You know those end-of-the-year top five/six/ten lists… the top ten diets for 2012, five places to travel where no one will find you, and so on? Yes, we all do. I have to admit, I love them. I always get a great, giggly waste of five minutes from them, and sometimes even a tidbit to take with me into my I-could-possibly-go-to-that-remote-island-this-year new year.
Instead of reading someone else’s top ten list of polka dot lipsticks to match any outfit, I decided to create my own.
Here is my top seven list of “Detroit Latinas/Chicanas I’m grateful to know (there are many more, this is just the first reveal).” Because if I’m the only Latina you know in Detroit then we have un asunto (Spanish for a concern, matter or issue).
Elena Herrada is a third-generation Mexican-American native Detroiter. She is a prominent social activist and is currently a member of the Detroit Board of Education. She is also a founding member of Centro Obrero de Detroit (a worker’s center working to ensure equal protections for both US citizens, immigrant workers and the dispossessed), Fronteras Norteñas (an organization dedicated to chronicling the history of Mexicans in Detroit) and Friends of Chicano Boricua Studies at Wayne State University. Herrada is on the board of directors for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights.
Elena was one of the first people I met when I moved to Detroit. Anytime I asked who I should reach out to for a better understanding of the Chican@/Latin@ Community (and possibly talk my way into a Mexican kitchen), Elena was always the first suggestion. I had to meet her!
Elena doesn’t disappoint. If she doesn’t answer her cell phone (she usually does), she’ll always call you back. I respect a woman who doesn’t care about her own iconic hype and would rather get to know you. She’s incredibly loving and welcoming, and still you somehow know not to mess with her. So I don’t, but I’ll push (smile).
Consuela Francesca Lopez
Consuela Francesca Lopez is a proud Detroit Afro-Puerto Rican dancer and singer, and the co-director and founder of Bomberica, a group of Afrorican dancers and drummers. Their dances include Puerto Rican-bomba, a community dance that can last anywhere from hours to days and a challenge between the lead dancer and the drum with hand gestures, hats, and long skirts; the plena, a fast-paced couple and two-step dance; and the Cuban Rumba, a West African heritage dance with a man and a woman and congales.
She has been dancing for a lifetime, professionally since her mid-20s, and as a child danced with her father, who played James Brown in the background while Consuela and her siblings did their chores, and her mother mixed hip-hop tunes and operatic voice styles (much to her and her siblings’ irritation). She also dances with a salsa group called “La Inspiración” and plays the clave, conga and more…
Consuela, my boricua hermana. Consuela’s larger-than-life voice, fierce dance arrangements and inviting smile persuaded me onto the dance floor at a CLAVE (Community of Latino Artists Visionaries and Educators) event. It was so much fun, I wound up staying until they kicked the last of the stragglers out. As you can imagine, we’ve been connected ever since. Consuela believes deeply in the power of love and healing through music, storytelling, and the arts, and therefore spends a lot of time building those skills and sharing them with others locally, nationally and internationally. I’d love to spend more time with her, but I know the conscious energy she’s putting out in the world is a gift. So, I text her a lot: I need this, I need that. I can always count on her for a quick response, unless she’s dancing on a remote island, where no one can find her. If you ever have an opportunity to catch Consuela perform, don’t pass it up. You’ll return home exhausted, but you’ll get one of the best healing night sleeps you’ve had in a long time.
Michelle was born in Detroit and is Colombian, Mexican and Native American. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a Master’s in Environmental Policy and a specialty in Environmental Justice, Michelle returned to Detroit. She began working with Centro Obrero de Detroit; NorthEnd Christian CDC on Urban Gardening; and Friends of the Detroit River on water policy. She is currently the Coal to Clean Energy Coordinator for the Detroit Chapter of the Sierra Club.
I first met Michelle at a community organizing meeting where she was translating for a member of Centro Obrero, and I was leading the communications portion of the meeting. When we finished, she calmly came over and asked if I would make sure the materials were translated into Spanish. She gave me her email address and she was on her way. That was it! She did what she had to, and now she was off to have dinner with her community/familia. In the time I’ve known Michelle that’s never changed; she knows what needs to be done, gets it done, and moves on, aware of how much more there always is to do. She loves the work she does, loves her community, loves the outdoors and passionately gives equal time to each. I should mention she’s beautiful and brilliant too. She’s one of those people who stuns you with her natural beauty, then says something so powerful your heart hurts, and later will create a superhero name for you on a napkin. She has it all. But don’t mess with her, either; her policy background can kick in at any moment and knock you over.
In 2010, the Mexico City native’s fashion line won the Fashion in Detroit Local Designer Award. Born into a family of garment workers in Mexico City, Adriana has spent the past 17 years designing women’s clothing for private clients and sourcing fabric and fibers for others in the industry. But for the past two years her most prized design has been sketching the vision for the Detroit Fashion Collective, traveling the country sourcing materials and building a pipeline of venues willing to help her feature Detroit designers nationally. She insists it’s a dream ready to hit the runway.
Adriana, the fashion powerhouse! Adriana and I had several hi/bye encounters at different birthday parties and B.L.A.C. magazine events. But it wasn’t until I worked myself into a body panic – 30 extra pounds of Detroit winters – that I was able to really get to know her. I got my courage up to ask her for help finding clothes in my closet that wouldn’t send me running from the mirror in tears and back to the couch with chips and salsa. She moved her schedule around, canceled a few meetings and was at my house within two days. That’s a sista!
Adriana doesn’t love fashion because of status or money. She loves it because fashion is art and expression. She doesn’t pretend to be someone she isn’t, and doesn’t want anyone else to feel like they have to pretend either. Clothes should make you feel good about yourself, at any size. She knows everyone has their own innate beauty and if given the opportunity, she’ll support you in finding it.
Before you say anything, I know beauty isn’t only about what you look like or what you’re wearing. But I still want to feel comfortable in my clothes; I still want to rock bright orange and fuchsia and not feel like a Christmas ornament. It’s about what I see. And when you have a force like Adriana who cares more about community than the runway, it’s worth bartering editing skills for a slamming dress and a hot pair of stiletto heels.
And what’s more, Adriana loves this city. “The creative outpouring in this city is amazing,” she told WDET/NPR’s The Take Away. “I could choose San Francisco or L.A. but I live in Detroit by choice because there isn’t another place where you could come up with an idea and have such a large community ready to share and collaborate with you.”
Photo credit (of sign language): inmagine