The familiar sound of cumbias blared in the background skirts swaying to the beat of the music, as varying dialects of spanish excitedly chattered over the notes-characteristic of any good family party. Bright, framed paintings of pan dulce and earrings made from loteria cards conjured powerful images of childhood.
Amidst the bittersweet backdrop of LA’s gentrification, the Latinx community is redefining their culture through events like Mujeres Market, a space solely for women of color to sell their goods and art while supporting one another.
The communal event was hosted by Nalgona Positivity Pride, an organization that supports women of color while rejecting the limiting stereotypes that surround them.
One of the vendors, Ingrid Manera founder of ING Couture, which sells handmade jewelry, recognized the need for such a female dominated space. She called local Latinx her “target audience” since she made “childhood-inspired goods” that they would relate and connect to.
In fact, many of the motifs in Manera’s jewelry could be seen in others’ goods, reflecting a common shared experience. These motifs included skulls or calaveras- a homage to the culturally profound Dia de los Muertos and roses-a tether to Catholicism.
One of the most distinct subjects featured was popular Mexican artist and activist, Frida Kahlo. Unlike Mattel’s latest exploitation, Kahlo’s presence here was neither appropriative nor cold– it was appreciative and authentic. She adorned compact mirrors and wallets, artwork and handbags- the sentimentality and respect evident in the craftsmanship. Kahlo’s iconic brow has become a symbol of nonconformism, particularly a rejection of Western beauty standards and gender roles- the very same ideas reverberating throughout the market.
The effort to reclaim the past continues stereotype by stereotype, word by word.
For centuries, women of color were aptly labelled ‘“brujas” for practicing herbal and spiritual healing methods. Cognizant of these damaging roots, vendors like Brujita Skincare promote the importance of human connection to the earth through a health conscious line of products. From vegan face masks to eternal balms, the all natural goods are made from clays and earth powders, sourced locally from Mexico.
The art and goods reflect a pivotal moment in Latinx culture, as the traditional is crafted through a contemporary lens, staying relevant but rooted in herstory.
Ceramic calaveras were made home to succulents and cacti-perfect for the eco conscious bruja. Chile rellenos, soyrizo and nopales were all offered as plant based options. Signs everywhere promoted veganism and all natural products-a physical tether to their roots in herbal healing and appreciation.
Many vendors also showed support for body positivity and inclusivity with t-shirts proudly emblazoned with “brown is beautiful” which featured images of women of all shades, sizes and style boldly staring down the viewer. One particularly powerful pin read, “decolonize body image”- recognizing that the beauty standards for women of color are distorted through the westernized male gaze.
Community outreach didn’t end at racial or gender awareness advocation. As I bought a shirt, a man handed me a flier and passionately began telling me about the clean water crisis plaguing East LA. Others stopped and listened, interested and disappointed at the effect this would have on their community.
The shirt was from Ni Santas, a women’s collective that aims to “rewrite history through art, according to their mission statement. It was pale pink with a soft lavender calligraphy that perfectly juxtaposed the ‘fuck off’ attitude of the script which read, “La Que No Es Puta No Disfruta” in the center, a succinct condemnation of our slut shaming society. It perfectly captured the vibe of the scene: Latinx, feminine and unapologetic.
As if right on cue, a fellow browser looked over at my purchase and yelled, “Fuck yeah, mama! I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks!” Instead of throwing judgmental glances or ignoring her, the surrounding passersby yelled and whooped along with her, instantly eliciting a sense of community. A distinct “yaaaasssss queen” could be heard from the crowd- the ultimate acknowledgement of approval.
Each booth and attendee represented more than one distinct group, melding race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, politics and body image, wonderfully challenging how the world perceives women of color, giving a voice to contemporary Latinx women: a voice that is loud, confident, and defiant.