From September 15th to October 15th, we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month to honor our Hispanic communities’ deep history and culture. With over 20 Hispanic countries across the globe, there are many different cultures to learn about, and Hispanic Heritage Month is the perfect opportunity to do so. No two communities are the same; they all come with their own traditions, cuisines, and language variations.
During this time, multiple countries celebrate their independence days, including Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. There are many reasons to celebrate and learn about the history of our Hispanic colleagues, and today we start with SEI Miami’s own Michelle Coca. In this spotlight, we’ll talk about Nicaraguan culture with Michelle, who continues to immerse herself in her heritage and wants to pass it on for generations to come.
Tell us about your background.
Funnily enough, we’re doing this interview on Nicaragua Independence Day (September 15th) — where my family is from! My parents left during the Civil War in the 1980s. My dad went to Panama for university, and my mom went to the United States. Though they both came from the same town, they didn’t meet until they were both in Miami! I grew up hearing their stories about how they crossed the southern border to have a better life for themselves and their families. They started from very humble beginnings in their careers: my dad worked at BJ’s Wholesale Club, and my mom worked as a housekeeper. Their persistence helped propel them in their careers and allowed them to buy a house and raise a family.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
To me, Hispanic Heritage Month means community. I grew up in a Hispanic-majority community, surrounded by Nicaraguan heritage everywhere I went. Whether in the supermarket or walking down the street, I could see many traditions, especially the language, were brought over and preserved. The month also means honoring my roots. Even outside this month, I continue to hear others’ stories and viewpoints and immerse myself in knowing what people persevered through to enrich their lives and honor their heritage.
How do you celebrate your heritage?
I celebrate my heritage by carrying my culture and a love for my community everywhere I go. When I was younger and would go back to Nicaragua, a tradition that I celebrated was for the local saint. We would have street processions with horseback riding, and it was just a fun way to spend my summers. Recently, I’ve also been helping my best friend teach his kids about Nicaraguan heritage, including our dialect of Spanish, so they can have a taste of how we grew up.
What is something you wish people knew more about Hispanic heritage?
Each Hispanic country is diverse in its language, cuisine, and activities. Countries even have geographical differences that you wouldn’t expect. For example, I met someone from Ecuador who told me how they could travel from the mountains to the beaches in just a day. As for Nicaragua, it’s a huge country, and there are so many beautiful places, including a freshwater lake that has sharks in it and the Nicaraguan Crater. If you ever visit, it’s truly a sight to see.
How do you encourage embracing your culture at SEI?
As someone new to SEI, I haven’t done much here yet, but I used to work on marketing campaigns in previous companies. For example, we launched campaigns and identified how we would communicate effectively to various Hispanic and Latin American groups. It was important to us to recognize the diversity in their cultures. Now at SEI, I’m happy that we have DE&I champions in our office, like Stephanie Blossom. They actively find initiatives and celebrations and spread awareness of these to the larger SEI group.