Writing from the “Telling Lives” workshop by Maribel Barcena Lopez

Maribel Barcena Lopez by Talía De Niz Pérez Negrón

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Maribel is an American girl with a golden Mexican heart created by the efforts of her family to keep all kinds of traditions around her: banda, mariachi, noches mexicanas, carnes asadas, weekends in Tijuana. But the most important value is family – the support, guidance, influence and inspiration she can only find there.

Her Mexican grandparents immigrated from Jalisco and Tijuana to California in the 1960’s. ”They are a very important part of my life. Their customs, morals, and ideals were passed down to their kids and then to their grandchildren, one of whom is me,” Maribel said. “ Most who are third generation are completely disconnected from their roots and do not speak Spanish. I am grateful to my grandparents and parents for not letting go of my culture.”

Maribel is an artist who likes to document herself and her adventures with photographs. She likes traveling, meeting new people, the sun, the breeze, food, and traditions. She is an L.A girl who loves her city, not the glamour and Hollywood but the one-of-a-kind big melting pot of languages, traditions, culture and histories that live there. Beautiful! She says, “One minute you’ll be in little Tokyo eating sushi and drinking sake bombs and the next minute you can be in East L.A. walking through the mercadito, eating un elote con chile and drinking an agua de limón.”

She has done substantial work with the youth arts collective “Heart and Soul” and “Inner City Arts,” a fabulous nonprofit organization where she can express herself, grow as an artista, and work in a space that stresses the importance and power of arts education. This is also where she found the motivation and desire to pursue a degree in fine arts with a focus on visual arts and humanities.

She is now in Morelia to sample the Mexican experience, try a different way of life, to get inspired, find new friends, and gain a different point of view about her country.

A sweet girl she is – a coffee lover (American with a bit of milk or iced if it’s a hot day), an adventurous but safe traveler, and definitely a person that you want as a friend.

”The Seeds of My Family”

Mom Lupe and Pop, 1979

In this photograph I see a young couple, gleaming with life and love. A giant smile spreads across the face of the woman as her partner gazes at her. His expression might be pure amazement and disbelief that he is standing next to such a beautiful woman. This moment shows the beginning of a new life, one of many hardships and sacrifices but also of happiness. This couple shares love but also similar stories.

Before they came together, both had to overcome many disappointments, setbacks, and failures. Both were born in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, to lower middle class families. Times were tough and both had big families that needed their support. Their best chance was to find work in the United States. The people in the photograph are my grandparents, “Mom Lupe” and “Pop.”

Pop arrived in Los Angeles in November, 1968 – a moment that would change his life. He waited many years to receive his visa. The process was unpredictable, and at the time things in Mexico were in chaos. The tension in the country, along with student revolts and protests, delayed the approval of his visa.  He worked small jobs and finally he was approved and on his way to the U.S. 1968 was the first Christmas he spent alone, away from his family, friends and his beloved hometown, Ocotlan. One of his first jobs was as a floor sweeper for an Italian named Mr. Remo who owned a clothing manufacturing company in downtown LA. Mr. Remo saw something in Pop and showed him the ropes of the business. Soon he gave Pop the opportunity to manage a cutting room department. Two years later Pop opened up his own cutting company with the help and support of Mr. Remo.  It was his first major accomplishment – a defining moment in his life and a memory very close to his heart.  He still holds undeniable gratitude for Mr. Remo, the man that saw him as more than just a Mexican immigrant who needed work, but as someone with humility, morals, a work ethic and integrity.

Mom Lupe arrived in Los Angeles when she was 17 years old. She came to find work to help herself and the eight younger siblings she left behind. Mom took the first job that came her way as a housekeeper and babysitter, for which she earned 25 dollars a week. The job lacked adequate pay, gratitude and respect. Soon she realized she couldn’t get by on this so she took her Tia Maggie’s advice and learned to sew. Mom went to work at a factory downtown on San Pedro and 22nd St. She wasn’t a pro when she started; her fingers and hands were still sensitive. Days at the factory were long and demanding, and the bosses unforgiving. When she poked her fingers with the needles, she would run to the restroom and cry in silence, her fingers bloody and her hands swollen. Although she was in pain and stressed, Mom didn’t show it. Her spirit, pride and determination were never broken and her pain paid off. By her second week she was making 65 dollars. From there she moved around to different sewing jobs and eventually landed in Glassell Park, at a factory next door to Mr. Remo’s. Whether it was fate or coincidence, that is how Mom and Pop met.

In this photograph I see a couple that together and apart are hard workers, determined and driven. However, I also see two people who don’t take life too seriously and enjoy the little things: morning walks on the beach, a hot bowl of menudo, reading on the front porch, and weekend trips to Tijuana.  I see how their work finally reaped rewards. In this photo Mom and Pop are standing in the living room of a new house that isn’t rented or leased but purchased. Located in Northeast LA with a gorgeous view of the city, it has five bedrooms, three baths and a huge back yard, which would be perfect for all of the birthdays, anniversaries, Banda parties, noches Mexicanas, quinceañeras and weddings that were to come.

I see big smiles and big hearts, the meshing of new and old traditions, fights and reconciliations, family dinners where everyone is about to bite each other’s heads off but at the end of the night all are teary-eyed from the laughter. I see lessons being taught and learned, my grandpa telling stories from the past about people he helped when he had nothing, my grandma nagging at him to get rid of all his junk, and my grandpa not listening.  I see my grandparents 40 years later, enjoying their café con leche and pan tostado at the table, savoring one another’s company. I see the planting of seeds that became my family.


Mom Lupe and Pop, 2011