DEI: Hispanic Heritage Month 2021

Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from September 15 – October 15. Originally established as a week-long event and later expanded to a month-long celebration in 1988, the holiday highlights the contributions and vital presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans. To celebrate, we are highlighting Hispanic members of our local creative community to share their stories of connection, pride, and inspiration.

A native Colombian, Camila Ruiz graduated from the graphic design program at the University of Houston in 2018, and has been working for local creative agencies since. Bogotá, her hometown, is stage to a vast array of creative outlets that feed from and fuel the country’s rich culture, and help heal the profound damage caused by an internal conflict that has been active for over half a century. Growing up in a context of sociopolitical instability instilled in her a deep sensibility toward social issues. Aside from volunteering, Camila seeks to be able to use design as a vehicle to continue helping empower marginalized communities in Houston and contribute to social impact initiatives in Colombia. Things that spark joy: dancing, food, the outdoors, and music.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
It is such an intrinsic part of my identity and confidence. As an immigrant, assimilation and adaptation were a painful process — I felt confused for a while and even ashamed of being “different” or not speaking English well. With time, embracing who I am and where I came from became my North Star. Being part of this massive community sprinkled across the globe is a beautiful thing that ignites a strong sense of pride for me.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
Being the first in my immediate family to graduate from college. Simultaneously, being a professional graphic designer in an industry where women and Latinxs are underrepresented.

What Hispanic designers, artists, writers, or other creatives do you admire? And why?
Some artists I’m into are muralists Ledania and Mugre Diamante from Colombia, painter Hilda Palafox from México, and Hey — a female-founded design studio from Spain. And too many others to list.

Where do you find inspiration?
Mostly from other people. Immigrant success stories. Classmates, colleagues, and friends out there starting their own businesses, freelancing, winning competitions, doing good for the community, moving up the ladder, etc. That’s a huge source of inspiration that encourages me to keep making strides.

Olga Medrano is a California native but has been living in Houston for over 10 years. She graduated from the University of Houston and was fortunate enough to land a job as a Junior Art Director at Lopez Negrete Communications, a Hispanic advertising agency. Although she’s immersed herself into the hustle and bustle of the ad world, she always makes time to pursue two additional passions: photography and adding to her enviable collection of vinyl records.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
It means being part of a hybrid culture that is flexible, different, and a privilege which brings me a sense of pride in the most humble way. From witnessing the resilience and hard work of my parents, who were immigrants to the US, to seeing other fellow Hispanics push forward to achieve their goals but still remain true to their culture is very inspirational. I am proud to be a first-generation Latina because I can tap into what my parents have taught me from their country, such as certain cultural traditions, and then adapt it to my American customs. I love how lively and colorful my Latino culture is. The abundance of love, respect for family, and continuous hard work make me feel very honored to be part of it.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
One of them would have to be when I won my first Silver Addy Award only being a few months into my advertising job. It was for a social campaign over Hispanic Heritage Month. Winning that award meant a lot to me because I was able to share what HHM represents to me, to spread awareness about specific subcultures of Latino groups that are usually overlooked. With this social campaign, I was able to do what I love best, design with no limitations on a topic that involves my ethnicity.

Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere, whether it’s watching a film, listening to songs my mom used to dance to, or traveling to another state. I seek inspiration wherever I go and don’t limit myself. Despite the chaos that happens in the world, there is always something that can spark an idea.

Jose Chavero Rivera, MFA, is a multidisciplinary concept artist specializing in visual design. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and a Master of Fine Arts in graphic design from the University of Houston. Presently, he is a full-time Graphic/Website Designer at Baylor College of Medicine and a part-time Design Specialist at JCR Design.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
Belonging. When I moved to Houston in 2017, I knew no one. I felt alone, displaced, and excluded. I missed home—my parents, family, and friends. Momentarily, un-belonging affected my mental and physical health. But after connecting with the Houston Latino and Hispanic communities, I felt well again. Therefore, belonging to a Latino/Hispanic community is extremely important. To me, it means relation; comfort; home.

What is an important cultural tradition in your family or community?
El 16 de septiembre—la independencia de México de España de 1810.

How does your Hispanic heritage impact your creative work?
Everything I do is Latino; neglecting this would be dismissing my heredity.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
I’m proud of the health science education impact I’m making on our local community and beyond through graphic design.

How has your creative practice evolved over the past 12 months?
A usability-first approach, a form to follow function—a modernist methodology in which the purpose of the product guides the design.

What Hispanic designers, artists, writers, or other creatives do you admire? And why?
José Esteban Muñoz, Frida Kahlo, and Gato Negro Ediciones are all Latino creative nouns I admire—disruptors of sociocultural prejudice.

Where do you find inspiration?
Scholarship, research, and conversation.

What’s next on the horizon?
Large-format, print visuals. I have an upcoming independent project which will mainly consist of large-format graphics, including branding, signage, and possibly installation. I’m taking on this project because it’s a great, continuous learning opportunity and design challenge.

Giovanna Pineda, also known as Kindred Spirits, is a Mexican-American graphic designer based in Houston. Before studying graphic design in 2018 at Shillington in New York, she studied Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania and worked in communications and operations at a charter school in Brooklyn. When not designing, you can probably find her searching for new houseplants or working on earring-making and printing skills!

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
As a Latina who is mixed with both indigenous and European ancestry, it’s an interesting thing to consider. At the forefront for myself, personally, are the values of honoring your family, working hard, and doing the best you can with what you have. But culturally, I also know that as a member of this community, I have to acknowledge all of my roots and accept the chance to use my knowledge and speak up when other Latinx individuals of Indigenous or Black ancestry are being treated differently. So more than anything, Latinidad to me means acknowledging all of the different experiences that led to the creation of our culture as we know it — the good, and the evil. It means that we have a chance to preserve pieces of all of the different histories and traditions in our lives, rather than letting antiquated colonial narratives bury them in the past. Non-European perspectives in the Latin world are very much alive and well, and I accept that I have to do the work of understanding how my European roots impact my ease of movement in spaces like the industry of graphic design. I also acknowledge the responsibility of using my privilege to spread awareness about things related to Latin America that other people may not know about. For example, a lot of people don’t know that Mayans are still around—and they speak Maya. “Aztecs” are Nahua people, and they speak Nahuatl. These are important things for people to know and understand—and that’s really just scratching the surface…we have lots of work to do.

How does your Hispanic heritage impact your creative work?
My heritage impacts my work by influencing my creative style and also contributing to the types of clients I choose to work with—though it’s not something I do exclusively, I really enjoy getting to further amplify Latinx voices by working with Latinx business owners and creating projects that capture different Latinx experiences, like the work I did with Casa de Rosas, Sazon Sin Ley, and Xicanayork. Stylistically, I’m very drawn to bright color palettes and striking typography—reminiscent of the vivid murals in Mexico City telling you what’s on the menu at the taqueria, or what services are available at the auto shop. I’ve also always been interested in print work and murals because of how closely connected I felt to the works of Jose Guadalupe Posada and Diego Rivera. I’m also very drawn to natural subjects like flora and fauna, which you’ll often see depicted in many of the trinkets available at markets across Latin America.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
First off, I guess starting my own freelancing practice is one of my proudest accomplishments! It’s something I never pictured myself doing, and yet, here I am, finding clients and creating work for them. Being a child of immigrant parents sometimes means that we question the feasibility of different roads because they haven’t been traveled before, and being a woman makes it that much harder to take steps in those directions because we’re that much more concerned about failure, about appearing less competent or too demanding, or about taking unconventional paths that people aren’t accustomed to. I feel like it’s also heavier by tenfold for me, because I’m also an only child! But I’ve found that being a creative and stepping out towards uncharted territory was the bravest thing I ever did. In spite of all of those obstacles and seemingly impossible tasks, I’m here, and I’m doing what I love with clients I love working with. In terms of specific projects, I’m pretty proud of the report I designed in 2020 for Texas Organizing Project and Culture Concepts, which I collaborated on very closely with Cecilia Ballí, an incredible Latina journalist, anthropologist, and writer for Texas Monthly. Working on the branding for The Lady Box by Diamond Jack from Love is Blind on Netflix was also pretty cool.

What unexpected joy did you discover over the past 12 months?
I discovered the joy of printmaking and the inspiration that houseplants can provide! Before the pandemic hit, I went to Burning Bones Press and attended the Houston Print Walk, where I learned a ton about local printmaking and all of the different printing methods and styles that people work on. Attending that event made me finally make the jump to buy a beginner block printing set and carve portraits of my plants, which ended up being a really soothing practice for me, and a way for me to get more involved with the Houston plant community, too.

What Hispanic designers, artists, writers, or other creatives do you admire? And why?
In terms of visuals, I love the work of Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza of Dignidad Rebelde in California, Johanna Toruño of the Unapologetic Street Series in New York, and of locals David Maldonado of Cap Dav Jon and Renee Aless Martinez of Burning Bones Press. All of these artists have styles and colors that really catch my eye and convey profound messages, whether it’s about Latinx politics, culture, or just daily life. I love art that synthesizes the colors and forms of Latin art while turning them into something new through the artist’s lens. In terms of writers, I love the work of Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez, Yesika Salgado, and Erika Sánchez. They continue to push the boundaries of what people expect from Latinas, whether it’s nonfiction, poetry, or fiction—and they are unafraid of being vulnerable, which is something that I think every Latinx person could learn from. We’re always taught to tough it out and stay strong, but sometimes it’s healthy to be open and honest about what you’re going through. In terms of other creatives, I love the work of Evelyn Martinez, photographer and earring maker of Xicanayork in the Bronx, and of local entrepreneurs and makers Marlén from Amanecer Co. Coffee, Stephany of De Luna y Tierra, Jennise of Tiny Cloud, and Brenda of Studio Luto. All of these creatives have work that feels airy, natural, and organic; but each one has a voice that comes through very distinctly in their work and a way of making their craft their own.

Where do you find inspiration?
​​Inspiration is everywhere if you’re open to it! Over time, things start to jump out at you wherever you go. Usually, I get a lot of inspiration from other creatives on Instagram, from old signs and mugs in vintage shops, from murals and old buildings around town, and from pieces at art museums. I also tend to keep a close eye on restaurant menus and t-shirts!

Valentina Gomez Bravo is an award-winning Creative Multi-Passionate Professional and Businesswoman, Author, Speaker, Professor, Thought Leader, and Change-Maker dedicated to creating, transforming, and building strong and purposeful multicultural brands.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
It means hard work, resilience, strength, passion, resolve, and hunger for doing great things. It means love, family, and supporting each other as we embrace change and pave the way for future generations.

What is an important cultural tradition in your family or community?
In my family, we make hallacas together every Christmas season. Hallacas are a typical Venezuelan dish made out of cornmeal and stuffed with beef, pork, chicken, raisins, capers, and olives, then wrapped in a banana leaf and traditionally served on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. During the holidays we all get together and turn the making of the hallacas into a family party. We set up a production line, everybody gets a “job” or role assigned in the process, and we get our favorite drinks and music ready and just have the best time together. Friends, neighbors, in-laws, everyone is invited to join. The day usually ends with a tasting of the first batch as a reward for all the hard work.

How does your Hispanic or Latino heritage impact your creative work?
I was raised in a very diverse and multicultural environment and lived in several cities and countries growing up. With this, I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced a wide variety of opportunities that have opened my eyes, my heart, and my mind to soak in all of the magic that is out there in the world to see. I became a very curious, driven, and ambitious woman, always striving to represent my people in the best light possible while sharing the richness of our multicultural vibrant background and how it connects with the rest of humanity. All of my life experiences have always been a big part of my people-centered creative process.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
There have been many accomplishments to celebrate, and I hope they keep coming. Becoming a vessel for change, evolution, innovation, and growth for my community has been extremely fulfilling for me, and having the opportunity to impact others, help students, professionals, and small businesses from diverse backgrounds and talents take up space in the marketplace, live in their purpose, and make their voices heard fuels me every day. And of course, becoming an author this year and receiving multiple local and regional awards solidifies for me that I am going in the right direction.

What Hispanic designers, artists, writers, or other creatives do you admire? And why?
Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesus Rafael Soto, and Lia Bermudez are three of my favorite artists of all time. They are all Venezuelan, like me, and their work has always been a big source of inspiration. They are all dynamic, colorful, creative, architectural, vibrant, and downright spectacular.

Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration is in the people and the world around me. The everyday happenings around the world always spark ideas. Music, movies, street art, museum exhibits, great stories from everyday people… life is a great source of inspiration. I do a lot of people watching and social listening; to me, that is the best and most reliable source of creativity.

What’s next on the horizon?
I have a lot of dreams and ideas I am working on but I like to keep them very close until they’re ready to be shared with the world. What I can tell you now, is that I am open to where the universe takes me, being very present through my work and always preparing to seize new opportunities as they present themselves.

Photo credit/Erik Paul Pictures

Enrique Garza Jr. is a native Houstonian from the predominant Hispanic East End neighborhood. He currently works for the University of Houston’s Marketing and Communications Department as a Multimedia Designer.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
Being part of the Hispanic community fills me with pride, especially in the creative industry where Hispanics and other minorities are underrepresented.

What is an important cultural tradition in your family or community?
Cooking is emblematic of the rich traditions Hispanics practice, especially during the holidays where tamales and buñuelos are a staple.

How does your Hispanic heritage impact your creative work?
Having Hispanic heritage helps me broaden the field of influence and inspiration which greatly impacts my creative work.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
Having my work displayed in a real-world setting across the UH campus.

What Hispanic designers, artists, writers, or other creatives do you admire? And why?
Pablo Ferro, the Cuban-American graphic designer. Ferro’s career was prolific. The first time I became aware of work was watching the documentary “Pablo” which chronicles his life.

Blas Sebastian Pereyra is a high school dropout. Actually, he did not make it past the 9th grade. You could infer what you might about him from omission and you would probably be right. What one might be surprised by, is how much that path gave him incredible memories and experiences that have informed much of his outlook on life and reflective lens on the practice of design while being able to do and make some cool shit along the way. After bouncing around a bit that included a couple of kiddos and a lengthy stint breakdancing around the world, he did get to college. On a suggestion, he entered the graphic design program at the University of Houston and graduated in 2008. He is currently with Deutser Consultancy & Creative working to tell meaningful stories that are authentic, culturally relevant, and inspiring for us all.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
This is an interesting question for me. It challenges me to think about myself in ways I have not thought about often. My family is of Argentine descent, and I was born and raised in H-town. I grew up in a predominately African American neighborhood and circled around a group of friends in school that were all Latin. I have an interesting mix of cultural influences that informed my childhood. And to boot, my mother was of Irish descent, yet spoke, cooked, and cursed at us in Spanish. I am a hip-hop kid of the ’90s. Having been a breakdancer for over 25 years, my identity is very much wrapped up in the culture of hip hop. Back when I started in Houston, Hispanic kids from all over the city were a vital part of the scene. In summation, I would say that what being part of the Hispanic community means to me has to do with growing up in different areas in Houston and that makes me feel well-nurtured. 

What is an important cultural tradition in your family or community?
We make Argentine empanadas every Christmas. The one and only empanadas 🙂 Recipes passed down from my great grandmother, grandmother, mother, and to me.

How does your Hispanic heritage impact your creative work?
It is a reminder that we need to make sure we are seeing everyone and being equitable in this profession, and that shows up in the work.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
The people I meet and learn from along the way in the practice of design.

How has your creative practice evolved over the past 12 months?
Graphic designer seems to have this old bent to it now. I do something “graphically”. Push some pixels around and make logos and shit. I am a storyteller. I am interested in your story. I am interested in organizing information. My creative approach has evolved into aligning reflection, empathy, and truth to something well made.

What unexpected joy did you discover over the past 12 months?
The overland community. It’s something I came across when I began looking into buying an off-road vehicle, then went down the YouTube rabbit hole and found I liked where I landed. Overlanding is about the journey. It’s identified by traveling to usually remote or out-of-the-way destinations, typically by a capable vehicle like a 4×4 off-road truck or even a motorcycle. A lot of people build out their trucks to be as self-reliant as possible. “Overlander” describes a vehicle that has been built to accommodate the journey to these places. It could be as simple as heading down to Matagorda beach for a few days or Marfa, Texas, to something more grueling like some off-roading trails in Colorado. 

What Hispanic designers, artists, writers, or other creatives do you admire? And why?
Christopher Vela. Immense talent with a humble spirit to match. 

Where do you find inspiration?
In people. In the forest. In my quiet space. In others’ work. In areas that have nothing to do with design.

What’s next on the horizon?
Getting a truck and building an overland rig. Learning to play drums. Writing a screenplay.

Christopher Vela is a freelance designer, animator, and illustrator. He enjoys helping clients and studios create something unique and special for their projects. His career started in 3D, but evolved over time once he was introduced to the world of motion graphics and style frames. Since then, he has continued working on his craft and is continually trying to push himself to come up with new ways to solve creative problems. When he’s not working, Christopher spends time with his lovely wife, explores the world through his son’s eyes, and watches his daughter hitting new milestones.

What is an important cultural tradition in your family or community?
It’s not so much of a tradition as it is a way of life, and for me, it’s been familia. For us, it has represented that they will always be there for you through the highs and lows in life, and celebrate you at every point.

How does your Hispanic heritage impact your creative work?
In one of the biggest ways, it’s been through color. I was born and raised in San Antonio, and always surrounded by a lot of beautiful color through fiestas, events, and the city itself.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
Listening and following my passion for illustration and animation in a 2D space. As artists, we tend to evolve in our careers, and I think that trusting our instincts to go down those paths will open more doors for you that you may have not walked through if you stayed in the same position forever.

How has your creative practice evolved over the past 12 months?
I took a big leap to go freelance at the start of the pandemic, which was scary as ever. But it’s been very fulfilling being able to try and find a balance of work and the family life.

What unexpected joy did you discover over the past 12 months?
Family. Especially during a pandemic, it’s been a challenge working from home, while being isolated from extended families. In that time, I got to spend more time with my wife and kids and be able to bond with them more than we ever have. Kids have a way of showing you what’s truly important in life, since they don’t care what you do for a living. You’ll always be mommy or daddy to them.

Where do you find inspiration?
All of the creative community including designers, artists, filmmakers, photographers, and so on. I think seeing folks come up with original stories and styles, and putting their own flare on it, pushes me to try and do the same. We all have our own creative voice to give to the world. And the world deserves to see yours.

What’s next on the horizon?
Still and always finding that balance of family, health, and work. I love what I do for a living, and am grateful that I can enjoy it. But your familia is who you are doing it for. They are what drive me to give my best into my work, in order to provide for them. Whether it be your spouse, partner, children, parents, or friends that are like family… they will always be worth it.

Julio Aguirre is a Goldsmith and Designer wreaking havoc across the jewelry industry. Prior to bringing mad visions of renowned jewelers to the Houston area, he got his bachelor’s degree in graphic design at the University of Houston. While he takes his business and work ethic seriously, his soul is always ready to head-bang and have a good time.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
It’s a culmination of values and traditions. Growing up in a Mexican-based household, you’re taught to treat everyone as family (Insert Vin Diesel meme here.) But in all seriousness, it’s embedded into you that no matter who someone is or where they come from, good manners and respect go a long way in creating meaningful relationships.

How does your Hispanic or Latino heritage impact your creative work?
Having parents that migrated into this country with no family or wealth to fall back on and seeing the struggles they went through, and how they were able to overcome the obstacles that life has put them through, taught me to cherish the opportunities given to me, hustle through it, and not give up no matter how tough it gets. Creativity has always been my best friend because of my heritage and has gotten me out of a lot of rough patches. That’s why no matter what crazy endeavors life throws at me, I’m always excited to pursue them.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
Loving what I do and being able to stay true to myself. In my line of work, it’s easy to become an egotistical maniac, but my humble upbringing and personality have kept me grounded.

What Hispanic designers, artists, writers, or other creatives do you admire? And why?
Raul Urias. His illustrating skills are insane! As someone who is obsessive in detail, no matter how small it may be, he’s a total badass at it. In my opinion, it’s those small touches that make such a big difference.

Where do you find inspiration?
Live music, eating a good meal, and hanging out with friends. I’m a bit of a workaholic, so shutting my brain down and enjoying life is the best medication I can get in order to stay inspired.

Eduardo Martinez is a multidisciplinary illustrator with a passion for whimsical drawings, picture books, crafts, and lettering. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design from The Art Institute of Houston.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
It means being immersed with culture, traditions, art, and delicious food.

How does your Hispanic heritage impact your creative work?
I was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Mexico is full of traditions and culture with an abundance of arts and crafts. A lot of my illustrations are influenced by this.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with big brands such as Budweiser, Houston Astros, Torchy’s Tacos, and a handful of children’s books.

How has your creative practice evolved over the past 12 months?
It’s always evolving. In addition to digital mediums, I delve between traditional and hand crafts.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration from books and visiting other countries.

What’s next on the horizon?
I am working on another picture book, activity books, and another big client which I cannot name yet 😉

Jessica Almanza is a Houston-born and Houston-based artist and photographer. She enjoys creating with her hands, whether it’s gardening, building, and designing her home, or making costumes for her children. She also loves exploring Houston and capturing beautiful images from different neighborhoods and communities. Her award-winning images have appeared in magazines, national marketing and branding campaigns, and multiple sites online. She is the creator and cultivator of CasaAlmanza.com, which features her photography and other artistic work.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
I love being a part of this community. I absolutely love it! Whenever I see a Latin artist or member of our community out there selling their creations or sharing their art and their expressions, I want to support them. I want to share what they’re creating with friends and family so others can see what great work is being made by members of this community. I feel such a sense of camaraderie with my community, so much that I seek them out, especially when traveling or when I’m outside of familiar areas. I like listening for Spanish, or seeing people who may not want to speak or be vocal until they hear a familiar greeting in Spanish, a question or even just a comment. Faces light up and you are connected—maybe for just a moment—but there’s something about that demeanor you carry going about your day, tolerating the mundane and just staying quiet, and then all of a sudden you just hear something familiar. It’s warming, a shared sense of community that can be spoken in just one unexpected sentence. Latina mothers know this especially well. Get a bunch of us together and we just know. There’s no further explanation for this. We just know.

What unexpected joy or inspiration did you discover over the past 12 months?
Gardening. It saved me. It healed me. Most importantly, it taught me patience. We’ve all been searching for joy over the past 12 months. When it came to some of my early projects, I wanted everything done at once. Or I would rush things, not really take the time to think, where is this going? With gardening, I had to slow down because the plant is going to follow a natural progression regardless of what you think or want. There’s something special about planting a seedling and waiting for it to sprout blossoms. I recently talked to my parents about a hazy childhood memory: I had this nagging image of a wall of roses. I recall the fragrances and colors and remembering how magical it felt to me as a kid, but I couldn’t remember if it was real or a dream or just something I imagined. I asked my parents about it, describing all the images and scents, and they said it was indeed real. We had taken a trip to Mexico and saw this wall of roses while walking. It is the earliest memory I have of falling in love with a garden. All of this inspired me to plant and dig and plant again. I’ve been reading and watching all I can about gardening. It’s what I photograph right now; I guess you can call my garden my muse. I capture still life. I photograph my children running around in the flower beds. Flowers, especially. I want a wall of roses in my backyard, and I want to take a whole bunch of photos of the delicate blooms.

Where do you find inspiration?
My parents. My mother’s resilience and my father’s ability to work with his hands. I admire how much my father worked for us. When I was younger, he worked as a carpenter, he built houses, he bounced around from various jobs and sites working himself to exhaustion. Over the years, his work evolved to supervisor and manager roles, and even though his work softened in a way, he seemed to work harder. I find it fascinating, inspiring how he can organize so many tasks and oversee crews on multiple sites, and he keeps everything together! And then he still comes over and shows me how to put together a box planter or put up drywall or play with his grandkids. I think I like using my hands a lot and making things because of what I watched him do growing up. My mother is from El Salvador. I see a lot of me, my personality, in her. I remember her always asking me where I got my creativity. She would say it absolutely did NOT come from her, but that she was very detail-oriented. The more I work on creative projects, or anything really, I realize that being detail-oriented is my driving force; it’s what leads everything, at least in my view. So even though my mom thinks she didn’t contribute to my creative side, she very much did. Finally, my husband. He’s my greatest advocate, he helps me, and he builds me back up when I get too down on myself.

Crystal Torres-Martinez is a self-taught web developer with an eye for design. You can find her working at Design At Work building new marketing sites or improving upon live sites. Her passion lies in building user-friendly experiences online that delight the user.

What does being part of the Hispanic or Latino community mean to you? 
Es un orgullo Latino. It gives me much pride to represent the community well. To set an example for my younger siblings and cousins to follow to build the life you want doing something you love. To give reason to the sacrifice my parents made leaving their life behind to give their kids the opportunity for a better one.

What is an important cultural tradition in your family or community?
The biggest tradition we hold is prioritizing the people in your life, both family and friends. The people in your life always come first, they are the reason to live, they will be there in the good times and bad. You love them and they will love you back.

How does your Hispanic or Latino heritage impact your creative work?
Being a first-generation American with parents that do not speak the language well, I’m well versed in how frustrating it can be to complete a process or task in a world that is not built for you. I bring this to my work by keeping in mind the different people that would encounter my work and ensuring I can provide the best experience for them.

What unexpected inspiration did you discover over the past 12 months?
I’ve found inspiration recently from incorporating analytics into my work. By viewing the types of frustrating events users had on websites, I was able to make recommendations for improvements on the site and for other sites where I found the same issue.

Alexandra Isabel Lechin is a Venezuelan-American multidimensional, multimedia artist. Her work focuses on anxiety and how her practice can pacify, transform, and become an emotional energy source, creating moments of internal reflection through wonder and play. Repetition, routine, and ritual are major elements of her practice. Each piece is her instinctual response to self-soothe during times of emotional unrest.

What is an important cultural tradition in your family or community?
A tradition in my family is making hallacas every year for Christmas. Hallacas are a tamal from Venezuela. It consists of corn dough stuffed with a stew of beef, pork, or chicken and other ingredients such as raisins, capers, and olives then wrapped in a banana leaf. Making them is a whole family ordeal, sharing stories through generations.

How does your Hispanic heritage impact your creative work?
My work has been predominantly influenced by Venezuelan artists such as Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesus Soto, and Gego. I draw influence from their styles, kinetic approaches and refusals to make political statements through their work.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
At this point, my proudest moment was being a participant in the Latinx show Withstand: Art in Times of Conflict. The show was at The Holocaust Museum. I was in the show with my elementary school art teacher. We made origami butterflies in the 5th grade for the museum and now we both have artworks in the show together. It was a real full-circle moment.

What unexpected joy did you discover over the past 12 months?
An unexpected joy I discovered was pottery and ceramics. As someone that struggles with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, this medium has brought me a lot of peace and patience.

What’s next on the horizon?
Currently, I am teaching drawing and painting at the MFAH Glassell Junior School and working at Rootlab HTX. I have aspirations of getting my MFA in sculpture to be able to teach at a college level.

Alex Ramos is a Creative Technologist at Input Output, a Houston-based creative media lab. They research, design, and develop immersive digital experiences, transforming conventional architecture and spaces into dynamically functional user interfaces. Their nontraditional approach to design focuses on augmenting existing modalities and challenging established notions of art, design, and technology.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
Our community is such a rich and diverse one, transcending borders and languages. Our cuisine is global, our music is universal, and our impact is felt through history. We are a melting pot of ideas; mixing flavors, colors, sounds, and even matter, itself. Being part of the global movement of brown artists and creatives means rising to that calling, to radically transform this reality, remixing, and re-contextualizing the historic narratives that drive our global culture.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
My proudest accomplishment in my career has been never losing my sense of childlike awe, curiosity, and wonder. As bizarre as this may sound, that curiosity led me to stand in front of a convenience store freezer and listen to the foil tops of yogurt cups snap and pop as the pressure from the cold and hot air mixed is one of my fondest memories. Standing there entranced by this emergent symphony, an orchestra for anyone waiting long enough to pay attention. I like to approach every project with that same sense of care and attention. I’m sure I looked crazy to the patrons and store clerk.

How has your creative practice evolved over the past 12 months?
Our world has changed drastically over the past 12 months. The practice of evolution is baked into the ethos of what our media lab does. As we create and iterate in various media we allow our creative process to remain fluid. I feel it important to reflect along the way, this aids me in maintaining self-awareness and keeps me grounded in the most accurate perception of reality. This has allowed us to navigate the challenges of our evolving world, reducing their impact on us. One example I can think of is our shift from working in the physical realm versus digital one. As we saw the migration toward remote work, due to COVID, we set a goal to find various tools to communicate our ideas more clearly and effectively. This decision paved the way for our exploration of virtual reality as a tool for collaboration, and has opened many more opportunities to reach a wider audience, as well as a new framework to explore and create with.

What unexpected joy did you discover over the past 12 months?
As we develop our current and upcoming projects, I have found joy in the communities we are building both locally and globally. Having the ability to connect with a Marketing Director in New York, have an interview with an Editor from Vogue China, and share content with all of them—without ever leaving the comfort of our studio—has been surreal. These technologies physically break down barriers, allowing for the emergence of new cultures and paradigms. These shape the questions we ask in the future. As mentioned before, the communities we are fostering within virtual reality have also been inspiring; these platforms allow us to communicate with a global audience, sharing ideas and collaborating in ways we could’ve only dreamed of before. It’s as if we are giving birth to the collective consciousness of the future world we want to live in.

Where do you find inspiration?
I like to find inspiration in the in-between, tucked behind a shelf, lost inside of jacket pockets not worn in years. It’s in the mundane, in everyday situations. It’s found helping a June bug flip over, or the way a leaf unfolds; that is where inspiration finds me. When I stop to notice, I am flooded with so much vibrancy it’s hard not to feel inspired by it. The word “inspire” comes from the combination of two Latin words “in” -into and “spirare” -breath. It was imbued with divinity and translates to “breath into.” For me, inspiration can be found in the pauses between each breath.

What’s next on the horizon?
The future holds a lot for us all, let’s stay connected and engaged with each other.

Andrew Otero was born and raised in the heat of Phoenix, Arizona, and started cooking as soon as he was able to reach the stove. Professionally, he’s been at it for over 14 years now and honestly could not think of anything else he’d rather be doing.

What does being part of the Hispanic community mean to you? 
Being part of the Hispanic community inspires me to represent my people and my culture through my passion and creativity in culinary arts.

How does your Hispanic heritage impact your creative work?
Being raised in the Sonoran desert in a large Hispanic family, I embraced indigenous and traditional cuisines and methods for preparing and cooking food. This pattern has followed me to Texas where I use local products to bring traditional fare to Houstonians.

What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?
Some of my proudest moments are very selfless actually. I put so much into teaching and crafting my teams that most of the things I tend to look back on involve their growth and success. You can’t be great if you don’t have a solid team to have your back.

How has your culinary practice evolved over the past 12 months?
The biggest difference is making sure people feel comfortable walking in and eating my food. In some cases, I’ve switched completely over to packaging my food for the more Covid conscious customers.

What unexpected joy did you discover over the past 12 months?
Growing my own food at home was not something I ever really thought I’d do on a large scale. A couple herbs here and there sure, but I’ve taken it up a notch recently. Knowing I have a patio full of fresh vegetables inspires me to heat the pans, sharpen the knives, and get to work.

Where do you find inspiration?
I like to keep it simple, put out badass food, and make Momma proud.

What’s next on the horizon?
The end goal always has and always will be Executive Chef.


Thank you to all of our participants for sharing their experiences with the AIGA Houston community.

By aigahouston
Published September 24, 2021
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