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Beacon Senior News

Explore cultural enclaves without leaving the U.S.

Oct 25, 2021 02:41PM ● By Victor Block
Four New Glarus musicians play the Alphorns

At this time of limited travel, it may be impossible to visit the countries on your bucket list. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy their customs, culture and cuisine.

Women chatting in Greek stroll by signs identifying the Spartan Gas Station and Alexander the Great Apartments. They pass restaurants where diners feast on pickled octopus, squid salad and gyro sandwiches. Nearby, a man wearing a diving suit emerges from a river and clambers into a boat, clutching a sponge he dredged up from the bottom.

A visit to Tarpon Springs, Florida, can replicate a trip to Greece, where sponges have been used since the times of Homer and Plato. When those multicellular organisms were found beneath Florida’s waters in the late 19th century, an influx of Greek immigrants came to dive for them.

While the demand for the natural squeegees shrank, a pocket of the industry hung on in the town. The main draw to Tarpon Springs today is the lore of a community that resembles a small corner of Greece.

Other towns and neighborhoods throughout the United States capture the essence of a variety of nations. The following is a small sampling—there are many more to discover, including those that may be an easy commute from where you live.


Caribbean culture

Some visitors to Miami stroll into tabacaleras to watch vendors meticulously hand-roll cigars. Others check out markets selling unusual parts of pigs and other animals. Not far away, gray-haired men and women loudly slap dominoes onto tables, seemingly interested more in who can produce the loudest sound than how the game turns out.

Welcome to Calle Ocho (Eight Street) in the neighborhood known as Little Havana. Settled by an influx of Cubans fleeing after Fidel Castro came to power, the area greets visitors with sights, sounds and scents identical to those encountered in the island country.

Cuba isn’t the only Caribbean island with a foothold in Miami. In its Little Haiti enclave, women in colorful print dresses gather at markets to buy plantain, salt pork and other favorite foods. Shops sell kremas mapou—a blend of milk, egg yolk, cane sugar and light alcohol—as well as flaky dough pockets brimming with meat, fish and flavor. Plus, tiny botanicas offer medicinal herbs, incense and other supplies for voodoo ceremonies.


European enclaves


Holland, Michigan's De Zwaan Windmill

 

Reminders of European countries are also scattered around the U.S. Immigrants from Germany are said to have ended up in Hermann, Missouri, because its steep, rugged terrain reminded them of the Rhine Valley. The vineyards they planted have since won gold medals in world competitions. Today, the town’s major appeal is its old-world charm. 

Homes from the 1880s hug downtown sidewalks in traditional German style, with more than 150 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Guided tours of the Deutschheim Historic Site provide an introduction to the daily life and traditions of the German settlers in the mid-18th century. Typical food, music and dancing are celebrated at Oktoberfest and other festivals throughout the year.

In 1845, families fleeing poverty survived a 4-month journey and settled in an untamed northern wilderness area where Native Americans had lived for centuries. Memories of the founders of New Glarus, and of their namesake canton in Switzerland, abound in this Wisconsin town.

Architecture, art and other vestiges of their homeland abound. Swiss-style chalets adorned by flower boxes set the scene. Folk art, museums and celebrations add to the feeling.

Dire economic conditions also prompted Dutch Calvinists to flee the Netherlands and settle Holland, Michigan. Dutch architecture, delicacies and festivals create the city’s charming environment.

The 12-story-tall De Zwaan Windmill, one of over 9,000 such structures that once graced the Netherlands landscape, was dismantled and reassembled at its present site in Michigan. Surrounded by manicured gardens, canals and dikes, the windmill grinds grain into flour available for purchase. Tulips are everywhere, and serve as the main attraction at the city’s annual Tulip Time Festival.


Big city destinations

More than a half-million Iranian-Americans and their descendants live in Los Angeles—the largest concentration outside their country of origin. This accounts for the city sometimes being referred to as “Tehrangeles,” a blending of its name with Tehran. Hints of the pervading culture are centered around the intersection of Westwood Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue at eateries like the Shamshiri Grill and Farsi Cafe.

An all-in-one experience awaits visitors to Queens, New York, which is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. Over half of the borough’s residents were born outside of the United States, hailing from more than 120 countries and speaking over 135 languages. The Tower of Babel had nothing on this enclave.

These are merely a brief sample of destinations around the U.S. that feature fascinating attractions and cultures from other countries. There are many more: picturesque Dannebrog, Nebraska, with its romantic-style homes and Danish festivals; Mineral Point, Wisconsin, with its restored homes built in the 1830s by miners from Cornwall, England; and the Asiatown neighborhood of Houston, Texas—a melting pot of architecture, shops, restaurants and experiences reminiscent of Vietnam, Korea, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Asian countries.

All it takes is a quick internet search to find a fascinating ethnic enclave near you!


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