Latino culture is as varied as it is vibrant, and an important reason for that can be summed up in one word: indigeneity. From the lush, ancient beaches of Puerto Rico to the southernmost tip of Chile, rich pre-colonial civilizations dating back millennia are reflected in the land and culture of modern Latin American nations. Due to the ongoing forces of colonization, however, modern indigenous people–who rightly occupy a fundamental place in Latin American societies–continue to face censorship, displacement, and deprivation of basic human rights by their governments.
One notable way that current-day native Latinos have expressed resistance to oppression is through fashion. With brands like Ralph Lauren that harmfully appropriate indigenous Latin American designs on the rise, supporting native fashion is more important than ever in amplifying native voices and culture. Here are just five native Latino fashion designers who defiantly express their cultures through art, and showcase the (rebellious) beauty of indigenous diversity.
- Valerie Reynoso
Valerie Reynoso is a Dominican Taino multimedia artist and fashion designer who uses her art to oppose colonialism, westernization, and indigenous invisibility. In a powerful 2018 Teen Vogue op-ed, Reynoso wrote of the devastating impact of native American Halloween “costumes” on native communities, urging readers to instead buy from indigenous fashion designers. Featured in the article was a stunning dress Reynoso designed based on the traditional Taino nagua, and it certainly looks better than any costume manufacturer could make.
“Though appropriators often justify their costumes by saying that it’s meant to be lighthearted, they must realize intention isn’t impact — and the impact is the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes about Native people that are rooted in colonial and western tropes”, wrote Reynoso in her op-ed. “Why wear a culturally appropriative costume when there are so many ways to celebrate Native cultures without disrespecting Native people?”
- Lucia Guillin (Churandy Boutique FB Page)
A member of the Puruha ethnic group of Ecuador, Lucia Guillin launched her indigenous fashion label Churandy in order to create a line of beautiful, modern clothes that preserve the Puruha identity.
“Our Puruha clothes have disappeared and young people have started dressing in the Western style,” said Guillin in an interview with Fashion Network. Her fresh, “edgy” twist on the traditional anaco skirt has encouraged young indigenous women in the country to embrace and revive the garment once more. “We must put a stop to the idea that Indians are closed off,” she said. “If we continue with this, we also risk losing our culture.”
- Elias Lopez and Yunuen Lopez (Armara Etsy Shop)
Elias Lopez and Yunuen Lopez are Mexican jewelry designers and artists with Huichol roots. A lawyer by day, Elias dedicates his free time with his sister Yunuen to bringing Huichol fashion worldwide. With the help of other indigenous artisans, they create and sell stunningly bold handmade accessories using traditional native patterns and beading techniques. The shop features a gorgeous Huichol beaded necklace that is available for purchase, alongside a variety of other beaded sets and colorful paintings.
According to Elias in a feature in The Beading Gem, “the Huichol represent one of the few remaining indigenous cultures left in Mexico. They live in self-imposed isolation, having chosen long ago to make their home high in the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, in Western Central Mexico. Huichol Art dates back millenia.”