Just as our nation marks Hispanic Heritage Month, WithersRavenel recognizes the contributions of Hispanic-Americans in our company, in North Carolina and across the United States.
The monthlong celebration runs Sept. 15 – Oct. 15. Hispanic Heritage Month honors Americans who trace their heritage to Spain, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Spanish-speaking islands of the Caribbean, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
At WithersRavenel, employees from across our Land Development, Planning and Geomatics departments identify as Hispanic. Their experiences growing up and present-day continue to define and reflect their rich heritage. Below are some thoughts from a few of our employees:
Brendie Vega, Planning Director
Brendie was born in Mexico City and lived there until she was 8 years old. She still has a lot of family in Mexico and went back for a wedding early this year before the COVID-19 pandemic.
While childhood memories stick with her, it’s the culture and her heritage that continue to loom large. She referenced the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, the main square in a Mexico City neighborhood whose name refers to the three periods of Mexican history reflected in its architecture: Pre-Columbian, Spanish colonial, and Mexico.
“There are certain plants, certain smells that bring back memories,” she said, mentioning the Bougainvillea. She also loves how Mexican culture embraces bright colors, whether in clothing, on houses, or elsewhere. But there are also other touchstones.
“I’m proud that my dad went to school in a building with murals painted by Diego Rivera,” she said. “I knew who Frida Kahlo was before she became an it’ thing.”
She delights in frequenting Mexican establishments in Raleigh, including Centro, a cantina near WithersRavenel’s Raleigh office that offers authentic cuisine and tequila (which Brendie claims makes any day better). She’s also a big fan of Raleigh’s Gym Tacos, a favorite food truck which has recently expanded to a brick and mortar location.
Arnaldo Echevarria, Land Development Project Manager
Arnaldo was born and raised in Puerto Rico, one of eight siblings growing up in a coastal town. His parents are part of large families of well – nine siblings each. Relatives fill the town and the area. Arnaldo recalls spending a lot of the time at the beach, playing baseball and riding bikes with his many siblings and cousins.
Family plays a large role in Arnaldo’s life and his Puerto Rican heritage. He returns often to the island, particularly for holidays and special occasions. A particular holiday tradition that Arnaldo remembers from his childhood, and today, is the celebration of the Three Wise Men, also known as Three Kings Day or Epiphany, on Jan. 6.
“Kids get a little box together with grasses and water,” he said. This would be food and drinks for the camels, which would be traveling with the Three Wise Men to visit the baby Jesus.
Additionally, Christmas is a special time for celebration. Arnaldo says a pig roast, singing songs and playing instruments are among the holiday traditions, while a special drink holds a fond place in his heart.
Coquito is a coconut-based alcoholic drink with spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Arnaldo says big batches are made at the holidays and bottled to be shared with family and friends as gifts.
Arnaldo says another culinary tradition from Puerto Rico is Arroz Con Gandules, a combination of rice, pigeon peas and pork. To get his fix of traditional street food in the Triangle, he enjoys Pressed by Spanglish, a food truck that now has a brick-and-mortar location in Raleigh. Another recommendation: Boricua Soul at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham.
But for the best Puerto Rican cooking, Arnaldo just stays home. His wife, also Puerto Rican and raised about a mile from where he grew up, is an excellent cook. He also loves that they share the same heritage and memories.
“We love to visit for special occasions and see our loved ones,” he said. “But we also keep our traditions alive here.”