Multicultural Colombia: Is this an Oxymoron?

Multicultural Colombia: Is this an Oxymoron?

The cultural mosaic that is found within the fabric of multicultural Colombia is much different than that which is found in Canada. This is one of the things I, as a Canadian, have paid much attention to when coming back to Canada. No one is out of place in Canada; at least not in the major cities. Canada is arguably the most multicultural country in the world (sorry USA, I think we have you beat.) Colombia, on the other hand, embraces a much different form of multiculturalism, a form that doesn’t involve modern immigration.

Ya, Canada’s pretty beautiful too.

It’s funny what we have a greater appreciation for once leaving our own country. The random biggest craving I had while I was in Colombia? Indian food. Is Indian food Canadian? No, but in a funny way it is. Multiculturalism has brought some of the best Indian food outside of Delhi to within Canada’s borders.

Colombia, on the other hand, doesn’t even have a single Indian restaurant in it’s second largest city, Medellin. I realize the reasoning behind this; there are probably less people of Indian heritage in all of Colombia than in a square kilometer in Vancouver. On top of this, Colombians aren’t accustomed to, nor do they enjoy Indian food.

The illustration of Indian food I make just as an example of things that we take for granted in Canada. The world is within our borders, and we can find near anything we want from any corner of the world within our major cities. This is not possible in Colombia, even in the capital of Bogota.


Slave trade statue in Cartagena. This sad history is part of Colombia’s multiculturalism.


OK, I’ve focused a lot on the food aspect of multiculturalism; I’ve done this for two reason. One, it’s a big part of a culture. Two, I love food.

Obviously there is much more than food options to concern yourself with when talking about multiculturalism. Colombia, in many ways, is a multicultural country; it’s just not multicultural in a way in which a Canadian is familiar. Within Colombia’s borders there are a plethora of indigenous tribes, all with their own customs, cultures, traditions, clothing, and yes, food.

There are also many people descending from different backgrounds. Colombia has the third largest population of people with African heritage in the New World, behind only the USA and Brazil. The dances, food, drink, music, and customs of this Colombian group is extremely rich. I had the opportunity to attend the Pacific Music Night during the Feria de Cali. A non-black Colombian was a rare sight this evening, never mind a gringo like your’s truly.

Colombia’s Pacific Coast is largely of African decent.

This Pacific Music Night reflected very clearly to me the rich diversity of Colombia’s different people. I was able to try their food (mostly fried fish,) their drink (terrible tasting fermented who-knows-what,) and their dance (which is much better than their food or alcohol.) One of my most vivid memories from Colombia was dancing in the middle of a dance circle, having about 20 black Colombians cheering me on. Then, with the warmth that was so frequently shown me while in Colombia, they went about showing me new moves to work on, all the while cheering me on when I got close to nailing said move.

Carnaval in Barranquilla is a “must-see” event to see the beauty and complexity of a multicultural Colombia.


The true fibre of a country comes out during their festivals. Nowhere is this more evident than during the Carnaval de Barranquilla. Carnaval is Colombia’s biggest festival, and the second largest Carnaval on the continent. The whole of Colombia’s history, culture, traditions, and people can be seen dancing down the streets of Barranquilla during this amazing event. You’d have a challenge arguing that Colombia wasn’t multicultural after witnessing, and participating in this spectacle of colour, life, people, and culture.

Having traveled widely around Colombia, I can definitely say that it is multicultural. The Paisas of Medellin are as culturally different to the Costeños as Canadians are to Europeans. The Cogi people of the Sierra Nevadas are a world away from the Rolos of Bogota. This is multiculturalism in Colombia. They just don’t have Indian food.

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