"Empowering Latinas and reclaiming our narrative through tees, postcards, and more."
If there is anything that could describe this brand, it is probably the quote above. This women-owned and led brand is ran by Natalie Montelongo. She is actively reclaiming the word Latina and inspiring other Latinas to do so. In today's day and age with so much political and racial tension going on, it is important to unite stronger than ever. Not only that, but we live in a country where the public education system fails teach us where we come from. Yes, it covers United States history, presidents, wars, treaties, but does not answer the question: "Where do I come from?" In a conversation with Natalie, it's evident that she felt the same. We are both from different border towns in Texas, but we both saw how we were failed by not learning about our roots sooner.
I asked Natalie to give me a little background on herself and why she chose to create this brand. She started off by saying, "I was born in Brownsville (Texas) but I grew up in Matamoros (Mexico). My family and I crossed everyday. It was my parent's dream for me to go to school in the U.S, but it was an exhausting two-hour line to cross every morning." Natalie mentioned that she was mentally exhausted by the end of each day as well. She then added that in Brownsville the majority of it's population looked like her and that she didn't catogorize herself as a Latina at a young age. Even when she went to college in San Antonio there were a lot of people like her and she still felt like she had in Brownsville. When she studied abroad in Paris, it was the first time people started asking her what she was. "Are you Mexican? American? Where do you live? Where do you consider home?" It was in Paris where she first started explaining to people who she was and where she came from.
Natalie moved to Washington D.C in 2011 and she mentioned that, "it was in D.C where I started owning it (the word Latina). With all the people I met, I started questioning my use of the word Hispanic. Californians don't use the word Hispanic they use Chicano/a. I feel like my state did me a disservice with how they taught me. I should not use the word Hispanic. I am not from Spain."
However, fast-forward to this past presidential election, Natalie worked on Hillary Clinton's campaign. When she was talking about her campaigning, she asked me if I remembered Trump's hateful speech against immigrants to which I replied "yes". Natalie told me that while campaigning and going from door to door a person answered the door wearing their Make America Great Again t-shirt and asked her if she was one of "those illegals." It was in that moment that Natalie knew she had to do something. "My best friend on the campaign and I looked for a small printshop in Denver (where she was at the time) and we printed 30 shirts that said "The Future is Latina" and we gave them out for free to the women campaigning with us. I also wrote them a little letter basically telling them they are worth it and to own the fact that they are Latina." Right after that, Natalie started getting requests from everywhere and that forced her to open an Esty shop. "I think it has developed into much more. I feel like we have built a small network of women." Natalie also mentioned that there should be no label on what makes up a "good" and a "bad" immigrant. With this brand she also hopes that women can reclaim their roots. "Fuck yeah. We are Latinas. We are also la muy muy and la sabelotodo." She wants Latinas to embrace that as well.
Natalie is definitely making a difference and her passion for this project speaks for itself. I am proud of where I come from and seeing women empowering other women is the best thing ever. You can follow The Future is Latina on Instagram as futureislatina. The link to the Esty shop is on there as well. Go check it out and show them love and support!
Daniel Martinez is February’s artist of the month. A native El Pasoan and humble individual, his art clearly portrays iconic places/things throughout El Paso. It is wonderful because it speaks for itself and it can make one nostalgic especially if one is an El Paso native living elsewhere. I believe that his art is vibrant and even though sometimes there are a lot of things being portrayed at once, it is not overwhelming at all. It is part of it. It’s amazing to see how celebrated El Paso is! He is a multi-faceted artist that does not only stick to El Paso-related art. It’s all kinds of art! From Frida Khalo to La Virgen de Guadalupe to football related art!
He was inspired by his father who he says was very creative as well. Daniel said that he "grew up very humble." Daniel also mentioned that growing up he was “average” at school, meaning school was not his forté. However, he did great when it came to painting! Daniel has been drawing since he was four years old. His elementary school would host an art competition every year and he won five years in a row! His love for art has only grew after that.
Daniel still continues to paint and express his creative side as much as he can. He said that he is mostly a landscape artist, but lately his work features iconic El Paso places and people like the beautiful El Paso sunsets and Eddie Guerrero. He loves the warm orange-gold tones of the sunset, which he said he loves to emphasize in his paintings. Daniel is always inspired by his surroundings and he hopes people can appreciate his art. It’s amazing to see artists celebrate their hometown through art and Daniel certainly archives that.
It is highly recommended that everyone goes and checks out his art at Chuco Relic all month long!! Go follow @chucorelic on Instagram for updates!
"Your reputation is your wealth." -Drew Gardner.
Toucanfilms otherwise known as Drew Gardner is a photographer from Charleston, South Carolina. Drew does all kinds of photography, but lately he has been doing film and lifestyle freelance photography. As a photographer, he would rather focus on telling a story through a photograph rather than doing what is expected. He mentioned that he likes to "express a person's personality" with a picture and if "a photo doesn't have a story, then it doesn't have an impact."
Drew got into photography around the age of 10-11. He mentioned that his uncle had "a 35 mm film camera and during one thanksgiving my uncle gave me one of his cameras." From there, Drew taught himself how to use it and it wasn't until high school that he took an actual photography class. From the moment that he stepped into the dark room to develop pictures, he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he got older.
Years passed, he graduated college, and he bought a digital camera. It was that moment where he felt like he had to decide what direction he wanted to take in life. Upon recalling a memory of his , he said that his friend Johnny Delaware (from The Artisanals) moved to Charleston and Johnny wanted to record an album. Johnny asked, "Drew does your camera take videos?" Drew answered "yes" and he filmed a video for Johnny for about a month. He remembered that after the video came out, it got picked up by the city paper and that people were impressed by it. Johnny encouraged Drew to do it full-time and he has been doing it since then.
As mentioned, Drew wants to convey a story through his photography. He wants people's personalities to shine through and to build relationships. It's not about the money and if it were up to him, he would still rely on a system of pure trade. He hopes to one day have a van and just travel across the U.S and take pictures and live the experience.
A big thank you to Drew for lending his time to Desert of my Eye. I hope everyone can go follow him and check out his work!
Check out some pictures below!!
Michelle Hackney is a mother of five originally from El Paso who is promoting her new bilingual book Mama’s Leche alongside illustrator Mia Ortiz. Michelle is originally from El Paso, and currently resides in Las Cruces. Michelle explains that above all else she is a mother of five, and this is where her purpose and motivation come from, allowing her to do her best work.
Living at the border has greatly influenced both Michelle’s and Mia’s work because it has shaped their ideas of family. Michelle and Mia are cousins who grew up in a big, lively, loud Latino family, where support for each other is unconditional. Michelle recognizes the bond with her family as something that is very common to the EL Paso community. For her part, Mia explained that she greatly looks up to the women in her family who have translated a sense of power and determination into her and her work.
These two cousins put the book Mama’s Leche together because they were lucky to both be pregnant at the same time and this allowed them to build a strong bond between them. They both wanted to share the “sacred bond that a mother and child create through breastfeeding,” from the baby’s perspective, to others. Their goal was to show support to other woman by trying to normalize breastfeeding and erase the negative stigmas attached to it. Mia shared with us that they found a way to collaborate with Michelle’s words and her ink drawings to share their special bond and their bond with their children through the baby’s perspective.
When it came time to illustrate her book, Michelle immediately thought of asking her cousin for help. “I gave Mia my story and asked if she’d take a crack at some drawings, she got right back to me with the most sincere images.” Michelle says that Mia’s simplicity in her drawings yet het ability to draw so much emotion caught her attention. Michelle recalls crying the first time she saw the illustrations because someone had managed to put her words to images. You can definitely see the love and respect that they have for each other, and if you talk to any of them, they have nothing but the kindest words for each other.
Talking about the border community and El Chuco, Michelle is quick to say that El Paso is very unique because of the local talent, in all areas. She truly believes El Paso is a mecca for art because of the many seriously talented and gifted artists.
For those of you who need tips on what to do around town, Michelle recommends eating as much Mexican food as you can, because nothing else in the nation compares! She also recommends experiencing the serenity of the desert and taking advantage of our beautiful mountains. She encourages people to go hiking through McKelligon Canyon, Scenic Drive, Transmountain Road, Aztec Caves, and Waco Tanks.
Overall, Michelle really encourages people to go out there and enjoy their city and their culture, and while you’re at it, you can go say hello to her at Chuco Relic (one of her favorite places in town) on November 26!
"If I can bring out joy in others and give someone a reason to be proud of our region, I'll have achieved the highest of heights."
Gabaldon, an extremely talented artist who does a lot of El Paso themed artwork, first started to paint in 2012 but had been doodling for years in the margins of books and note pads. Gabaldon didn’t get into color and painting when he took a “drink and paint” class with his wife. He remembers his first experience painting as “freeing and eye opening” because he had complete control of the paint and the brush to do anything he wanted. With each piece that he painted his passion began to grow, and soon he saw himself teaching himself from his own vision. Having spent hours working and learning, Gabaldon feels like he is finally hitting a stride in his work and his artistic voice shines through.
Gabaldon has been doodling for years and this has greatly influenced his style, as he prefers “the odd and the silly.” When he was growing up he was very into The Far Side, FoxTrot, Marvel Trading Crds, anything Sega, and afternoon cartoons and all of these influences can be seen in his artwork today. The desert here is also a source of inspiration for Gabaldon because of all the bold colors in the landscapes and our skyline. Apart from these two things, Gabaldon told us that the people that he meets at events are a big inspiration to him. The act of meeting someone who wants to decorate their space with his art is a humbling feeling that helps him push forward with his work.
The desert serves as a great source of inspiration for Gabaldon because of the landscapes and vibrant colors we have all round us. He chooses to paint El Paso themed paintings because we are surrounded by all this color and Chuco flavor. He believes that the spirit and the culture of the border is everywhere and can be seen by everyone no matter their perspective. So while some people may choose to say that we have no green or vibrant colors, just brown, Gabaldon chooses to see the color that is simply amplified by the brown surroundings.
Gabaldon remembers the time he went to Santa Fe to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe museum and how he was impacted by her paintings of Cerro Pedernal. There were so many views of her favorite mountain and this got him thinking, "I bet she could have painted that view over and over and over again and it would never be the same". This got him thinking of our beloved Franklin Mountains, and how he could try to capture their beauty for years, and yet he would still find more beauty that needs to be captured in a painting. He continues to paint El Paso because it is constantly changing and even though he continues to paint our surroundings over and over he doesn’t feel like he captures it correctly. This serves as motivation to keep painting in the hopes of capturing a piece of its spirit.
As for Gabaldon’s wishes for his artwork, the main one is that people experience joy from seeing his work. He hopes that the beauty and spirit of El Paso that he is trying to capture is seen by others, and that they can find joy in the “healing aroma of desert rain” he loves so much. He hopes that his artwork can help instill some much needed community pride of our amazing city.
You can go follow him on Instagram as @gabaldonart and see his amazing artwork!