Arts & Culture

How to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in Charlotte

Although the annual Hola Charlotte Festival, the largest Hispanic Heritage celebration in the city, will be a virtual event this year, there are still a variety of ways to show your support for the Hispanic community in Charlotte.

For more than 40 years, Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15) has been a time to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of past generations who came from Spain, Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Here are a few Hispanic businesses and movers and shakers that are making the Queen City a better place.

Food & Drink

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The Batchmaker Bake House

Neighborhood: Wesley Heights

The Batch House is a culmination of a dream Cris Agurcia (a.k.a the Batchmaker) had after moving to Charlotte in 2010. Cris and her husband, both from Honduras, got jobs soon after moving to the Queen City, but she decided to continue her education with a second degree in business. At that point the two were on temporary work visas (her husband on an H1-B and Cris was his dependent).

“I was not able to legally work so I spent a lot of time baking for friends, for my husband to take to the office or simply for us to enjoy at home... learning and getting better at what I really loved,” said Cris. She decided to document it all too, posting about all of her decadent creations on Instagram. Little did she know that by doing just that, she was building a community of people who would help make The Batch House what it is today.

The Batch House started small in 2017, taking orders from friends, family and some Instagram orders. Slowly, word spread and the demand increased. “It eventually became too much for my little home kitchen and oven to handle so we looked to expand,” said Cris. In October 2019, The Batch House opened in Wesley Heights (adjacent and part of LaCa Projects, a Latin American art gallery) with a full pastry case and coffee menu.

“Charlotte showed up and has continued to show up in a way I never dreamt possible,” said Cris. “It's so unbelievable, I pinch myself every day that I get to do what I do. We truly are so lucky to call Charlotte our home.”

What to order: “There are a lot of influences from back home in Honduras sprinkled in my pastries,” said Cris. “We use a lot of dulce de leche. We offer Honduran chilenas (a.k.a alfajores) and a tres leches that always reminds us of home. We also have a churro cake on the menu that is our take on the traditional treat in a cake.”

Chilito Tacos

Neighborhood: Citywide

ChilitoTacos is a pop-up breakfast taco cart created by Mexican American chef Hector González-Mora and his partner in business (and soon-to-be wife), Sara Akhavan. González-Mora decided to open Chilito based on his Mexican and Los Angeles roots, ultimately bringing “a taste of LA in CLT.” The popular eatery aims to bring something fresh to the Queen City by offering unique pop-ups at Charlotte area businesses, hosting collaborations with fellow small business owners, and having custom private dinner experiences.

What to order: Breakfast tacos, of course! Chef Hector’s favorite is the pork belly; Sara’s is the barbacoa. They also offer taco bar caterings for groups of 20 or more, including Hector's family favorite – jalisco style birria, deep-flavored cuts of beef with a broth of more than three types of dark chiles. Apart from their tacos, catch them popping up with themed dinner pop-ups offering a new menu item every time, from chicken tinga tostadas to fresh Mexican ceviche to deep fried empanadas. Their latest obsession? Churros.

Ely Tortilleria

Neighborhood: East Charlotte

This tortilleria(tortilla shop) first opened in 2013. Owner Erasmo Valenzuelo was born in Amuco, Guerrero in Mexico, and spent many years as a welder and in construction before taking the leap to open the tortilleria. Valenzuelo started off by just focusing on serving tortillas, but quickly expanded into offering Mexican dishes and operating a carnicería (butcher shop).

What to order: Traditional dishes that you shouldn’t miss out on are the tacos (try the: al pastor tacos) and the weekend soups (try the: shrimp or beef soup). Ely Tortilleria does not have any social media accounts so place your order by calling 704.886.8501.

La Caseta

Neighborhood: Camp North End

La Caseta celebrates the flavors and famous dishes from El Salvador, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina. The food concept was inspired by the diverse staff of Raydal Hospitality and their collective family traditions.

Dalton Espaillat, CEO of Raydal Hospitality, is one of North Carolina’s fastest rising entrepreneurs, growing his authentic, fast casual Sabor Latin Street Grill concept to 17 locations across the Carolinas. Dalton is a native of the Dominican Republic, and moved to the Charlotte area when he was 15. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with a degree in engineering. When the 2008 recession dried up construction, Espaillat and two friends bought what is now Three Amigos Mexican Grill on Central Avenue.

Three Amigos Mexican Grill was an immediate hit in Plaza Midwood. The success allowed Espaillat to consider what the market was missing, which ended up being Sabor Latin Street Grill. In 2020, Raydal Hospitality launched their third concept, La Caseta, at Camp North End.

What to order: Go for the pupusas de frijoles, arepa reina pepiada or tacos al pastor.

“Through food, we tell our hometown stories,” Miriam Espaillat, Director of Community Engagement for Raydal Hospitality said. “The unique flavors revive our senses and remind us of moments in our childhood.”

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Tacos El Nevado

Neighborhood: East Charlotte and South Charlotte

If you’re a taco lover, you’ve heard about Tacos El Nevado. With two locations in the Queen City, this eatery churns out some of the best tacos in the city.

The brains behind El Nevado (Vianey Juarez, Nereyda Mali, Victor Santiago, Isela Juarez and Christopher Santiago) strive to maintain the traditions and cuisine as people from Oaxaca, Mexico, and showcase this culture to the city of Charlotte.

“We wanted to offer customers something more homemade so that people would feel like they were eating at home,” said Isela. “That's why we choose to serve the dishes that are normally eaten in a Mexican home.”

What to order: Try the asada tacos, carnitas tacos or the chorizo tacos.

Arts & Culture

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Red Calaca Studio

Artist Rosalía Torres-Weiner immigrated to Charlotte with her family from Mexico in 1996. Over the past 23 years, she has lived in Matthews, Mint Hill, Plaza Midwood, and now Tega Cay. She has seen the city’s culture develop as more immigrants like her have called Charlotte their home. In 2011, she redirected her art from commercial art to activism, telling the stories of Charlotte’s Latinx community, and helping the larger population understand the human impact of our immigration system. Rosalía combines her creative process with community engagement and action in a practice she calls “artivism.” Through initiatives like the Papalote Project, The Magic Kite, Day of the Dead Charlotte, and the Red Calaca Mobile Art Studio, she works to harness the power of stories in service of the Latinx community through public murals around the city.

What inspires you?

Rosalía has been painting portraits of “Dreamers” (students in the DACA program) and recording their stories as part of an augmented reality app that she curates called: Red CalacAR. “I have exhibited these portraits in different shows, and have recently returned to this series to continue to add more voices to the narrative.”

She has also been thinking about social justice, racism and the manifestation of colorism and classism in America. Finally, the new world that we operate in after COVID-19 has been a theme in some of her recent works.

What makes you proud to be a Hispanic artist?

“My art promotes dialogue around social justice issues and community concerns, and brings together a diverse citizenry through community-based, grassroots collaboration,” said Rosalía. “The murals that I am most proud of were collaborative works with the community… I strongly believe in the transformational power of public art and in the use of art as a connector of communities and a method of enriching societies.”

“I have to admit that I am also very proud to have one of my murals featured on the cover of a National Geographic American History textbook – to have my art representing the history of the Latinx experience in America gives me goosebumps!”

Which Charlotte piece of yours makes you happy?

“The mural that I painted of Lady of Guadalupe on Central Avenue represents strength and hope, said Rosalía. “I dedicated that mural to all immigrants and to those who welcome them in Charlotte. I wanted the Latino people who lived here to feel at home.”

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Gely Art

Puerto Rican artist Norma Gely began exploring artistic mediums in high school. She fell in love with the expressive painting process, how she could lose herself in colors and somehow discover something about herself in every piece. She learned that the art-making process was a conversation with her inner self. To her, art is a language that surpasses dialect barriers. “With my art I want to start conversations; I want people to question what it is about and hopefully find a little bit of themselves in them,” said Norma.

What inspires you?

“I’ve always loved to paint people; there’s a light in everyone that I just love to capture,” said Norma.

What makes you proud to be a Hispanic artist?

“What a beautiful question! What makes me the proudest is that the Hispanic culture likes to be connected with the community; we love to celebrate each other,” said Norma. “And that essence definitely transfers into my art. I want my colors to unite, just like grandma’s food makes everyone visit and sit at the table.”

Community Initiatives

Photo courtesy of Javier Morales

Latinos in Charlotte

Javier Morales started Latinos in Charlotte on January 16, 2016. His idea came from a desire to have a platform that could inform the Latinx/Hispanic community about different cultural events happening in Charlotte – from concerts to immigration news.

How are you pushing the culture forward?

“The ways that I am pushing the Hispanic culture in Charlotte vary. I have always kept in touch with the sports teams in the city in order to better their Latinx/Hispanic community involvement,” said Javier. “I even got to host a Latin night at one of the most important NBA games in Charlotte against the Miami Heat, right before Dwayne Wade retired.”

“I am constantly reading about different immigration changes in the city; I stay involved with our local nonprofit Comunidad Colectiva in order to share their content or special announcements,” said Javier. “I continue to make my content in English through all my platforms in order for people outside of the Hispanic community to understand our culture and interact with us.”

Javier’s favorite part about Charlotte is how charming we can be to experience different cultures. “It's taken years for Charlotte to grow into the melting pot it is now, but it's been great to see its progress, and for us to be able to share different experiences or cultures with our friends and family.”

Latinos in Charlotte will soon turn into a collective platform with talented journalists that Javier has been able to meet over the last few months from different Latin American countries. He welcomes anyone that is interested in creating content for our community to join the mission.

Photo courtesy of Circle de Luz

Circle de Luz

Circle de Luz was founded in 2008 with a groundbreaking approach to empower young Latinas through mentoring and holistic programming to help further education. At the time, and still today, Hispanics have the highest dropout rate of any ethnic group in the country. The Circle de Luz program walks beside the girls and their families by providing academic support, in-school advocacy, and programming that exposes members to a broad range of possibilities for their future.

“No other youth development or educational program in our area spends six years with its members in such a comprehensive way,” said Board Chair, Rosie Molinary. “Using the Circle de Luz Developmental Model, each class experiences annual programming that covers life skills, team building, health and wellness, career inspiration, civic engagement, arts and academic support, among others.”

Of Puerto Rican descent and the daughter of an enlisted soldier, Rosie moved to South Carolina when she was two. Traveling between her two home countries, Rosie developed a profound sensitivity to the difference an education can make in the life of a girl, especially an immigrant girl who comes from a country whose norms for women are not the same as they are in the United States. Her first career as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) high school teacher further developed her belief in education and the significant impact mentoring can make.

What does Circle de Luz offer?

“Circle de Luz provides academic support, in-school advocacy, and programming. Our unique approach allows each girl to achieve a clear understanding of their capabilities and potential for the future,” said Rosie.

Additionally, all ‘hijas’ starting in the 10th grade add an additional layer to their programming, called Adelante: College and Career Pathways. Through this program, our girls dive deep into their post-secondary education plans and alongside individual mentors, and a consultant, ensure they have the right tools to successfully achieve high school graduation and begin their post-secondary education journey.

Lastly, once our hijas graduate high school, we are proud to present them with a minimum scholarship of $5,000 to be used toward their educational journeys. The goal of the programming is to build self-confidence as the girls learn new skills in a supportive environment, to develop resiliency that will allow these young women to rebound from disappointment, and to illuminate the many choices that having an education will allow them to make. Empowering these young women to make decisions that will benefit them in the future is part of our approach.”

Why is it important to give back to the Hispanic community?

“Circle de Luz is committed to eliminating the education gap currently plaguing our Latina population, and giving them a fair chance to be educated and empowered women,” said Rosie. “Circle de Luz is promoting not only educational and economic mobility through its mission but, also creating economic development throughout the community. As Circle de Luz expands its reach, we are confident that the future of our Latino families in the state of North Carolina will be bright and successful.”