Originally from Torreón, Mexico, and a proud Birminghamian since 2001, Buffalo Rock Company‘s business development coordinator and social media strategist Cristina Almanza is passionate about serving as the president of Fiesta, Alabama’s largest and longest-running multicultural event. In its 14th year, the nonprofit event brings in more than 10,000 attendees from across the region each year to enjoy world-renowned music acts, art, food and culture and raises funds for deserving Hispanic students looking to pursue higher educational opportunities. As a highly respected businesswoman and community leader with a charismatic personality and a love for the Magic City, Cristina’s involvement in Fiesta and her ongoing community engagement on behalf of Buffalo Rock Company make her a Birmingham gem. We are delighted to welcome today’s FACE of Birmingham, Cristina Almanza.
You are originally from Torreón, Mexico. What brought you to Birmingham?
I originally came to Alabama as the result of a scholarship to Jacksonville State University’s International House program. My intention was to study in the USA, get some work experience and then return home. However, I landed my first job in Anniston right after college. It was during this time and after attending my first Sidewalk Film Festival in 2009 that I got to see all the amazing historical buildings in Birmingham, including the Alabama Theatre. And, after seeing all of the happenings in town on @InstagramBham, I decided I wanted to be part of this growing and vibrant city. What sealed the deal was that I liked the idea of being able to get to a good-sized airport within 15 minutes versus an hour and a half, which meant I could get back to my family quickly. As a result, I decided to look for a job in Birmingham and I moved to town.
Tell us about your role as Buffalo Rock Company’s business development coordinator and social media strategist. Describe your typical day.
Every day is different at my job. I handle our social media for our 14 divisions, as well as our Grapico and Buffalo Rock ginger ale brands. I also assist with community engagement that Buffalo Rock is involved in or that they sponsor in the Birmingham metro area. I seek out new business opportunities in the area and I am also a liaison for our Hispanic community.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the fact that I have no typical day. My job tasks change daily. I also like the fact that my job allows me to be very involved in my community. One of the best things about Buffalo Rock is that because we are a local, family-owned business, we understand the intricacies that come with owning your own business; we strive to be a business partner and not just a typical vendor. I love that because my dad owns his own business at home and there is a pride and joy in helping those small businesses succeed.
Tell us about Fiesta and your involvement with it.
Fiesta is the largest Hispanic event in the State of Alabama. This is the 14th year that the event will take place. We have people coming from all around the state — from Huntsville to Mobile. This year, I have the honor to be the president of our volunteer board of directors. The best part is that Fiesta celebrates our Hispanic culture and not just the culture of one Latin country, exclusively. Fiesta is not just a music or food festival; it’s also a showcase of all the good things Birmingham has to offer. Our event is one of a kind in that it has music, dancing, performing arts, children’s activities, sports, a cultural village that features the offerings of many Hispanic countries and, of course, food from all over the world.
When people attend Fiesta, what are they most surprised to learn about Hispanic culture?
The fact that Hispanic can mean that you are from North America, Central America, South America and even Europe. The term Hispanic encompasses so many different countries around the world and, while we are united mostly by Spanish as our common language, not all of us eat tortillas or spicy foods. The Hispanic culture is truly a melting pot and we are each so diverse in our respective cultures.
What is most challenging about promoting Fiesta?
The amount of organization that goes into producing the event. While most in the “Anglo” community might not have heard about the artists that we bring to the event, they are well-recognized within the Hispanic community. We have been fortunate to have GRAMMY-Award-winning performers as well as famous TV personalities. Our volunteer board works diligently to make sure that we have some sort of representation from our main Hispanic communities. All of us have real jobs but still make time to make sure Fiesta is always well represented.
What is most rewarding?
Fiesta is truly a family event that anyone from 2 years old to 100 years old can enjoy. We have five villages that represent a wide range of community partners and vendors, including a health and wellness village and a food village where you can taste and purchase many different Hispanic foods from Puerto Rican to Cuban foods, to Mexican tacos to Salvadorian pupusas. We have a stage that features the many rhythms of music that are played throughout different Hispanic countries.
What do you love most about Birmingham?
How diverse and varied our city is. We have everything a major city has and there is no need to leave town unless you really want to. I love attending all of the different events that Birmingham has throughout the year. We are blessed that every weekend there is something going on. We have great cultural attractions, museums, concerts and food. I love the fact that I pretty much can eat any type of food from barbecue to Italian to Vietnamese. I also love all of our local breweries.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Hard work and good deeds do pay off. Work as hard as you can for your dreams but know that it is okay to let go and change.
Do you have a favorite local spot, be it a hidden gem or local restaurant?
Gip’s Place. It is the last juke joint in the State of Alabama and a hidden gem. Mr. Gip is 96 years old but more alive than many people that I know. It is always a good time.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That even though I am not from Birmingham, when I retire I would love to be a tour guide for the city of Birmingham. I love sharing our city with people and telling them how great it is.
Any guilty pleasures?
If I am not out and about, I love to be lazy and lounge on my couch in my PJs and no makeup all day long.
What is your best piece of advice?
Change is good and some things happen for a reason. You must know that everything is going to be OK.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things that you cannot live without?
Popcorn with Salsa Valentina, Google and my iPhone.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Cristina in Downtown Birmingham at Linn Park, the site of the 2016 Fiesta celebration.