Culture

From Popup To Retail Store, These Two Business Partners Have Created A Space For Latino Brands

When Luis Octavio, 36, and Gladys Vasquez, 40, met in 2016 they thought of a crazy idea. Both were struggling vendors trying to make a name for themselves but could never find the right event to get their names out there. Octavio sold his line of embroidered hats and balloons, while Vasquez had her graphic design brand.

“When Luis asked me if there was an event solely dedicated to Latino vendors I said ‘No’ and then an idea dawned on us,” Vasquez said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why isn’t there an event or space catered just for Latino vendors?.”

That crazy idea became a reality this month as both Octavio and Vaquez opened up Molcajete Dominguero Tienda, a retail space in Boyle Heights solely dedicated for Latino vendors to sell their products.

They wanted to create a space for Latino brands to promote and elevate themselves.

Photo by Javier Rojas

Octavio had a marketing background and Vasquez had some experience with accounting, so together they knew they could make this a reality. With
only $50 invested from each of them, Molcajete Dominguero Tienda started as a monthly pop-up event on Sundays in 2017. They would host vendors that would sell everything from Latino-inspired jewelry to concha themed pillows.

But everything didn’t start off so smoothly. Initially there was skepticism from vendors about how all this would work. Many didn’t know what to think of their idea of an all-Latino popup event and if their products would even sell.

“We reached out to probably 100 vendors and only 35 responded,” Vasquez said recalling their first popup at Self Help Graphics in Boyle Heights. “We didn’t really know what we were doing and didn’t know if a single person was gonna walk through that door.”

Those fears quickly left as they saw a forming line of about 30 people. By the end, they had well over 450 people attend their first popup event. “We couldn’t believe it and it was in that moment our hard work, in a way, felt validated,” Vasquez said.

Things only went up from there. Octavio and Vasquez began hosting monthly popups across Los Angeles and even in San Francisco. Their brand quickly grew on Instagram and realized they needed a permanent space for their business.

In just two years, they became the largest Latino popup in the country and now have a retail space dedicated to Latino brands.

Photo by Javier Rojas

The vision that Vasquez and Octavio had in 2016 has become a reality. From Selena pillows to Frida Kahlo fanny-packs, Molcajete Dominguero Tienda gives Latino vendors a space to showcase their brands. The name, Molcajete Dominguero, is a play on words from the traditional Mexican stone tool used to grind various food products. It is also a representation of the various vendors they bring together on Sundays at their popups.

Their current database has over 400 vendors from LA to San Francisco that either have their products sold at the store or at popups. Vendors typically pay $150 to have a space at a popup event and get promoted on their Instagram page.

“We feel like this is important to so many people that feel like they don’t see themselves when they go into big retailers,” Octavio said. “We want people to come in here and feel at home. Whether it’s the colorful wall murals, the fresh smell of Fabuloso or the familiar sound of Spanish music playing, we’re trying to create something special.”

Having the store in Boyle Heights is no coincidence. The largely Latino working class community has welcomed and embraced their business.

Photo by Javier Rojas

The location of the store in Boyle Heights has great meaning. Vasquez grew up in East LA and Octavio in Santa Ana, so both know the importance of having a business in a predominant Latino neighborhood. They say that many community members have welcomed them and have been getting regulars at the store already.

“This business is needed especially in a place like Boyle Heights where identity is important,” Octavio said. “These brands need a home and we feel like they found one here in East LA.”

Their grand opening this month was an indicator of their success as
well over 500 people showed up. Octavio said there was a line around the block and people waited almost two hours in the rain just to get in.

A local community artist has already left their mark at the store
with a mural of Mexican singer Maria Felix. There is already future plans to have two more artists paint murals outside the store. Octavio also hopes to host various workshops that will benefit the youth in the area as well. Earlier this year they hosted a Pinata making workshop and a Loteria night for the community.

“We need these spaces like this so we could feel apart of something. Tell me where you can find a pinata or a serape wall,” Octavio said. “People here in Boyle Heights now can go to a place where they can find Salvadorian, Puerto Rican or Mexican goods all in one.”

Having a brick and mortar store is just the first step of many to come.

Photo by Javier Rojas

The store has been a dream come true for Octavio and Vasquez that they say happened by just taking a risk on what they envisioned three years ago.

“Look we’re not the first to have a pop-up or a Latino-inspired one, however we are the first to think of this on a larger scale,” Octavio said. “The inspiration has always been to elevate our comunidad.”

The business partners say this is just the next step in what they envisioned for Molcajete Dominguero Tienda. They will soon be taking their popup to Chicago this year and hope to get some vendors hop on board from the East Coast. There has even been plans to have an online business with some vendor products but for now the store is their main focus.

Vasquez says the most humbling part about this entire journey has been building a relationship with vendors. “Getting to know about the people behind the brand and hearing their story makes this all worth it because we know how much this platform means to them as much as it does to us.”

It’s because of this sentiment that the store recently changed their tagline from “Where vendors grind together” to “Where brands grind together”. Octavio says this is more than just about one person, it’s about uplifting a community of people and seeing them all rise together.

“We’re not calling them vendors anymore. They’re brands and we’re trying to elevate them,” Octavio said. “Big box retailers we no longer need your space because we’re now creating our own.”

Molcajete Dominguero Tienda is located in 2195 Whittier Blvd. in Boyle Heights. 

READ: Patty Delgado Is Changing The World Of Latino Fashion With Her Own Store Hija De Tu Madre

‘The Craft’ Remake Is Going To Put Brujería Front And Center With A Trans Latinx Actress

Entertainment

‘The Craft’ Remake Is Going To Put Brujería Front And Center With A Trans Latinx Actress

@iamzoeyluna / Instagram

Just in time for Spooky Season, we are getting news about the upcoming “Craft” reboot. The 1996 supernatural thriller about four young women experimenting with the occult was a blockbuster hit that still has die-hard fans. Earlier this year, a reboot of the film was announced by popular horror production company, Blumhouse Productions. Blumhouse has given us such films as “Get Out” and “The Purge” series so there’s no doubt that it can do justice to this cult classic. 

Now, it seems we officially have a new quartet of witches for this reboot with the addition of a final actress to take on one of the starring roles. 

Completing the main cast is trans Latinx actress Zoey Luna in the role of Lourdes.

Twitter / @blumhouse

Back in June of 2017, the production company put out a casting notice for the part, looking for a young transgender Latina actress to play the role. According to Blumhouse, “Lourdes is the second member of the teenaged Clique. Her super-Catholic mother threw her out for being trans and she now lives with her 80-year-old abuela, who has taught Lourdes a variety of supernatural practices.”

Luna joins Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon and Lovie Simone as the four women at the focus of the supernatural horror story. Much like the 1996 version, the reboot will center upon a new girl coming into the school and befriending three other social outcasts to form a witchy coven. The film is being written, directed and produced by Zoe Lister-Jones.

Relatively new to the acting world, this will be Luna’s first big role as an actress. 

Twitter / @lgbtqnation

Luna’s start in the world of acting began with documentaries about being a transgender woman. Among them is “15: A Quinceañera Story,” a documentary about Luna and other young girls getting ready for their quinceañeras with the help of trans women who never got the same opportunity. The young actress also recently appeared in a Season 2 episode of “Pose.”

Since its announcement over the weekend, news of Luna’s casting has been celebrated by trans activists and members of the LGBTQ+ community as a step forward for trans representation. 

Twitter / @TransEquality

Horror movies have a bad history of including trans female storylines as a means to terrify or shock viewers. The decision of Blumhouse to cast a trans actress for a trans role might be a sign that this will be one of the first positive trans female depictions in horror.

Other Twitter users were enthusiastic to see not only trans representation but representation for trans people of color. 

Twitter / @RaeGun2k

Transgender women especially Black trans women are often the focus of violence. In 2018, 26 trans women were murdered. Seeing more positive representations of trans women in media is a step towards the very necessary inclusion that our communities need.  

Of course, we’re really excited to see some brujeria brought to the film. 

Twitter / @en_tze

Brujeria is an important subset of witchcraft but isn’t as represented as other elements of witchery. When it is shown in film and media, it’s often represented negatively or through the use of hokey stereotypes. To see it used as the main storyline in the reboot of this well-loved movie is definitely an improvement. 

As of now, “The Craft” reboot doesn’t have a date to start filming or for its release. Still, we’ll be sure to keep you up to date on all the bewitching news that comes from the set. 

Revista Étnica Is The New Afro-Latino Magazine Gassing Up Our Afrolatinidad All The Way From Puerto Rico

Entertainment

Revista Étnica Is The New Afro-Latino Magazine Gassing Up Our Afrolatinidad All The Way From Puerto Rico

Since Gloriann Sacha Antonetty Lebrón was a child growing up in Carolina, Puerto Rico, she has been fascinated by journalism. She was captivated by the colorful glossies of Cosmopolitan and Revista Tú that sat on the shelves of local drug stores. She wanted to read about the latest beauty and fashion and be on top of entertainment and cultural news from Latin America and the United States. But more than this, she desired to be seen, to have glamorous and powerful Black women that resembled the matriarchs in her own family cover the magazines.

“I never had the opportunity here in Puerto Rico to see Black people, and Black women in particular, in magazines,” Lebrón told mitú. “None of them represented the beauty of my family, my friends, my community or myself.”

As a teenager, Lebrón’s father, who was raised in New York, introduced her to popular African-American publications geared toward women.

 While magazines like Ebony and Essence weren’t yet available in Puerto Rico, her father would have friends mail the glossy or bring them back from trips in order for Lebrón to have access to images and stories of women who looked like her. The unnecessary struggle it took for her to see herself represented in media and the joyous feeling she felt while flipping through page after page of enchanting dark-skinned women inspired Lebrón to one day start her own magazine in Puerto Rico specifically for Afro-Latina women.

In December of 2018, Lebrón’s teenage dreams came true.

 The now 38-year-old communications professional launched Revista Étnica, the first print magazine in Puerto Rico to represent the Caribbean archipelago’s vast and diverse Afro-Latinx population.

“Our community is marginalized. If you have dark skin, you generally don’t have an opportunity to feel like you belong and are a part of this society. We are only good for food, music and sports, and that’s something we want to change,” she said.

Through the biannual magazine, Étnica’s three-person staff and group of collaborators produce a stunning publication that covers beauty, fashion, entertainment, food and culture as well as investigative journalism that looks into the deep-rooted, and largely denied, racism that exists in Puerto Rico. 

In the first issue, writer Edmy Ayala delves into the racial disparities that exist on the archipelago and how the state works to protect the rights and uplift the talents of lighter-skinned Boricuas. 

The second volume, which published in August, features an essay that examines racism in Puerto Rico’s public school system, looking particularly at the ways in which codes of conduct target and punish Black youth. 

“Right now, it’s more critical than ever to be having these conversations,” Lebrón says. “Here, we understand that we are a mix. We are mestizos, with a rich culture that includes our Spanish heritage, Taíno heritage and, less important, our African heritage. Many use this to claim we are all the same here, that racism doesn’t exist. But me being a Black Puerto Rican woman, a young Black person, I can tell you that I struggle every day and experience racism in so many ways.”

This bigotry was particularly evident for Lebrón when she first attempted to launch Revista Étnica. In her mid-20s, she submitted a proposal for the publication in a contest and was one of the finalists. At the time, she was assigned a mentor who would help her work through her proposition and advise her on steps she could take to realize her project. A leading journalist in Puerto Rico, Lebrón was thrilled to have the guidance of an esteemed figure as she pursued her ambitions. That’s why she felt completely discouraged when the male leader suggested that her magazine would fail. 

“He said, ‘people in Puerto Rico don’t want to identify as Black,’” Lebrón recalls. “I started to believe that the magazine wasn’t important, and it took away my dream.”

Disheartened, Lebrón went on to start a different career in media, working in advertising and public relations. In this industry, she was once again confronted by anti-blackness in Puerto Rico. Few brands and companies put Black Boricuas in their ads, catered to Afro-Puerto Rican communities or even hired dark-skinned employees. 

After taking a job as the director of communications for a local nonprofit that put her in direct contact with Puerto Rican youth, Lebrón was reminded of the importance of representation. During each visit with boys and girls across the archipelago, Black children would race to Lebrón, excited to engage with a powerful leader who looked like them.

“I’d tell them, ‘you are beautiful and intelligent,’ and I would see the light in their eyes. I knew I had to do Étnica.”

A decade after Lebrón submitted her proposal for her dream publication, she entered the contest again and became a finalist once more. This time, she won a social enterprise award, which allowed her to fund the first issue of her magazine.

Today, Revista Étnica is available for purchase at Walgreens and Walmarts across Puerto Rico as well as some local shops in the metropolitan area. Through the magazine’s website, readers can order copies from all over the world. Lebrón says she has subscribers from the United States, Dominican Republic, Colombia, and even Switzerland. Additionally, the publication’s site and social media include a blog and content that offers insight and opinions on more timely news.

For Lebrón, Revista Étnica is more than a magazine; it’s also a community and a movement. 

Throughout the year, the publication hosts events, from parties to movie-watching groups, and has recently also launched a start-up program for Afro-Puerto Rican entrepreneurs. She says that her company’s success isn’t measured by its magazine sales but rather by how it can help create economic security for the Black community in Puerto Rico more broadly.

While materializing her wildest childhood fantasies has been both joyous and frightening, she says that ultimately this magazine and this movement is much bigger than her alone.

“I just want women who read Étnica to feel proud of their skin, their body, their imperfections. I want them to know there is a community with them, that they’re not alone,” Lebrón says.