As COVID-19 spread and business began to shut down across the United States, Latina creatives knew that major parts of their businesses–like vending at pop-up spaces or community markets–would not be possible for the foreseeable future. Stay at home orders quickly became widespread and people could no longer gather in their usual ways from schools to community events.
Markets and pop-ups such as those hosted by Mujeres Market and Molcajete Dominguero promote Latinx culture and community while also giving Latinx creatives a chance to sell their products–everything from jewelry to clothing to decorative home goods. Now without places to gather and community needs shifting, Latina creatives have answered the call to use the skills they have to design and make protective facial coverings and masks.
Jessica Galarza of JLoveKnits used to frequent pop-ups to showcase and sell her handmade reusable knits as a side gig, but has transitioned instead to working 12 hours a day with her suegra sewing masks since losing her job as an in-home aide working with seniors. Although it is a difficult time for many, Galarza knows first hand how important personal protective equipment is and feels fortunate to be able to use her skills to make masks. “This pandemic has impacted the Chicanx/Latinx community in many ways, some like myself have lost jobs, and some creatives have lost income due to postponement or cancellation of monthly pop-ups,” Galarza told Luz Collective via email. “The one thing this pandemic has not impacted, though, is our Chicanx/Latinx go-getter spirit. I am so proud of my Latinx community.”
Many Latina creatives sprung into action prior to recently mandated facial covering orders in places like Los Angeles and New York, and the CDC recommendation that everyone wear cloth masks in public. They started to make masks because they knew that their communities were disproportionately at risk of exposure to COVID-19 as over 85 percent of Latinos cannot work from home.
Marisol Diaz, a fashion and design college student and the creator of Made from Sol also wanted to put her skills into service. Born in Miami to immigrant parents from Honduras and Colombia, at six Diaz’s grandmother taught her to hand sew. By age 13 she had learned to sew by machine. “Whenever I see an unprotected essential worker, I feel this sort of guilt in my stomach that there are people putting their lives at risk for us and they have nowhere to buy masks or gloves to stay protected. I feel like I’m responsible to use my creative gifts to produce a supply for the high demand we’re facing,” said Diaz in an interview with the Luz Collective. Diaz also wants to help out parents of small children by making masks for kids. “Although it’s encouraged that they stay home, there are single parents out there that have no other choice but to bring their kids with them to the grocery store or to doctor’s visits.”
Prior to the pandemic, Diaz sold items online and at friends’ stores. While the online sales continue, she sees firsthand how many businesses are struggling, yet remains hopeful. “I know that many people in the Chicanx/Latinx community thrive off of their freelancing businesses and this pandemic might have been a big financial blow to many, but I feel that once we start shifting back to a normal societal routine, their businesses will begin to flourish once again.”
Diaz works with her sister and cousin to produce masks and knows that aside from providing a service she is also helping her family. “I’m extremely fortunate that my shop is allowing me to have an income during quarantine because my sister and cousin are both freelancers in the entertainment and fashion industry,” said Diaz. “Their jobs have been put on a halt until further notice. Made From Sol is keeping food on the table for us right now.”
Rosa Esmeralda Bautista, a mother and the owner of Meris Locuras is still working full time, but she now puts in a third shift making masks. What for her started as a hobby became a passion and vehicle to support causes she cares about. Bautista has used proceeds from the sales of her unique regalitos–things like rose earrings she molds from clay, flower crowns, and scarves–to support communities in need in other countries. Now with the pandemic she wanted to find a way to support people in the U.S. “I love to sew so it wasn’t so hard to transition to making masks. My first one was terrible, but then I got the hang of it.” Not only did Bautista get the hang of mask making, like Diaz, Galarza, and many other Latina creatives they do so knowing they are fulfilling a critical need for their communities during this time.
On right Marisol Diaz of Made from Sol (IG: @solesitodiazz) On left, Marisol’s sister Manuela Diaz(IG:@xmanuux)