Sharing culture can be as simple as sharing a meal

May 1, 2024 Chelsey Sleator
How Oscar Castaneda has used his cultural connection to food to build a community at Schwab.

Schwab employee, Oscar Castenada (left), with his son and fellow employee, also named Oscar Castenada.

Schwab employee, Oscar Castenada (left), with his son and fellow employee, also named Oscar Castenada.

Oscar has had a long career in customer service, but he joined Schwab two and half years ago, after seeing the impact that the company had on his son, also Oscar, who started working at Schwab the year prior. 

“I noticed that he was more assertive in the way that he talked. The words that he used and the way he talked about his career, and life and development changed,” explains Oscar. “I was like who’s this?” 

So when his son told him that Schwab was hiring for customer service roles in Advisor Services, Oscar was immediately interested. He interviewed for the Orlando-based role and was offered the job. 

At first, he was overwhelmed by the training; he remembered his son feeling the same way when he started. But he says it was good for his ego, because he was used to being the go-to guy at other jobs. This was an opportunity to really learn something new. 

“Now I feel like my job is meaningful, which makes it all worth it,” explains Oscar.

Culture and comfort through food

Oscar grew up in Guatemala where many of his childhood memories circulate around summer vacations at his grandparent’s home and savoring his grandmother’s famous tamales. “She made the best tamales in the town,” he explains. “Every morning the entire town came to buy the family’s dairy products, including the sweet cream and all the cheeses, but mostly they came to buy my grandmother’s tamales.” 

Eventually Oscar and his parents moved to the United States, and his grandmother passed away. While he was thriving in the U.S., he missed important parts of his family and his culture, including the famous tamales. 

One particularly hard winter, Oscar’s mother traveled to Guatemala to seek medical treatment for cancer. Back in Orlando, Oscar saw how challenging it was for his father to be alone for the holidays, worrying about his wife. Oscar knew he needed comfort, so he decided to recreate his grandmother’s tamales for him. He tracked down a cousin who had the recipe, and since there were no Guatemalan grocery stores, he face-timed with her in a Mexican grocery store to find the ingredients that were closest to the recipe. Back home, he followed the recipe by toasting, mixing and steaming the ingredients.

“I was humbled by the process involved to make tamales,” explains Oscar. “I was proud to share them with my father and I wanted to share them with others.”

Cooking is caring

Oscar has found that food has been an easy way to share his culture with his colleagues. In fact, he has a favorite quote: “A meeting without food should be an email.” He laughs as he shares the quote and then gets more serious as he describes himself as an emotional man who shows he cares through food. 

“If I bring food to work, it’s because I really care about the team,” he explains. “Cooking shows that you put in effort for them, and that you want to sit down and share with them.”

Early on at Schwab, Oscar met a network of diverse colleagues through GLOBE, an employee resource group dedicated to connecting employees, clients, and communities across different cultures. Shortly after joining the group, he was asked to be the chair of the Orlando chapter. Since one way Oscar connects to his culture is through food, he decided to bring food, culture, and colleagues together through a special GLOBE event he called “Taste of Orlando.”

A group of Schwab employees at the Taste of Orlando event, where they shared and enjoyed food linked to their culture.

A group of Schwab employees at the Taste of Orlando event, where they shared and enjoyed food linked to their culture.

At the event, which was held in Schwab’s Orlando cafeteria in March, he asked colleagues to prepare and share a meal linked to their culture. There were empanadas from Colombia, tabbouleh from Lebanon, ramen from Japan, pastries from France, and hibiscus tea from Africa. Oscar, of course, prepared his grandmother’s famous Guatemalan tamales.

Along with sharing food, colleagues shared the stories of where the food came from, the authentic ingredients they used, and why the food is important to their culture and to them personally.

"The event was inspiring and a tremendous success,” says Oscar. “We brought amazing family recipes to life, while showcasing other cultures and different parts of the world. We can’t wait to do it again later this year.”

One of the reasons Oscar wanted to join Schwab was because he already had family there, his son. But he’s also found a diverse community with whom he wants to cook for, sit down and share a meal with, and learn about.

“After seeing my son here, I was already biased towards Schwab,” says Oscar. “But since I’ve joined and made the connections I’ve made and experienced the culture myself, I have so much gratitude.”