Q+A: This is Latin America

Recently, a Latin American art and culture hub has called Dumbo its new home with a showroom full of curated, handmade, and unique pieces from all over Latin America. This Is Latin America is the team behind this effort, showcasing the diverse history and culture of Latin America through each of the artisanal pieces. We sat down with Héctor García and Miguel Corona to learn more about Latin America art and culture and the team’s effort to connect this treasure with New York and the rest of the world.

{This interview has been edited for length and clarity.}

Héctor at This Is Latin America
Héctor at This Is Latin America

Miguel: Hi, we are This Is Latin America, a marketplace for different Latin America artisans and artists. We work with over 300 different artisans communities and a lot of different art studios from all of Latin America. Right now, we focus primarily on Mexico because we are from Mexico and also because we haven't been able to travel due to the pandemic. In the near future, we hope to have a lot more representations of other countries in Latin America.

Héctor: Our mission is to showcase the best artisanal pieces that Latin America, especially Mexico, Colombia, and Chile, can offer. We are working to build this platform where people in the United States can connect directly with Latin America artisans. This is our vision for the next 5 years: to be the best platform and marketplace for many artisans who are looking to send their pieces to the US.

Oaxaca Collection. Credit: This Is Latin America
Oaxaca Collection. Credit: This Is Latin America

How did you connect with these artisans? How are the relationships between you and these artisans?

Miguel: Héctor and Ana Lucia, the founders of the company, travelled all over Mexico and some parts of Latin America to meet with all of the artisans. That’s why we know all of the artisans who we work with personally. They’ve welcomed us into their homes.

For most, if not all, of the pieces brought here, artisans’ priority always comes first. Everything is fair trade. In the beginning of the project, Hector travelled to Latin America and met up with a lot of different artisans groups, collecting art pieces little by little. And then through building those relationships, we are able to have more partnership with them to have some pieces here as a consignment. This is how we are able to receive more items than what we can carry in person when we were in Mexico or Latin America.

Héctor: This is a process of exploring and curating different pieces from different parts of Mexico and Latin America. There are many ways to meet the artisans. Sometimes we meet them through shows, or ferias. The process was in-person but right now we have many artisans sending us messages, through Instagram, for example, introducing their pieces and requesting to put them on our e-commerce site.

Miguel: Also, while Héctor and I are currently in New York, we have a team in Mexico that travels and builds the relationship with the artisans. They get to curate a lot of the pieces and do all the fun parts.

For most, if not all, of the pieces brought here, artisans’ priority always comes first.

Clay Harvest in San Marcos Tlapazola. Credit: This is latin America
Clay Harvest in San Marcos Tlapazola. Credit: This is latin America

What prompted you to start this project?

Héctor: There are two reasons. First, the artisans really need more sales channels. And we want to help as much as possible with that. The other reason is that we need those products here. I’m an immigrant from Mexico. I moved to New York because I think New York has a variety of representations of people from Latin America. We are from different countries, but we are from Latin America and we have a lot to show the world. So diversity is the reason why we chose the name “ This Is Latin America” and why we chose New York City to start. New York City is a big challenge, but if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, right?

Apart from serving the diverse Latino population in New York City, we also want to connect with Americans who are interested in these products and the history behind these products. Every piece here is handmade and thus, it is the process that is the most meaningful. It is a family, a woman, a friend,... that makes the pieces special. Our dream is to make a big channel for these products.

How has your journey in New York City been so far?

Miguel: We used to be at the Brooklyn Navy Yard prior to being here. As we were more of a warehouse and we wanted to have a bit more exposure, we decided to move to Dumbo. We were very fortunate to find a space that gave us enough room to showcase everything.

Héctor: We started four months before the pandemic. When we were in Brooklyn Navy Yard, we did a lot of pop-ups around New York in Dumbo, Soho, Midtown... But four months after we started came the pandemic, and everything changed. We moved quickly to only e-commerce, and we survived as an only e-commerce company. But now we found a new home. Compared to Navy Yard, this place is a lot more accessible for our customers. We have fallen in love with the place and community in Dumbo.

How do you like your new neighborhood?

Miguel: We are very happy with Dumbo. We are extremely happy with how the community has embraced us. Everybody that walks by says: “Welcome to Dumbo!”

Héctor: This place feels like a neighborhood. We can see familiar faces every morning and every afternoon. I like that. The supermarket, the deli, and the coffee shops... We are ready for this community.

Miguel: The moving process to Dumbo was not easy. Although we signed the lease in August, as we had to move a lot of fragile pieces, not until the second week of September did we get everything ready. And then we had our launch event, which was the Oaxaca Week in NYC. It was a special collection as all of the pieces were from Oaxaca. We had a great reception.

Why did you choose Oaxaca as the theme for your first event here?

Héctor: We went with the Oaxaca collection because we are in contact with many artisans communities in Oaxaca, the sanctuary for artisans. And as it was pretty successful, we are planning to do it every year. We had a lot of people coming from New Jersey, Manhattan, Queens, Dumbo,...

We had a bag designed for this event featuring the Statue of Liberty as the traditional Oaxaca woman. This mixture of New York and Oaxaca stems from my personal belief that there is a special connection between the two cities in culture, their diversity, their vibes. We were further motivated to do the Oaxaca Week because in the pandemic, we had a chance to meet with the people of FOFA, Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art.

Miguel: FOFA is a non-profit based here in New York. They have been working for many years in Oaxaca, and they bring Oaxaca’s art to the Natural History Museum in Manhattan. We met with them and decided to work together.

While the Oaxaca collection is based our connection with Oaxaca and with so many artists and communities there, going forward, we want to showcase pieces from all over Latin America. We will rotate different pieces from different regions of Mexico, for example. We love Oaxaca, but we also want to showcase the rest of Latin America to everyone in the US, especially now that we are in Dumbo and New York.

We love Oaxaca, but we also want to showcase the rest of Latin America to everyone in the USA.

Can you introduce some of the pieces you have here that represent the culture of Oaxaca and other Latin America regions?

Héctor: We have here alebrijes from Oaxaca. Alebrijes are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical, invented creatures. They are a good representation of Oaxaca, its culture, and the memories of artisans’ ancestors. Alebrijes are usually a blend of different animals, like a lion’s head and a bird body or a dog body with wings and fish face. Each pattern not only has a decorative purpose, but also has a distinct meaning.

We also have clay kitchenware. There are four elements involved in the making of this product: rock, water, air, and fire, and of course, the hands of the artisans. The inspiration comes from the ancestors’ cave paintings.

What is your plan for the future in Dumbo?

Héctor: Every month we will have different events. We are planning to host cultural events where we can share the history and the stories of the artisans. Maybe, we can even bring the artisans here! This will be a space of culture, showing different expressions of Latin America besides arts such as food, liquors, and drinks.

Miguel: The plan is to rotate among different collections every month. We did showcase pieces from Oaxaca. Next, there will be a lot of different regions, mostly in Mexico such as Guanajuato, Puebla, Chiapas, and Guerrero. Next year, we hope to be able to showcase arts from other places in Latin America.

Last question, where are your favorite spots in Dumbo?

Miguel: I proposed to my wife at Jane’s Carousel, so that place has a very special meaning to me. I used to live in Vinegar Hill, so we used to always come here to walk our dog at the park. The view there is beautiful.

Héctor: One of the spots that I enjoy is the Ferry Landing. It is so beautiful at night, like Gotham city. You can see the light from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Lower Manhattan skyline. There are so many nice places here, but for now, I will go with the Ferry Landing, and Timeout. I love Timeout Market.