Expressing My Culture Through Fashion

Expressing My Culture Through Fashion

We met Cecilia at an event in North Carolina where we were immediately mesmerized by her aurora and her attention to color and pattern. We were later honored to have made a few statement pieces for her. The story she shares with us is part of an ongoing conversation we have with our community about why expressing our cultural identity is so multifaceted and the obstacles we face when we do want to show our authentic selves. 

My mom loves telling a particular story of me as a little kid. She was a hairdresser, and one who prided herself on always dressing up and having perfectly styled hair because she saw that as part of her sales pitch to gain new clientele. One day, I walked into her salon, with my dad following closely behind me. I had on mismatching socks, differing wild patterns on top and bottom, and likely pigtails that sat askew atop my head. My mom was embarrassed and immediately pulled my father aside to ask what happened. He beamed a smile that he was wont to do and said, “She wanted to dress herself, so I let her!” Then a friend of my mom assured her that it would only mean that, as an adult, I would always know how to style myself. And, to this day, she believes that moment is why I dress as boldly and confidently as I do.

When my ancestors first immigrated to the United States, they were immediately Americanized. Gone was the accent over the ‘a’ in our last name, as was the ‘z’ at the end of it- replaced with an ‘s.’ Both of my parents were born in the States, in a West Texas town called Stamford. Both families worked as migrant farmers, traveling around the lower 50 to pick cotton and other crops. My parents made many sacrifices in their lives to prioritize my brother and me, our education, and our access to better futures.

Growing up in an affluent suburb of Dallas, Texas, as a brown child was not always easy. I recall trying to “fit in” with girls who wore designer clothing while we shopped at stores like ROSS. I tried to fade into the background a lot, wearing more subdued color palettes, while also desperately wanting to stay on trend with my classmates. There were also the microaggressions towards Hispanic people. Not directed at me, per se, because I wasn’t “like the others.” But that didn’t stop me from internalizing those comments and striving for deeper and greater assimilation.

In my college years, I dabbled in colors, but I was not very comfortable or confident in myself. I always felt self-conscious and over-analyzed how friends and strangers looked at me. But as I got older, I slowly grew more comfortable in my own skin and grew more eager to embrace the Mexican culture I had pushed down for so long. It was as if one day, I looked in the mirror and realized how rich and gorgeous jewel tones looked against my skin and then I never looked back.

Amongst my friends, I soon became known as the one who would always be brightly colored, no matter the season or occasion. Friends began associating my style with my personality, but I’m not sure if they ever understood that it was also my way of more openly embracing my culture. It went alongside no longer caring to straighten my wild and curly hair. I am Mexican, and I was no longer ashamed to admit it.

A good friend of mine invited me to a North Carolina Latinas in Tech event back in the Fall of 2023. There, we were introduced to Lisbeth and her Descalza clothing brand. I was blown away by the textiles and textures of her clothing, and I couldn’t wait to purchase pieces of my own. While I had previously purchased Mexican “puebla” dresses (which I generally wear only around the house) and began to fall in love with brands like Farm Rio, this was my first real venture into wearing authentic Central or South American designs that were more custom made for my body. The Latina roots of these pieces were undeniable, and it brings me such pride when I wear them.

I am grateful for growing up and out of those cultural fears from my childhood. It is important-imperative, even- to embrace your authentic self. I am lucky to have been given all of the opportunities my affluent-adjacent childhood brought my way. And I am proud of the sacrifices my parents and ancestors made to get me here. It would be a disservice to them all if I didn’t wear that pride brightly every day. And now, I look forward to wearing it even more overtly with brands like Descalza.

-Cecilia Gonzales