Yolanda, a Mexican-American friend, noticed my progress in Spanish and advised me to learn the culture as well. I set out to do just that, but there was a problem---there must be at least 17 different Spanish-speaking cultures. Exactly where I was suppose to begin? Finally, after some serious thought, I decided the best place to start was with something I enjoyed most---salsa and Afro-Cuban music. I learned about their history and development through reading and my travel to Cuba.
I read books like Boricua: Anthology of Puerto Rican Writings by Roberto Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago (no kin to Roberto), and América by the Afro-Cuban Poet and Writer Nicolás Guillen. I then began reading as much as I could on Afro-Latinos, such as author/poet Nelson Estumpiñan Bass of Ecuador, dancer/choreographer/musician Ronaldo Campos of Perú, and the Mexican liberator and former president Vicente Guerrero (México's Barack Obama in 1829).
Of course, I began traveling to selected countries like Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, and Cuba. Countries like México, Panamá, and El Salvador were flukes where I took advantage of long layovers to roam about and practice my Spanish with the citizens.