In the US, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated annually from September 15th to October 15th. It is a time when we recognize and honor the many contributions and extensive histories of the Hispanic American community. With over 20 Hispanic countries across the globe, this month is the perfect opportunity to learn about different cultures since no two communities are the same.
For this spotlight, SEI NYC Consultant Christian Marulanda talks about how he stays rooted in his Colombian heritage and celebrates his community through coffee, carnivals, and camaraderie.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, and moved to Miami with my parents and my older brother when I was five years old. With everything going on in Colombia at the time, my parents felt it was safer for us to move out and build a better life elsewhere. They were very young when they moved to the US, yet they embraced and pursued the American dream, becoming business owners once they arrived. Growing up, we would go back to Colombia every summer and Christmas to remember where we came from.
I did my schooling in Miami, went to undergrad at Georgia Tech, worked in Atlanta, and finally moved to New York, where I completed my MBA at NYU Stern and continued my career. To this day, Colombia is one of my favorite vacation destinations — I actually met my wife in Barranquilla on one of my trips there.
What’s your favorite vacation spot in Colombia, and, more importantly, would you consider yourself a coffee snob?
We have traveled throughout Colombia, but I have to say my favorite vacation was a trip we took to a coffee zone with my wife’s family. We went to Medellín and hopped around multiple neighboring smaller cities like Armenia and Salento, staying in tiny little cabins and indulging in food and coffee. I wouldn’t consider myself a coffee snob, but I do love my coffee! Colombian coffee beans are naturally sweet, so you don’t ever really need to add sugar. In fact, after drinking Colombian black coffee, try smelling the bottom of the cup — you’ll find that it has a surprisingly sweet smell!
We still go to Colombia once a year, and just last year, we took our son for the first time! Colombia is so special because it has various topographies and cultures within its borders, so no single experience is ever the same. You will encounter different environments, climates, people, slang terms, dialects, and food dishes throughout the country. If you are looking for another vacation spot in Colombia, I highly recommend Tayrona National Park and Cartagena. The Rosario Islands off Cartagena have some of the most relaxing and beautiful white sand beaches to go to.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is a reminder that even though we are a massive community with so many differences, we’re all connected by many common traits. It is important that we celebrate what we all bring to this world. Hispanic Heritage Month might manifest differently depending on where you are in America. For example, Miami has a huge Hispanic population, so you are always surrounded by Hispanic culture and traditions, whereas in New York City, we’re often extra intentional in our celebrations because a more diverse set of cultures surrounds us.
Whether through Hispanic Heritage Month or everyday interactions, educating people about our heritage can help others be more accepting of all individuals who don’t necessarily speak the same language or have different cultural practices. I think that alone is something worth celebrating!
How do you celebrate your heritage?
The way we celebrate goes back to the traditions instilled in us, which all start with family. Family is critical. For instance, we can turn any lunch into an impromptu 100-person event complete with catering and music — all to simply celebrate everyone around us! We make sure we are truly present with relatives as we participate in family gatherings. We also celebrate through food. Big events always come with very traditional dishes. Nothing beats a good Sancocho or a Bandeja Paisa, which are just two of my favorite dishes.
Music is also key. My wife listens to Latin music quite a lot with my son, be it salsa, merengue, vallenato, or other styles — they even have their own dance party in the mornings! We also make sure to speak Spanish to him and amongst ourselves because it is important to us that he learns the language.
We also love celebrating carnivals in February. Carnivals are a massive part of our tradition. Little known fact: Colombia has the largest carnival outside of Brazil. In fact, they expanded Colombia’s largest carnival to Miami, where my dad was the King! And before you ask, no, I have never been asked to be a King in a carnival, unfortunately.
What is something you wish people knew more about Hispanic culture?
I wish others knew how much of an influence Hispanic culture actually has on some of their traditions and the American culture in general. We are the largest minority ethnic/racial group in the US. From cowboy hats and rodeos to piñatas and colored TVs — these contributions exist due to Hispanic traditions, influences, and inventions.
How do you encourage embracing your culture at SEI and other companies?
Having diverse teams and recognizing independence days for the countries we represent goes a long way in preserving and appreciating our heritage and cultures. We are proud of where we are from and don’t want to lose that. A fun idea would be to share traditional meals during our biweekly staff meetings, depending on the cultural holiday around that time, to keep celebrating our communities outside of Hispanic Heritage Month.
You’ve been at SEI for 4.5 years — what changes are you most proud of?
It makes me happy knowing that as our company grows, we are shifting our thinking and implementing more diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. At SEI, you don’t just see it at the executive level but at the ground level too. We give DE&I a spotlight in our staff meetings and have plenty of resources for people to refer to so that they can embrace who they are inside and outside of work. We have also recently employed more diverse people in leadership positions, which helps the team feel more comfortable having open dialogues around DE&I topics.
As we continue to hire more people, more colleagues are embracing DE&I as a core fabric of SEI culture. Because of this, I am excited to see the positive impact this continues to make on our business.