shift in the way that Mexicans consume television as more and more are turning to the Internet for their viewing needs. As the TV watchers of today use popular streaming services and other apps on the Internet to consume media, companies are starting to recognize the potential for growth through these services. Many of the more traditional media companies in Mexico are turning to the Internet to reach a broader audience.

Media Consumption

The way people consume media is changing all over the world, and Latin America and Spain are no different. These days, consumers choose to watch their television with cable, satellite, and traditional television, as well as using the newer streaming services to watch shows and movies. The media industry itself is becoming more open to new technology and competing companies throughout Latin America, as tastes in entertainment continue to change.

Interestingly enough, older media conglomerates like Televisa still have their hold on the media industry in Latin American countries. As the largest creators of telenovelas in Latin America, it is no coincidence that Televisa is a huge supplier of programming for cable and television companies throughout Latin America and the US.

When it comes to using the media for entertainment, there are countless options available for Latin Americans. However, when considering media as a resource for the news, there is a stark reality that any member of its industry faces. For reporters and journalists, this area of the world has been described as one of the most violent and dangerous parts of the world. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Latin American countries pose a huge risk to many media professionals that travel there to cover a story. Since 2000, over 100 media professionals have been killed while trying to cover stories there. Journalists living in these countries still face harassment and intimidation on a regular basis.

Other Media Options

Radio is still a major source of communication in Latin America. Whether a station is playing the top songs in the world or the latest international news, many Mexicans still use the radio on a regular basis. Mexico is home to Latin America’s largest network of radio stations that are primarily Spanish-language. These stations feature the latest news as well as popular music like Spanish rock, pop, and mariachi, as well as popular hits in the US. Many companies offer their consumers the option of using satellite stations to stream radio from other countries.

Several religious organizations and cultural interest groups also use the radio to communicate with followers locally and across Mexico. These stations broadcast content like church services, religious music, sermons, news, and entertainment in specific indigenous languages, like Mixtec, Maya, and Nahuatl.

In addition to the radio, print is still a very popular form of media in Mexico. Many magazines and papers offer excellent coverage, both nationally and internationally. The most popular sources for printed media in Mexico include El Economista, El Nacional, El Universal, El Financiero, and El Sol de Latin America and Spain. Typically, citizens turn to newspapers to learn about current events in Mexico and around the world. Many of these papers are offered either online or in person.


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