Lex: The Multidisciplinary Artist

This is story 2 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Picture of Artist, Lex, with one of her paintings

Lex is a Los Angeles / Bay Area-based Afro-Latina artist. Her talents range from digital art, drawing, designing posters, and so much more, but her preferred medium is painting. Her art is heavily inspired by her culture. Being a Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman, Lex’s goal is to uplift and inspire women of color with her artwork.

“I have been exploring art mediums since I was a little girl, I was always known as the ‘artsy kid’ at school,” Lex shares. “Art has always been a way for me to express my inner voice and it’s a calming meditative activity. I am passionate about bringing art into my community to uplift voices…”

Lex’s mother always encouraged her to take art more seriously if it was the profession she was trying to get into. So she started to get serious about her craft. When she was a sophomore in high school, she tried to take AP Art, even though she knew it was only offered to seniors. But Lex tried to shoot her shot anyways and spoke with the AP Art teacher. She explained that she didn’t want to wait that long to hone in on her craft, so the teacher suggested that Lex apply for a scholarship program that would allow her to utilize her time where she could still learn art at a higher level until she was a senior. She is so grateful that she made the decision to talk to the AP teacher because she ended up applying to the scholarship program and getting in.

This wasn’t a typical high school course. In fact, it was actually a college course at Otis College of Art and Design. Different art professors from around Southern California and other universities would teach high school students art. These classes taught high school students the basics and fundamentals of different art techniques. Lex remembers working with acrylics in the class, and has used those skills to this day. The course touched on different styles like figure drawing, portraits, drawing, body proportions, architecture, shadows, and perspective. Lex was completely open to whatever the teachers had to teach, even if she was more interested in some lessons more than others, she knew that everything taught was for her benefit.

This is a scholarship program meant for those that take art seriously and are dedicated to learning more. This is because it’s a course that takes place during the weekends. For 3 semesters, Lex spent her Sundays at Otis for 4 hours. She remembers trucking her art supplies and portfolio back and forth to class every Sunday without fail. Lex never missed a class because her parents wouldn’t allow it, but also because she never wanted to. She was totally immersed in all the new techniques that she was adding to her art toolbox. The course never gave a grade for any project. Instead, they would get critiqued on how to improve or do better. It was an experience she was so grateful to be a part of, because it expanded her artistic knowledge.

After being in the scholarship program for 3 semesters, Lex was finally able to be in the AP Art class at her high school. Even though she transferred high schools, she is still grateful for the art teacher at her old school for introducing her to the scholarship program. It really made Lex more focused her senior year, and her last year of high school was dedicated to building her portfolio and strengthening her techniques. To this day, many years later, Lex still looks back to her earlier projects from high school for inspiration. She likes that she can improve an old idea, make it come to life in another way, or digitalize it with the new skills she knows now. For her, her old work is inspiration to keep creating because she can always go another direction with it.

“I’m going back to them and trying to think how I can make them better in the way that I do digital art,” Lex explained. “Or even my paintings now, I’m like, ‘Okay, that was a nice idea, but how can I reform that into something better?‘”

Her freshman year of college, Lex mentally laid out her options on the table. She wanted to pick a major that was more technical but still allowed her to be artsy. Lex entertained the idea of graphic design because she knew she wanted to do something creative in the long run. She was inspired by the idea of all the different work possibilities that graphic design could offer. So she searched up if San Francisco State had a graphic design program, and to her luck, they did. She applied for the program on the very last day and got in.

It was stressful at first when Lex took her very first graphic design class. At this point, she was so used to physically creating art. She felt as though she had mastered acrylics and was always trying to find new materials to practice on. Anything she got her hands on, she would experiment with it. Now, it was a different ball game. Lex wanted to be on the same level as her peers who already had knowledge on graphic design. But her peers were very supportive – reminding her that she’s there to learn, and never to fear because YouTube will always help you out! With that, Lex was excited to learn more about digital art and totally immerse herself into her major. Throughout her college years, Lex would do her best to juggle being a student, having jobs, and working on her own art side projects outside of school assignments.

Lex is the first in her family to pursue an artistic profession. Before she went to college, her parents’ vibe was very supportive. They knew how passionate Lex was about creating art, so they encouraged her to learn and practice as much as she could. When she got to college, her parents were a little worried about her decision to pursue art, but only because they had the typical parent reaction to their child pursuing something outside of the medical or law field. But they have always came back to the same conclusion – as long as Lex was passionate about what she was pursuing, confident about her work and in herself, and knew what she was doing, she had their full support. They didn’t know too much about design, but they genuinely felt like it was a good choice that if she were to study art, San Francisco is where Lex should be.

And the Bay Area is where Lex remained even after graduating college. She jokes that she still feels some type of way about referring to herself as a “Bay Area-based artist,” because she wasn’t born and raised in the area. She grew up in Southern California and considers herself an LA-based artist because of it. Even with 6 years living in San Francisco under her belt, Lex laughs that she doesn’t want Bay Area natives coming for her because she respects and loves the Bay. She does find herself traveling to SoCal often to see family, friends, and attend art events, so she is very much so equally a LA/SF-based artist.

For Lex, representation is everything. Her art gravitates towards her feminine energy. She absolutely loves painting women of color. Lex appreciates all the love and support that she receives from women who resonate with her work. This is really important to her because the margin of women in art galleries are about 3% of the total, leaving the other 97% to men. So she makes it a point to represent the women of color who are not represented in the art scene. Lex loves to paint women with really curly hair. Her Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan roots shine through her pieces. She knows that women of color will only make it in mainstream media if women of color continue to push out content of women of color.

Lex likes to sell her stickers and her prints at any art event she can attend. She appreciates that she can showcase her art in that way. She always tries to attend art events mostly in the Bay Area or SoCal because she wants to be a part of the artist community. Her friend, who is also an artist, will send Lex information on any art events that she knows of, and together the 2 friends will apply. They’re always finding new events through word of mouth. Her goal is to meet new creatives and surround herself with like-minded individuals. Being around creatives and other artistic people inspires her to keep creating as well.

Lex goes against the grain in many ways as an artist. She doesn’t sell her art with the hope and intention that she blows up and can turn it into a big business one day. Instead, she creates when she wants to create and makes sure that she enjoys the process. To her, quality over quantity is the key. Lex knows that there are people out there that will take her work seriously, she doesn’t have to try too hard to get people to recognize her work. If people resonate with it, awesome, if not, then it doesn’t. For those that do appreciate her craft and ask for custom pieces, Lex is always happy to take personal commissions.

Lex is aware that commissions are not necessarily what she would want on canvas, but more so what the other person wants. She has her own style of painting that attracted the customer, so it is “hers” in that sense, but at the end of the day it’s the customer’s vision and opinion that matters. This is why Lex makes sure that on top of commissions, she is also working on art for herself. She did a commission for a family friend where she did a family portrait with simple shapes. This inspired her to start a new series trying to capture the essence of family and what that looks like to different people.

Her series focusing on families is inspired by Africana art, using simple geometric shapes, a lot of color, and minimal details. Lex’s vision was to grasp the meaning of family and togetherness, emphasizing that family looks different to every person. To Lex, your family and those you choose to surround yourself with makes you who you are. Your identity stems from your family roots. Family looks different to everyone, whether that be your blood family, friend group, or even a pet. Who you consider family is a reflection of yourself. She has posted some of these paintings on her Instagram pages, @graphixbylex & @mythirdeyee.

“I find creating art as my meditation,” Lex said. “I find so much joy and confidence in it that sometimes I stray away from posting every art piece on the internet because of harsh criticism, people /companies stealing your ideas, or setting an expectation that if I post online – it will gain ‘this amount’ of interaction.”

In the past, Lex tried to keep up with social media algorithms to promote her work. As an artist, of course you want your work to be seen, so it can be easy to get lost in the rules and restrictions to make sure your account is successful. Instagram is Lex’s social media platform of choice, but after a while, it stressed her out keeping up with the different tips to essentially stay relevant. All the algorithms made Lex feel as though social media forces creatives into posting a certain way and fit into the same box to gain followers, and that was something she was not okay with.

Lex decided a while ago that she wasn’t going to stress herself out with all the tips and tricks to be more “visible” on social media. If she were to abide by those standards, she feels as though her creative process would be rushed. She doesn’t like the pressure of feeling the need to post every 3 or so days to stay relevant. Instead of promoting creativity, it restricts creatives and becomes chaotic. It starts to feel like a mandatory action, which takes the enjoyment out of the process. For Lex, it’s quality over quantity. She enjoys taking her time creating and doesn’t let the idea of views get to her. Instead, she uses social media as a tool to showcase her work that she’s most proud of, nothing is ever forced.

She knows first hand the struggle of wanting to be totally immersed in her craft, but knows at the end of the day she has bills to pay. She took on a job during the pandemic and felt as though it took all of her time and energy. Lex didn’t really have much of a summer, didn’t have time to travel, and then also got COVID which resulted in a time period of huge creative block. She wanted to have time to create for herself like she used to, but had to find a balance in her life to make that possible.

On top of that, 2022 brought on a lot of changes. After she lost someone close to her, her motivation to create was non-existent. Lex knew she had to focus on her family at the time, so gave herself grace and patience. Lex thinks the most important thing as an artist is to remain grounded. She didn’t force herself to create during the difficult times in her life, but instead chose to do things that made her happy. Lex finds solace being in nature, sometimes literally grounding herself like taking naps in the botanical gardens when she had a chance. She takes time to recharge by allowing herself to take breaks, go to art museums, and talking with family and friends to spark that interest again.

A big goal that Lex hopes to achieve on day is being recognized in Art Basel. Lex describes it as an event where they highlight artists in the community and sell their paintings. She would love to be recognized in that platform, not for the clout or attention, but because it would mean that people resonate with her art at a higher level. Lex wants people to know how much representing her culture means to her. She wants to represent women of color in her work until she doesn’t have to say she’s the first / only Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman to do XYZ. She thinks it’s so important to make roots in the communities that she’s a part of, so you’ll always find her supporting women of color, going to art events up and down California, and being invested in the community. She is also part of the reason why SF State has the Afro-Latiné Club.

Another personal goal that Lex has is to open a program for children in the next 10 years or so that is art and science based. This is something that her and the person she lost earlier this year would talk extensively about. Lex is very passionate and motivated to get that program running and focus on the 5th grade level. Growing up, Lex wasn’t a science person, but believes that had she had access to it at a young age, it could’ve been a possibility. There are not many programs that focus on science and art, so she feels that this is something her community could benefit from. It’s important to her to funnel back that love, support, and inspiration back into the community.

Lex’s creative journey has not been an easy road. She has dealt with her fair share of ups and downs: dealing with art block, having to go to school while balancing 2 jobs, feeling the pressure of posting consistent content online, and losing family members along the way. Life has thrown her many curveballs, but nonetheless, she still chooses to use creating art as her favorite form of meditation.

Filipino-American Representation: Easter Sunday

I’ve been following Jo Koy’s career for over 15 years, back when he was a panelist on the Chelsea Lately show. I had no business being 12 years old watching that show religiously every night at 11 PM. Those were the days where I thought 11 PM was late… My sisters and I got into the show because our older cousin put us on. He’s a huge Chelsea Handler fan and let us know that there was a Filipino comedian that was on the show pretty often. He would describe funny comments and the banter that would happen on the show until we finally started watching it for ourselves.

It seemed like every single joke Jo or Chelsea told was in relation to him being Filipino, and I wasn’t mad at it. In fact, I waited it for it. That’s the thing about Filipinos – we take pride in our people that make it big and rep us. Jo Koy took every opportunity to let people know that he was half Filipino and grew up in a Filipino household. At a time where the only well-known Filipino was Manny Pacquiao, it felt good to see another Filipino making it big. Jo Koy is a Filipino-American born in the US, so his upbringing and experiences are pretty similar to a lot of first generation Filipino Americans. Through his comedy, he expresses not only what it’s like to grow up with the typical generational gap between parents and their children, but also showing the dynamic between first generation American-born children with their immigrant parents. After the show ended, I still kept tabs on Jo Koy’s career and followed his projects.

From my own personal experience, growing up there were little to no Filipinos in mainstream media in America. When my sisters and I would see someone that resembled a Filipino on TV, we would get our hopes up and do our research. I think we were desperate to see someone that looked like us in shows and movies that we liked. Not only would my sisters and I have suspected Filipino stars on our radar, our parents would too. “Did you know ______ is Filipino?” they would ask proudly. Usually because the person ended up on Balitang America confirming their Filipino lineage. The Philippines, and Filipinos in general, love to keep up with Filipino stars that make it in America.

It was a good feeling to know that a Filipino comic was selling out venues, getting Netflix specials, got his own Funko POP!, and making headlines. After seeing his come up, we all feel a sense of pride, and can’t help but feel like a milestone is being made in Filipino-American history with his movie, Easter Sunday. I believe this is only the 2nd Filipino movie to play in theatres, the first being The Debut. Jo Koy makes it a point in all of his stand up routines to say that he did not grow up with Filipino idols to look up to. He mentions his sense of pride seeing Manny Pacquiao’s rise to fame. I’m sure he knows that he is that Filipino idol to Filipino-Americans right now.

Jo Koy’s movie, Easter Sunday, that debuted on Friday, August 5th, touched on so many topics in the Filipino community while still keeping it lighthearted. I personally felt like I could relate to almost everything in the movie, given that a lot of these topics and issues are so embedded into the Filipino culture. These have been topics that I have covered on my blog, talked about extensively with cousins and friends, and have thought about on my own time. Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing some deep diving into who I am, what makes me me, and how I was raised. Easter Sunday shows how families may have unhealed trauma and unhealthy family dynamics, but they can still be a family full of love with the best intentions at the end of the day. Filipinos know this firsthand.

In the movie, Jo is conflicted whether or not he should sellout to secure a spot in a sitcom show. It is apparent that they only want Jo in the show if he agrees to do his Filipino accent. He has mixed feelings about it because he believes he’s funny without the accent and doesn’t feel like it’s relevant or necessary for the part. His agent makes light of his torn decision, and encourages him to just agree to do it for the sake of securing the deal. This is an interesting take since Jo Koy is known for impersonating his mom and her accent. It really shows the point of view that there’s a difference between poking fun at your culture versus being told to make a mockery of your culture by people who are 1. not that ethinicity, and 2. seek to profit off of it.

Jo is in a dilemma because he feels the need to prove something to his family. He wants to prove that he is successful in his stand up career despite going against his mom’s wishes to pursue nursing. The long standing joke is that Filipino parents expect their children to go into the medical field. It’s a profession that has a huge Filipino presence. When Filipino children choose to take another career path other than nursing or the medical field, it could get ugly. Filipino parents take this opportunity to use scare tactics to discourage their children from choosing a career path they are passionate about.

This discouragement could be interpreted as being unsupportive and controlling, which let’s be real, it is. However, the nagging encouragement to pursue nursing is really an unspoken desperate plea to avoid the unknown at all costs. Filipino parents don’t know how to put into words that they are worried for their child’s future. They don’t know how to express that they just want the best for their kids and don’t want them to fail. And they definitely can’t put their pride aside to admit that they are afraid of the road less traveled and would prefer tradition because it’s familiar. The lack of communication translates to anger and doubt. For the most part, Filipino parents want the best for their children. They want them to have stable jobs that they know will be in demand and would prefer their children take the safe option. Exploring creative passions professionally goes against the work familiarity that so many Filipinos are used to.

Filipinos are so used to busting their ass to make ends meet. That means starting from the bottom and working your way up. Work wasn’t meant to be something they enjoyed, it was something they had to do to have food on the table for their families. Surprisingly, pursuing a career in something you actually like and are passionate about is somewhat a new concept for traditional Filipino families. Thankfully, my parents never fell into the stereotypical Filipino parents who push nursing onto their children. I’d be lying if I said it was never suggested, but my parents just wanted my sisters and I to finish college in anything we wanted. Being a college graduate was all that was important to them, so going for what we wanted to do was never the issue. My sisters and I were lucky, because I know a lot of people whose Filipino parents weren’t as lenient.

To Jo’s family, he’s the big shot that made it in Hollywood, so it’s totally understandable why his character felt pressured to agree to something he was strongly opposed to if it meant landing the role. As a Filipino kid whose mom didn’t want him to pursue comedy, he’ll do almost anything to avoid letting his family down. Introducing this internal conflict in the movie sheds light on the fact that a lot of Filipino adults still feel the need to be successful because they dread being viewed as a disappointment to their parents. The sad truth is this: not wanting to disappoint your parents doesn’t just stop when you’re a kid, it continues on into your adulthood. Especially when you feel like you have to make them proud, but also outshine others.

There’s a lot of pressure to be successful and make your Filipino parents proud. But there’s also a lot of pressure to be better than those around you because you’re always being compared to someone. We see this play out in the movie with the relationship between Jo and his cousin Eugene. Clearly, Eugene’s character is the typical loser cousin who means well but just can’t seem to get their life together. Even though Eugene’s flaws are ridiculously apparent, Jo’s mother has her beer goggles on. She insists that Eugene is a “good boy,” even though it’s clear that he has tangled himself in with the wrong crowds. Jo rolls his eyes multiple occasions when hearing his mom say that Eugene is a good boy, not because he’s jealous of his life, but because he knows that she means Eugene is a good boy in comparison to him. In this instance, what’s being compared is how attentive Eugene is with Jo’s mom while he’s away trying to jumpstart his career.

As Filipino children, we are no stranger to being compared to our siblings, cousins, or family friends. And nothing is off the table for bragging rights – it can be about success, appearance, how big their house is, the person they married, what material things they own, what field they work in, how they treat their parents, what life choices they made, what school they got into, etc. It can be a very toxic game elders play because it can either motivate you or make you jealous and bitter. Putting everyone else under a microscope just opens the doors for judgment and gossip. In the Filipino culture it can seem like everyone is concerned about everyone else except themselves.

Religion plays a big role in the Filipino culture. I grew up around the Santo Niño statues, praying before eating, and going to church on Sundays. It was interesting, but not shocking, that Jo Koy decided to have a church scene in the movie. After all, the movie’s setting is supposed to be for Easter Sunday – resurrection day. Filipinos are known to be very religious and attending church on Sundays is a typical thing. When Jo is forced to give a speech in front of everyone in attendance, he calls out his mom and Tita’s feud. In a way, Jo is calling out his family members for not practicing what they preach. Exposing his family’s drama in church revealed something deeper. It’s not just about the petty drama, but the underlying meaning behind it.

The movie tastefully shows the Filipino family dynamics when it comes to feuding within the family. However, in real life, these scenarios can get straight up ugly and petty. We see how Jo’s mom and Tita take little digs at each other throughout the movie. They play it petty by threatening not to go to each others’ parties, not eating food the other made, leaving early, stealing recipes, trying to out-do each other on presents to the Philippines, and making rude unnecessary comments to diss each other. It’s funny for the sake of the movie, but we know scenarios like this that played out in real life. And it all boils down to pride.

Every Filipino family can relate – you have the aunties or group of elders that like to stir the pot and talk shit. It’s all fun and games until someone gets butthurt off something and it turns into a he said she said moment. In Easter Sunday, Jo’s relatives couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason for the argument – and this is very true in real life as well. They tend to give their side of the story to whoever will listen, and then these people have to act like they don’t know the drama when the other person gives their side. Everyone is aware that this is going on, but the chisme is just too juicy to not listen to. So many sides and points are made that by the end, you don’t even remember what came first, who dissed who, or what the real argument is about. But it just shows the pettiness and pride Filipinos have when it comes to confronting an issue.

But the problem is, the issue is never confronted. Instead, the flames are fanned and the problem just gets bigger because everyone is just in everyone else’s ear. Both parties know that the other is angry and talking behind their back, which is the reason why they feel the need to get everyone to rally behind what they are saying. But that’s the issue – things are never resolved. It’s always passive aggressive anger. Instead of confronting each other respectfully, it always needs to escalate further to be resolved, or resolved for the moment. Filipino families are traditionally tight-knit, but they are notorious for grudge keeping. There is no such thing as things being forgiven and forgotten for our elders sometimes. It can be swept under the rug, but the next time something comes up, that shit is coming out from the backburner and being used again. Filipinos love hard but fight harder, over the pettiest things sometimes too.

A lot of built up resentment can cause these family feuds. And it all boils down to this – someone gets their feelings hurt, and they don’t have the tools to properly express those feelings. In the Filipino culture, admitting your feelings are hurt or that something bothers you is almost like a sign of weakness. Everyone wants to come off all bossy bad-ass, but the truth is, everyone is just butthurt and it’s a front to cover up those hurt feelings. And because we are not taught to express those feelings, they bubble up in other ways – anger, petty remarks, jealousy, acting like you’re better than others, acting like you don’t care, and being a straight savage in the worst way possible.

We see the result of hurt feelings manifesting itself into ill-mannered behavior in the movie when Jo’s mother tells him that he’s not a good father. Jo’s mom is hurt over what his Tita said – that she’s a bad mother. So she tries to lessen her shame by saying that if she wasn’t a good mother, maybe he isn’t such a great father either. It’s a chain of unnecessary hurt, and honestly everyone’s reaction in the movie was priceless. His post office uncle got me with the, “What is wrong with you?” comment after his mom blurted that out. Of course, this is a movie, so a resolution was made after the climax of insults and childish behavior. But it gave us a glimpse into how far things can go when pride and hurt feelings are commanding the ship.

Easter Sunday hit closer to home since the movie takes place in Daly City! That’s crazy to me. My city, the city known for its Filipino community, is the setting for a movie. Daly City is often shadowed by San Francisco, so it felt good to see us being put on the map for once and not piggybacking off of San Francisco or the Bay Area as a whole. I loved that Easter Sunday was in my city, it showcased food that I eat, Tagalog was spoken throughout the movie, and the mannerisms of each character made me think of my own family – That just made the movie that much more relatable.

Overall, the movie is exactly what I expected it to be. I watched it on opening night and then took my whole family to see it a few days later. I felt like it was a big moment for Filipino-Americans and wanted my parents to be a part of it. My parents really enjoyed it and I feel like every Filipino in that theater could relate to something in the movie. For once, we were watching our experiences play out on the big screen. That’s a big deal. For so long I’ve wanted to see the Filipino experience in media, in our textbooks, in the arts, and now I feel like we are finally getting that representation.

1 Year Without Tatay – A Year Of Change & Lessons

It’s crazy to think that it’s been 1 year since Tatay passed away. One thing I’ve always known is the fact that time waits for no one. Whether we like it or not, life moves on with or without our consent. How is it possible for time to move so fast yet so dreadfully slow at the same time? I’ve always felt this way, but especially this year. So much has changed, is changing, and will change. I’m notorious for resisting change at all cost, but this 1 year without Tatay has forced me to accept the things I know I can’t change. These last 12 months without our Tatay Jack has had its ups and downs to say the least. The theme of the last 12 months have been: CHANGE.

For the first few months after Tatay passed, I had no dreams of him whatsoever. This may seem like a “…okay, and?” moment for others, but for me it was a big deal. I consider myself a very intuitive person, and have always had vivid dreams that I would read as signs either from the universe, loved ones from the other side, or things of that nature. I’ve always felt that I have a third eye to some degree. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always looked for the deeper meaning in things and always believed in signs. I’ve always believed that those we love are still around us after they pass. For me, I’ve always got those messages through dreams. So I was devastated when weeks had passed by with no dreams from Tatay. I was pretty bummed that he wasn’t visiting me because I desperately wanted a sign.

It took a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, for Tatay to start appearing in my dreams. When that moment happened, I was so relieved and felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and peace. If he wasn’t with me in the physical world, at least I could still see him again in my dreams. It’s a comforting feeling to know that he still lives on in my subconscious memory. Every time I have a dream of Tatay the night before, I wake up feeling content with life. Losing Tatay is the void that I will forever be trying to fill for the rest of my life, and dreaming of him makes this change without him a little easier.

Even though it took a while for me to dream of Tatay, once it finally happened, it happened consistently. Some I remember vividly, and some very faintly. You know that feeling when you know someone was in your dream the night before but you can’t really remember all the details? You just remember envisioning their face and wishing that they were there and it were real life. For a while though, I had a few regular occurring dreams of Tatay. This frequent dream, I admit, is a bit morbid, and I would wake up feeling like I wanted to cry each time.

I dreamt this regular occurring dream over the span of a couple months. I wouldn’t dream of it everyday, but I can think of 3 or 4 different dreams where basically the same thing happens. In these dreams, I would be trying to convince people that Tatay was still alive, that it was all a mistake, and if they’d only listen to me, he’d be back with us. Like I said, these dreams were pretty morbid, but they always ended the same way. The dreams differed in small ways, but it was always the same gist. It was always that Tatay’s death was a misunderstanding, and he was in fact, still alive. In some of my dreams, we were even at the cemetery, the digger present to reopen his grave. Sometimes, it would even be me digging his plot, anxiously trying to prove that Tatay was buried alive. I had no doubt in my mind that he would come out, living, breathing, and perfectly well – a huge misunderstanding that we could easily fix.

I would wake up sad as fuck, wishing that that was actually our reality. But I knew it wasn’t, and it never could be true. I had this dream in different forms for a long time. One day, I casually told my sisters about my morbid occurring dream of Tatay. My older sister said, “That’s your subconscious not coming to terms that he passed away.” And I knew that was the case. It took such a long time for me to process and come to terms with the fact that Tatay passed, how he passed away when the state of the world was in shambles and had many restrictions, and feeling robbed of more time. It took a couple months for me to accept all of these things, and I guess it took my subconscious even longer to register in my brain that he was actually gone. For me, my dreams are always revealing what I push deep down and avoid. Just a few months ago, the reoccurring dreams of me thinking that Tatay was buried alive stopped. I guess it finally sank in, 1 year later.

I will admit though, there have been plenty of times where I simply forget that Tatay has passed on, even 1 year later. It’s crazy because I think about him all the time – he’s one of the first things I think of when I wake up, and always on my mind before I go to sleep. But there are still times when I enter his home and think that I’ll see him. There are still times I think we’re going to get him bread and drop it off for a quick visit. There are still times I think I’m going to be welcomed by the smell of Vick’s and hear his cane coming down the stairs. My head has adjusted to the fact that Tatay has passed on, but my heart still needs to get used to this new reality. Different places, smells, and times of the year bring me back to different memories of Tatay.

These last 12 months have brought on so much change for the Cabillo family. Extended family are starting to relocate elsewhere, and it’s a change we all have to get used to. For all my life, the core of the family has been in the Bay Area. Tatay was in the Bay Area with 5 of his 7 children. We got so used to family coming in from Vegas for Tatay’s birthdays, Thanksgivings, and Christmas’, that it’s unfathomable to think that that’s most likely a thing of the past now. Things were bound to change – our family is forever growing – but we didn’t expect it to all happen so quickly.

I have never been one that conforms to change easily. I’m such a nostalgic person by nature – I’m big on family traditions, family time, and preserving things from the past. So when 1 by 1 we got news that family planned to relocate elsewhere, of course it made me sad. Because that meant that our family dynamic would soon be changing – everyone scattered around and no longer a short car ride away. But I’m aware that nothing stays the same forever, and if Tatay’s passing has taught me anything, it’s that. Change is inevitable, it’s a part of life, and it can be really sad. But in the midst of all this change, I’ve learned that it’s how you adapt to change that really matters. Feel those feelings and do whatever it takes to come to terms with the changes at hand, but pivot after and learn how to adjust.

Like I said many times, Tatay’s passing made me realize what and who is most important to me in this life. With Tatay gone, family moving away, and everyone doing their own thing, the family is well aware that we need to make a conscious effort to prioritize making time for each other to keep our family close. Effort and time is something that money can’t buy. The last 12 months without Tatay has taught me to be more mindful of being present for events for those I care about, even if that means expensive Ubers, plane tickets, and taking time off of work. Because at the end of the day, you can always make more money, but you can’t buy more time. Show people you care about them now, while you still can.

It has been a long, yet short, 1 year without our Tatay. One of my worst fears is that with time, I will forget tidbits of Tatay. From here on out, more and more time will pass. I had a hard time accepting the fact that my children will never meet their Tatay Jack in the physical world. But one thing’s for sure, my kids will hear many stories of their funny, gentle yet aggressive, animal-loving, likes things a certain way, Ray-Ban wearing Tatay Jack. 1 year ago, we lost such an important person in our family. But Tatay’s death has brought us closer in many ways. For my cousins and I, it definitely strengthened our desire to make the effort to keep our family close.

No matter what changes happen or where we all move to, home will always be where Tatay is.

Jade Dragon – Thank You For 50 Amazing Years

We went out to eat last week at a Chinese restaurant for my mom’s birthday dinner. It reminded me that we haven’t ate at Jade Dragon in a really long time. I mentioned that we should go to Jade Dragon soon for the sake of memories, and even made a mental note of it for when it’s my turn to treat the family out to dinner. It was on my mental list of places I should order from on Sundays.

For anyone that has grew up in Daly City, the restaurant, Jade Dragon, rings a thousand bells. For me, Jade Dragon has been at the center of my family’s milestones. From 1st birthdays, to baptism receptions, to birthday dinners, to birthday parties, to retirement parties, to debuts, to catering family events, to many eventless weekend dinners, we basically grew up at that restaurant eating their food. To this day, I still have fond memories of my family and I eating at Jade Dragon. Hence why I wanted to go back after a few years of not eating in the dine-in restaurant area or the reserved party rooms. With the pandemic going on its 2 year anniversary, going to a familiar place that housed great memories from your childhood would be a great comfort. I looked forward to taking my family there again.

Last night, my family and I ordered take-out from a Vietnamese spot on Ocean. I have been on my satay pho obsession for a couple months now, and it was time to have my sisters join in on the craze. Especially since the Bay Area was freezing cold this last week, a nice warm bowl of pho was definitely appreciated. We stood around the kitchen table, putting together our bowls of pho. Anyone who has ever taken pho to-go knows the struggle of assembling your meal to your liking. My eyes grew wide as I watched my little sister take her first bite.

She agreed. The satay pho was really that good. My sisters and I sat in the living room, devouring our steaming bowls of that peanut broth goodness. My dad joined us to watch another episode of 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, a Sunday night tradition for the last 2 years. And by 7:40 pm, we were stuffed and ready for a food coma. I was so full that I couldn’t even finish the extra noodles I had added to my order. I called it satay quits and went on my phone.

Justine messaged on our group chat a screenshot of one of her Facebook friend’s posts. The pictures on the post were very familiar to me. It was Peggy standing in front of her restaurant, Jade Dragon. I remembered her familiar face in an instant. Up until reading that Facebook post, it dawned on me that I never knew her name. However, her face was such a familiar and inviting face from my childhood. I read the caption above the pictures and gasped.

“Jade Dragon is closing?!?!” I blurted out.

Gasps filled the room, “Whaaaaaaat!?”

Quickly I remembered that I wanted to take the family there to eat. Now, my chance was almost gone. The post said that they were closing their doors for good tomorrow (Monday). I had no idea if that meant that their last day was that night, Sunday, or their last day in service was the next day, Monday. I frantically tried to find their website online, seeing if the rumor was true. I couldn’t find a website or any social media pages for the restaurant. Google said that they were closing at 8 PM, which was in 8 minutes. As full as I was, I knew it would be foolish not to at least attempt to place an order for the last time. So, I called in, hoping that 8 minutes until closing wouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

“Jade Dragon.”

“Hi, are you guys closing at 8?”

“Yes, you can place your order now and it will be ready in 15 minutes.”

“Uh, will you guys be open tomorrow?” I said, already dreading the answer.

“No, we are closing. Last day is today.”

At that point, I knew it was about 5 minutes until they closed. So I did what anyone else would do… I placed an order for fried chicken. I got off the phone and my dad was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe I ordered more food after we gorged ourselves 5 minutes prior. But I had to. There were too many memories made at Jade Dragon not to! And I knew I would regret not getting 1 last opportunity to bite into the tastiest, crispiest, best chicken skin of all time, Jade Dragon chicken.

Had this been for any other take-out, my dad would be annoyed as hell. But Jade Dragon also held a special place in his heart too, and he was equally as shocked that they were closing. So my dad, little sister, and I headed for the car to pick up our last order from the restaurant we so very loved. I didn’t have much expectations, because I knew that seeing Peggy there would be a very slim chance. But I hoped anyways.

We parked the car in front of Jade Dragon. We have been to this parking lot many times before. It was dark outside, the “open” sign was no longer on, and something about seeing the restaurant’s sign in the dark made me sad. We walked in, and there were still people at the bar section to the left. The huge Buddha statue that I rubbed every time I left the restaurant growing up sat in it’s same position in front of the door. We turned to the right towards the dinning area. Everything looked exactly the same. It smelled exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. And then from behind the restaurant, slowly walking and emerging from behind the paneled divider, came Peggy.

Seeing Peggy’s smiling face took me back 2 decades ago. Suddenly, I was 7 years old, walking into Jade Dragon with my family. The smell in the restaurant was the same, the furniture was the same, the decorations untouched, the tables were set up exactly as it was 20 years prior. I had flashbacks of my older sister and I pouring tea into our teacups, only so we could add way too much sugar. We wouldn’t stir the sugar into the tea, we would let it sink to the bottom so the last couple sips were sugary, grainy, and delicious. I remembered picking out the peas in my fried rice and lining them up on the side of my plate, pretending they were audience members.

I remembered the circle table at the very back of the restaurant where we had my dad’s surprise 40th birthday dinner with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I remembered all the events that took place in that restaurant – my uncle’s retirement party, my goddaughter’s birthday party, my 1st birthday that I don’t remember but have pictures from… the list went on. I remember running to the Buddha statue to rub his belly. “Rub for good luck,” my mom would tell me. And oh how I believed it. And I remembered Peggy’s smiling face greeting us at the back of the restaurant, “Oh they’re so big now!” she would tell my parents.

And there she was, in the same part of the restaurant, greeting us into Jade Dragon for the last time. She looked exactly the same. Her friendly face is one I could pick out from a crowd. It was such a surprise because I don’t think any of us expected to actually see a familiar face. I expected to not see anyone I recognize, pick up our chicken, and say silent goodbyes in our head. But there she was. The woman whose face I’ve associated with Jade Dragon and great family memories. The most welcoming face to be greeted with.

“Sorry, we’re closed. The cooks are going home,” she said kindly with a sympathetic smile. We had our masks on, but we let her know that we had placed an order already. “Oh, the fried chicken!” she said happily.

We talked a bit while we waited for our fried chicken order. We let her know that even though she may not remember us, that we definitely remembered her and cherished the family memories we made at Jade Dragon. Peggy said that she somewhat remembered our faces, but I really didn’t expect her to. She knew me since I was like 4, I doubt she could recognize 27 year old me. However, she was still very kind about it and insisted that she remembers people’s faces.

We reminded her that we were regulars way back when. Peggy let us know that it was just finally time for her to retire. “50 years in February,” she said tenderly. I couldn’t believe it – Jade Dragon was closing its doors after 50 years. She updated us on her husband’s health and the passing of her sister-in-law 4 years prior, another familiar face at Jade Dragon. She told us that they sold the restaurant space to Kukje, and they’d be remodeling it soon. Standing there talking with Peggy, I couldn’t believe how much time had passed. Instead of her being in awe at how much my sisters and I have grown, we were now in the middle of her restaurant on it’s last day – probably their last order. Yes, we were the assholes that ordered 5 minutes till closing… but I’m glad we did.

Peggy went to the back to check on our order, and we walked around the restaurant. Everything looked the same. In my memories, I recall it being so much bigger. It was sad looking around knowing that this restaurant wouldn’t be around anymore. It was a very nostalgic moment, especially since a couple weeks ago we learned that Tanforan Mall would be permanently closing as well. It feels like so many major things from my childhood are quickly fading. So many places that housed so many great memories are soon to be a thing of the past. It hit me.

Peggy came out with our chicken, and we headed to the cash register. I was so glad that we got to see her that night, and that we got to say our thank you’s and give her our best wishes. I handed her a generous tip, which she refused to take. We encouraged her to take it, and let her know that we would miss the restaurant.

“I need to give you a souvenir then. Something to remember by.” She headed to the back of the restaurant. She gifted us 2 embroidered animals that were framed separately – a horse and a cat. We were honored to take a piece of Jade Dragon with us.

After that, I asked if we could have a picture with all of us and the Buddha. Peggy was thrilled to do so. We took our masks off and smiled for the camera. The Buddha that we rubbed every time we came into Jade Dragon, and every time we walked out. When she saw my dad with his mask down she said, “I remember your face now! Now that you don’t have a mask, yes, I remember your dad.”

So we said our goodbyes, our thank yous, and our well wishes for her retirement. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. But as I ate the leftover Jade Dragon chicken today for dinner, I remembered all the great memories of family, food, and great service.

Jade Dragon gave Daly City 50 amazing years. I’m grateful that my family and I got to talk to Peggy before they finally closed their doors. This one definitely hurt because Jade Dragon was a big part of the community. However, I will always remember the many happy memories I have of Jade Dragon over the years. And that’s the definition of a successful business – when people keep coming back because your food is great, but also because of the happy memories and great hospitality.

Today, Monday, February 28, 2022 Jade Dragon closed their doors. Thank you, Jade Dragon, for 50 great years!

Hopes & Daydreams

When you feel bored, where does your brain wander to?

Y’all already know this, but I’m a dreamer by nature. When I’m bored, my mind drifts in so many directions. Who needs entertainment when I got my own damn self? And truly nothing is off limits for me. I think of everything and anything, which is probably why I’m notorious for getting easily distracted.

Lately, when I close my eyes, I picture myself “having it all.” Shit, who doesn’t? And most of the time, my daydreams are forever changing…

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I’m in my big ass cozy home, I’m holding my baby in one arm as I use my other hand to type up my latest project. I’m working from home, the vibe is stress free, and I’m financially comfortable. There isn’t a care in the world. My house is clean, my kids are taken care of, and my husband and I are financially well. We’re not tired, we’re not burnt out, and we genuinely love what we do. I’m working on my latest passion project, but I’m ahead of schedule. There’s no pressure to deliver because I’m working on my own time. Anything I put out is just adding to the already massive amount of well-known published work I have circulating around.

The doorbell rings and my parents enter. They take off their shoes at the door and make themselves comfortable. The kids greet their grandparents and try to show them the latest things they learned in school, show them a new wrestling move their dad taught them, or give them a drawing they made sometime during the week. There’s already food in the kitchen, and you can still see the steam, you know that shit’s still hot. It’s from our favorite take out restaurant, and we have everyone’s favorite dish.

It’s Sunday dinner, and we’re waiting for the rest of the family to show up. My nieces and nephews start to arrive, and they immediately link up with my kids and start playing. The once mellow home is starting to be filled with relatives, getting more and more chaotic as more people start arriving. But I fuckin’ love it. The kitchen is filled with delicious food, so I start to light the candle so the house doesn’t smell like straight food the whole night. Everyone’s together, everyone’s happy, and life is good. Everyone grabs a plate and starts to eat.

“Did you know we used to do this at Tatay’s house?” I tell my kids for the billionth time.

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I’m on and off planes consistently. This time I’m in a distant land that resembles paradise. Hawaii? The Philippines? I’m not too sure, but I’m on some island. The weather is perfect. It’s sunny, but it’s not too hot. And when I say perfect, I mean a very particular kind of weather – I get hot hella quick. The skies are blue, I’m by the beach, and I ain’t got shit to do. I have nowhere to go and I have all the time in the world. My biggest concern is where I’m going to eat that night. There’s no masks, no pandemic, no restrictions. In fact, COVID ain’t even a thing anymore. So much time has passed since the pandemic that it’s a distant memory.

I’m not worried about work, or finances, or stressing. I’m present and in the moment. I feel damn good in the clothes I’m wearing, and I’m radiating confidence… still humble though. I turn on my laptop and start typing away. What am I writing? I don’t fuckin know, all I know is in my fantasies, I’m always working on something. I’m writing for pure fun and enjoyment, not because the bills depend on it. However, it is my money maker, but it’s so effortless that the writing experience is peaceful as hell. I often look back to my beginning stages of my writing career and how I kept up with my blog. My mind drifts off for a bit, remembering how confused and lost I was… I’m thankful I stuck with it because it got me to where I am. “I did that shit,” I think to myself.

The sunset is the perfect ending to a perfect relaxing day. We finally decide to ditch the beach and go back to the place to get ready for dinner. We get all dressed up and head out. It’s a restaurant that wants me to write about my experience dining in. In fact, that’s why I’m on this paradise island. We got the trip complimentary in every aspect. My loved ones are along for the ride. I’m finally getting to travel the world because of my writing.

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I’m getting interviewed about my latest passion project. And like every other interview I have done up until that point, I make it a point to share that I was born and raised in the Bay Area. I call Daly City by name and make it known that that’s where I was raised the first 25 years of my life. I rep San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole, but I don’t hesitate to shout out Daly City.

The interviewer doesn’t ask, “Where’s that?” like past reporters have. No, they know where Daly City is. I’ve repeated it in many interviews, wrote about it tirelessly in my writing, and have been very vocal about where I’m from.

Bay Area born and raised. To me, this will forever be home. But they want to talk about the glam side of the Bay Area, San Francisco more specifically. The tech side of San Francisco, the hipsters, how boujee it is. But that’s not the San Francisco I grew up in, that’s not what was happening in Daly City.

I’m finally at a place in my life where I can give back. Give back to not only my family and those around me, but my community as well. The Bay Area, Daly City, San Francisco, the place I called home for so long. The way J.Cole reps Fayetteville, North Carolina is the same way I’ll rep my home town. But I just don’t rep it for the sake of Bay Area street cred. I acknowledge the good, bad, and the ugly of the city.

My parents weren’t in the tech industry, people like me could never buy a home in San Francisco in the year 2022, and families that were born and raised in the area were getting pushed further and further out. I know first hand what it’s like to be in the most expensive area in the country, and not have it like that. And because I know what it’s like, I’m giving back to the community that made me.

The schools are getting better funding, sports teams aren’t getting cut, and little Manila, Daly City, is making a name for itself. Daly City is no longer being overlooked or downplayed.

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I’m enjoying the early morning hours at my kitchen table. It’s still pretty dark outside, the house is still quiet, and I’m reminiscing on the stories I just told my grandchildren the day before. I’m always talking, always involved, always passing down our family stories. That’s important to me – that those stories and the people in those stories are still talked about. Even though my grandchildren never met them, it’s important that they know where they came from. I need them to know where our family came from, what struggles they endured for us to have a better life, and learn all the family trauma so that it does not repeat itself.

I have finally hit my Uncle Iroh stage in life where I’m just wise, chillin’, and offering unsolicited advice. I look back on my life and accept all the choices I have made, I love reminiscing on all the memories I’ve made with those who have come and went, and there is not one ounce of regret in my soul. I love the life I chose. Even though at times it wasn’t clear to me and I’ve had my fair share of hardships, this life is mine and mine alone. I never think what if, and there’s no doubt in my mind this is where I’m supposed to be right now.

My house is surrounded by so many photos. So many happy memories captured in a single shot. My house is decorated with family, friends, postcards, vacations, art, collectibles, everything that brings me joy. It’s a house filled with love. Just by looking at the photos on the wall is a family history lesson all on its own. My old wise ass is known for sharing all the stories, making sure people from our past don’t get forgotten.

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When I first got this writing prompt, I originally wanted to write about 1 daydream only. But my daydreams are forever changing, which is why I decided to share the most common daydreams I have. Even though the daydream changes, 1 theme remains true in all the scenarios – I’m happy, successful, giving back, and have my loved ones along for the ride. And I guess that captures the essence of what success means to me.

I’ve seen a shift in what I daydream about recently. In the past, a lot of my free time went to thinking up imaginary scenarios that stressed me out. What am I going to do with my life? What if I don’t get X done in X amount of time? What if I fail? What if I make the wrong move in life? Am I going to be successful? It seemed like even my daydreams stressed me out. But recently, I’ve been daydreaming positively. I’ve been more comfortable in knowing that things will come with time, and of course hard work. When I allow my mind to freely wander stress-free, I find myself subconsciously telling me what’s important to me and what I truly want out of life.

Rhonda: Heart Of Gold

Illustration By: Marielle Cabillo (Instagram: @work_in_progress.ai)

If you were to ask me how Rhonda and I got close, I really couldn’t tell you. She was my dad’s first cousin, meaning she was my 2nd cousin, or aunt, or whatever the correct term is. With a 25+ year age gap, Rhonda still insisted that we were “cousins.” So to mess with her, we gave her the nickname “Tita-Lola” (Auntie Grandma).

In the past, the only times I’d ever really see Rhonda in person were at family reunions that are held once a year. Well, reunions and funerals. Our family is so big that we’ll probably never get every single family member at an event…. ever. Despite not growing up together, not seeing each other often, and probably not acknowledging each other at events for the first decade plus of my life, Rhonda and I managed to have a very close bond.

I feel like social media is what helped break the ice in our relationship. When Rhonda added me on social media, I feel like I was given a key into her heart and soul. You know the saying that social media is just the window into someone’s house? That you can only see what they want you to see? That wasn’t the case for Rhonda. Her social media platforms unlocked the door and let you freely roam the “House of Tita-Lola.” If being an open book had a picture in the dictionary, it would have a big ass picture of Rhonda’s selfie.

Rhonda had no problem sending a friend request to anyone and everyone involved with our family. If you were at a family reunion once, have a last name she recognized, or had mutual friends, you probably got a request on Facebook or Instagram. Family meant everything to Rhonda. She knew all the chisme, all the extended family, and wanted to share everything she knew about my great-grandparents and our family history. And whether you wanted to know all that information or not, if you followed her on any socials, you had no choice but to see it.

Tita-Lola did not give a shit about over posting. That term did not exist to her. She used her social media pages more like a Twitter account with how often she posted. But that’s how I, and probably many others, felt like we were close to her without really speaking much in person. Rhonda shared her personal life, opinions, likes, dislikes, family history, rants, and how she was managing her illness. Nothing was off limits to post about. Anything less than 10 posts a day would have me thinking, “Is Rhonda okay?”

Though she loved to share everything online, in person, she took a while to warm up. Rhonda was cool with everyone in the family, but with people she didn’t know very well, she would be a little shy to start up a conversation. But don’t let the shyness fool you – she probably knew everything about you from what you posted on social media. Rhonda would just be waiting for the perfect time to break the ice and attempt to start a conversation.

My sisters and I and our other 2nd cousins initially bonded with Rhonda by (dare I say it…) low-key bullying her. It was all fun and games, and Rhonda was the perfect person to joke around with because she’d sit there, laugh her ass off, but continue to take the mild abuse. Whenever she’d try to defend herself or shit talk us back, we would rebuttal with another joke. Those were good times. And now that I look back, I laugh in my head because we were really out here cappin’ on our fuckin elder and didn’t even know her like that yet hahahah.

I just know that when she realized how foolish and ridiculous my sisters and I can get, she felt more than comfortable to be around us. We got closer and closer as the years passed, and it was no longer awkward to just approach each other at family reunions or other gatherings. It was such a significant age gap, but our relationship just worked. Each family gathering, the Cabillo and Prado girls would gather around to mess with Rhonda, and she loved that shit. It was always a good time when we all got together. Every time we would go home after a gathering, my heart felt full.

I got really close to Rhonda in the last decade. It all started with jokes and acting a fool, but throughout the years, I got to know Rhonda on a deeper level. We had our fun and games moments in person, but we also vented about our lives on a serious note. I knew Rhonda behind the social media posts, the jokes, and the banter. I quickly learned about things that made her happy, things that made her sad, what she dwelled on, what was most important to her, what motivated her, and so on. She vented to me about her health, problems, and all the many situations she would get herself into. And bitch, there were many, hahaha. Rhonda, I know you’re looking down on me like “don’t you say nothing, beezy!”

Quickly, Rhonda became someone I could turn to if I needed someone to talk to, but most of the time, I listened. I listened to the many things that were on her mind. And I think that’s why we got so close. She had so much to say, and I listened and gave my 2 cents. Ironically, the girl that posted so much online to stay “connected,” felt overwhelmingly alone from time to time. I wanted to be there for her when she needed someone because I knew she would do the same for me. It was a great feeling knowing I had a family member who could offer me advice, judgement free.

Rhonda vented to me a lot about her health. I know she posted a lot about her situation on social media in detail, so it would kind of be a reiteration of what she already shared. Rhonda was very transparent with her health complications – she would post photos of her dialysis, her medicine shipments, her appointments, good and bad news, and everything in-between. Unknowingly, she gave us all a glimpse into her daily life, and we would see how much it took to upkeep her medications and treatments. Whether you wanted to see it or not, her followers got an overwhelming sense of her daily reality. Her posts would have you thinking, “Damn, how does she do it?” And yet, she did it. Tita-Lola was very hopeful, yet very realistic, about finding a kidney donor. Rhonda had my younger sister make business cards to help get the word around. She never gave up.

Rhonda’s health took up a lot of her time. Every appointment, every medication, every shot, every timed meal, was a constant reminder about her reality. There would be days where I talked to her, and she would unpack everything on her mind. I think what made our relationship special was the fact that we could be brutally honest with each other. I knew her daily routine took a huge toll on her, some days it would get to her more than others, and I had to remind her that it was okay. It was okay to feel what she was feeling, it was okay to feel sad, it was okay to vent out those emotions to me. What would make me especially sad was knowing that whatever I could say for comfort would not change her reality. That was the saddest part, to know that all I could do was be there for her and hope for a miracle.

Whether she realized it or not, Rhonda would find joy in the smallest things. I think that’s what made her so strong, the fact that she took on so much with her health on a day to day basis, but still managed to get excited off of the most random things. From PEZ, to music, to her celebrity girl crushes (the fact that I know her celebrity crushes though, bye lmfao), to anything San Francisco related (#BornAndBred) – these things alone could make her day. But nothing could make her day more than the interactions she had with Damian and Delilah. Her nephew and niece was her whole life. Rhonda would literally do anything to see a smile on their faces. She would document their small interactions on Facebook, and you could feel the overwhelming sense of love she had for them just by reading their commentary. They are what kept her going.

Everyone knows how big Rhonda was on family. And family just didn’t mean blood related, her friends became her family as well. Anyone who Rhonda considered “family,” she was loyal to for life. Once you made an imprint on Tita-Lola, she would never forget you. Even the friendships that drifted apart or ended on bad terms, she would still wish the best for that person. We would have many talks about people she remembered from the past, and how she still cherishes the friendships because it meant a lot to her at some point in her life. Rhonda always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them. If anything ever went sour, in her heart she wished them the best and clung to the good memories. She had such a big heart, and always chose to be the bigger person.

Family was everything to Rhonda. The love she had for her grandparents (my great-grandparents) was so strong that it could transcend lifetimes. Rhonda loved and missed them so much, I know that they had such a big impact on her life. I could tell that decades later, her grief from their passing was still fresh. However, she tried to use her sorrow in a positive way. She tried to educate the younger generations about our family history by telling us stories about the great-grandparents that I never got to meet. Every time Rhonda missed them, she would post a photo, a memory, or a story about them online. “This is where it all began, the reason why we’re all here,” my dad says every time we visit his grandparents’ grave. It was true, and Rhonda felt the exact same way. She took it upon herself to make sure that everybody in the family knew exactly where we came from, who started it all. She wanted to make sure that their names lived on in our family history.

A few weeks before her passing, it dawned on me that I haven’t checked up on Rhonda in a while. So, I texted her and we picked up from where we left off. She updated me about her life, what was going on, how her health was, etc. The last text message I sent her was after I read a status she posted on Facebook saying she was being taken off the donor list. It was a few weeks before she had her health complications, and I wanted her to know that a lot of people love and care about her. I didn’t know how to comfort her during this time, what do you say to someone that receives that kind of news? I just wanted her to know that I saw the update, and wanted to send my love.

When I heard the news that Rhonda passed away, of course I was devastated. It didn’t feel like reality. Rhonda? Tita-Lola Rhonda? Rhon?! It’s crazy because obviously I knew first hand how her health was declining, but you just never think that the day will come. And when that day does come, you’re stuck there, dumbfounded. I started to feel an immense amount of guilt, that the last couple of years we didn’t get to hangout as much due to COVID and personal schedules. I wanted to hangout with her and invite her over many times, but held off because of the pandemic. I felt that the last couple of years we weren’t as close as we used to be because we were off doing our own thing. Of course, when we would reconnect it was back to how it used to be, but I felt like I should’ve been there more towards the end.

When I start to get sad and feel guilty, I feel like I can hear Rhonda’s voice in my head, “Don’t worry about it, yo.” I know the last thing she would want me to do is feel guilty. It really didn’t matter how much time went by, whether we talked consistently or not, I knew that once we connected again, nothing would have changed, nothing would be awkward, we’d just pick up from where we left off and update each other on the important things. And I’m grateful that I got 1 last “what’s up” update before she transitioned out of this life.

Rhonda was always there for me for the important things. I knew that I could count on her to give me advice and listen to my troubles, judgment free. Tita-Lola was hands down one of my biggest cheerleaders. She supported my writing, was there to encourage me when I wasn’t confident in myself, and always let me know how proud she was of me with what I’m choosing to do with my writing. That’s why I felt comfortable to tell her the many ideas I have. “But I don’t know…” I would tell her at the end of a wishful thinking rant. I would explain 1 direction I wanted to take my writing, but then think of 5 other things I want to do. I knew I was all over the place, and would feel a little embarrassed as to what people’s opinions would be once I stopped talking. Rhonda would look at me and casually encourage me to do all of it. “Why not?”

She truly made me feel like I could do anything. Of course, the true push will have to come from me and me alone, but to know that I had Rhonda’s support and she was cheering me on from the sidelines in anything I chose, was a great feeling to know. Rhonda would never try to talk me out of the many ideas I had, and for that I’m grateful. She was so happy to see people be passionate about things, and she encouraged it in every way that she could. That’s just who Rhonda was – the most loving, supportive, and simpy mother fucker you will ever meet. I could laugh with her until I cried, but I could also get real with her and cry my heart out if I needed to. And I know she felt the same.

Rhonda was a giver. She would give you the clothes on her back if she thought you needed it. When she said she got you, she meant that shit. I know that because I have been on the receiving end of her generosity and love. Rhonda would listen, but her support wouldn’t just end there. She would literally try to see how she could help your situation, how she can personally make it better. If she loved you, Rhonda made your problem her problem, and if there was an immediate fix, she would do it. I don’t think I know too many people like that. If you knew Rhonda, consider yourself lucky. She was the most kind hearted person, giver by nature, and one of life’s true gems. Rhonda truly had a heart of gold, and I’ll miss her presence in my life.

I really can’t believe that Tita-Lola is gone. It’s a weird feeling to know that I can’t just text her, or DM her, or tag her in something. My Facebook and Instagram feed crickets as the main poster is no longer posting. It’s a trip to know that I’ll never see the green “online” symbol next to her handles. I have avoided reading through our text message and Instagram threads because I don’t want to get sad. Because it doesn’t feel like she’s totally gone. All her posts, pictures, stories, etc, they are living on. When I tagged her in a post a couple of days after she passed, I decided to read our Instagram chat. It was her encouraging me to take the next step, be independent, and accept an offer to move out. She told me, “How many more signs do you need :)? You’re a writer.” That was Tita-Lola, encouraging without being pushy. God, I miss her.

I find a huge comfort in knowing that Rhonda got the reunion she so desperately wanted with her grandparents. I know she has reunited with the many family members she has lost throughout the years. When I miss her or wish she was still here, I remind myself that she is finally at rest. Rhonda is no longer suffering, no longer in pain, no longer on her tedious schedule. She is at peace. And that alone brings me peace. Rhonda fought her fight, and now we have a real one looking over us from the other side.

Tita-Lola, I miss you. But I know you are at peace. I know that if anyone is pulling strings for me on the other side, it’s definitely you. The way you helped guide me and encourage me in this life, will be some of my most cherished memories of you. Before you went, you asked me to help you with our family’s family tree, and all these projects you had in mind. Like you did for my great-grandparents, I will make sure that you are remembered. I’ll have many photos of you flipping me off to share. Please continue to guide me like you always have.

Rest In Peace, Yo.

Last Year

Every first of the month, I stalk Susan Miller’s Twitter to see if she posted her monthly horoscopes. May 1st was no different. I went on and read about my Aquarius horoscope for the month of May. I paused. Wait, MAY?! It’s crazy to me how we are already in the month of May, and I can’t help but feel like this pandemic is speeding up and slowing down time simultaneously. To me at least, it’s like ever since March 2020, the months are just bleeding into each other, and all sense of time is completely fucked up. The pandemic has been around for such an extended period of time that pre-COVID life seems like ages ago.

I couldn’t believe that it’s May 2021 already. Not in the actual sense – given that I don’t live under a rock – but it’s crazy to me how fast time is flying, and how much things have changed. It made me think back to this time last year, and I realized that it is the anniversary of when my life drastically changed. To those that have kept up with my journey, I bet you’re like “omg, girl, you moved out, calm down.” To others, moving out is something exciting. For me, it was one of the most stressful moments of my life to date. Sounds dramatic but it’s true.

Around this time last year I got an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity to move out of my parents’ place. It was the end of April when this opportunity was brought to my attention, and little did I know that for the next 2 and a half months, I would be in a constant state of stress. This opportunity would give me the privilege to start saving money, live in expensive ass San Francisco, and take the next step in my relationship – but it also gave me headaches and countless sleepless nights. From the end of April 2020 – July 2020, this decision weighed heavy on my mind 24/7.

At that time, I just wanted to look into the future. I wanted to channel my inner “That’s So Raven,” and see what my outcome would be. I was so mentally stuck and conflicted that I didn’t know how to go about my life anymore. I was put in a position where whatever decision I chose, whether I accepted or denied, my life would drastically change either way. I was so stressed out. I feared change and didn’t want to mess up my family dynamic, but at the same time I was so curious to know what life would be like if I accepted the opportunity. There were pros and cons to both decision, and I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I begged the universe, my ancestors that have passed away, God – anybody or anything – to give me a sign on what the fuck to do with my life.

One of the months while I was in silent mental torture, I read my horoscope forecast for the new month. I can’t remember which month it was, but I remember reading it in awe. My horoscope basically described that I was going to be put in a position where I had to make a big decision. Now here me out, I love reading my horoscopes. It’s something that I think is fun to read and feeds my curiosity of the universe, future, and my life. But I don’t make big decisions in my life based on what my horoscope says. At this time though, I wanted a sign. I read my horoscope by Susan Miller, and not only did the whole thing seem very relevant to my life and my current scenario at the time – it seemed creepily spot on. It said I was going to have to make a tough decision, but whatever decision I chose, I could never go back to how life was before. Susan Miller described this transition like as if I were crossing a bridge, and that bridge falling apart right after I made it to the other side. Meaning, I was moving forward with my life, and whatever decision I made could not be undone. She also mentioned how I would make a commitment for at least 2 years – which tripped me the fuck out because the deal that was on the table required at least a 2 year agreement. I was shook. The universe doesn’t lie.

However, I didn’t make the decision I made because my horoscope was spot on at the time. But I do think of my mindset one year ago, and how I so desperately wanted to know what life would be like if I chose either decision – to move or not to move. It’s like I wanted a crystal ball to help me see what was the “right choice.” A year ago, I was so stressed out and really felt like I couldn’t see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. I felt like no matter what I chose, someone would be upset or disappointed with me. Fast forward to now, the present day, I look back and think damn, 1 decisions really changed my whole ass life. And here I am now, 1 year later, in a totally different headspace, happy with my choices, and growing as a person. It’s crazy what time can do. It’s true that 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc. – your life can drastically change. I kind of chuckle at how stressed I was a year ago – not because it’s funny, but because I should’ve known I’d be just fine. I’m exactly where I need to be.

Anti-Vax to Fully Vaccinated

I walk through Moscone Center’s doors and I am happily greeted by the staff every step of the way. It’s not crowded and doesn’t look all over the place. In fact, everything is so organized and in order. For some reason I expected chaos, long lines, and spending a good chunk of time there. But from the long row of check-in booths, to the stickers on the floor that tell you what direction to go in, to the sitting area where you wait with 2 big clocks on each side, everything was planned out accordingly and in a very efficient way. Each of my visits for the 1st and 2nd dose, I was in and out in less than 20 minutes.

When I entered Moscone Center, for just a second, I forgot I was on my way to get a dose of the vaccine. I expected the vibe to be serious, but I was surprised to find a light-hearted, welcoming, and joyous atmosphere inside. Workers were dancing happily to the music while escorting you to the next step. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised with how this vaccine site was operating. Even more so surprised with myself, since I never expected myself to be so eager to take a vaccine.

I’m the type of person that only visits the doctor’s when I absolutely have to. That’s just how I was raised to look at the hospital – you don’t go unless it’s a must, if it’s not that serious, you treat that shit at home and drink water. I would go for the necessary documentation, like if I needed a TB shot for work. I have all the vaccines that I needed to go to school, but if it’s not required, I wouldn’t take it. So when COVID happened last year and talks of a vaccine started circulating, I was dead set on not taking it once it was available.

Like many others, I just didn’t trust putting foreign things in my body. Trust is a big reason why people refuse to take the vaccine. There’s a distrust in the medical field, in doctor’s advice, and how this pandemic is being handled in general. There’s just so much opinions and beliefs that all point to people not trusting the vaccine. And I totally get it. But being in the pandemic for over a year and seeing what effects it had on people, businesses, and people’s every day lives, it really made me reconsider.

I can only speak from my own experiences, and I know at the end of the day everyone is entitled to their own opinions and are in control of their own bodies. But the last year alone has really changed my perspective on the medical field and people in general. This pandemic brought out the good, the bad, and the ugly out of people. For me personally, COVID really showed me who took the guidelines seriously, and who was just out for themselves, acting selfishly for their own pleasure and not for the safety of others and those around them. I found myself so conflicted with trying to keep myself safe, my family safe, but still trying to keep peace of mind. It was so hard not seeing my friends for a long time, and nothing to do but stay home, watch the news, and be fearful of what’s spreading.

From mid-March until June 2020, I woke up everyday and had the same routine. I would anxiously watch the news, seeing cases rising in California, and seeing the effects of what COVID had on my community. I watched Gavin Newsom make his speech everyday, his raspy voice calm and collected, while California watched in uncertainty. I got used to life indoors – not going out to eat to meet up with friends, wearing masks, not seeing people I regularly saw before, and so forth. When we first shutdown in March 2020, I never would’ve thought that over a year later, we would be in a similar spot. I had no idea that life would still be like this in 2021. When news of the vaccine distribution started going around, I was totally against it. I wasn’t in the first tier, so it didn’t really matter if I wanted it or not, it would still be a long way until I could even make that decision.

Initially, I was against the vaccine, but didn’t really have solid reasons why. For some reason, I believed that more people would be against the vaccine than being for it. To my surprise, it seemed the opposite. I had some time to think about whether or not I wanted the vaccine since I’m a childcare worker. I definitely wanted to wait a while first to see how people reacted to the vaccine before I decided if I wanted it or not. To my surprise, my older relatives got the vaccine. Most importantly, my 97 year old Tatay got it. That really made me change my mind. I wanted things to go back to normal so bad, and finally, the vaccine was that hope for me.

At first, I wanted nothing to do with the vaccine. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t get vaccinated. Since the beginning, I took the pandemic seriously. I follow the rules, I wear a mask, I keep my distance, I trust the doctors’ opinions, but also know that this pandemic is something new to everyone – they’re not always going to be right, so I keep cautious anyways. I despised people that refused to wear masks, not follow the rules, and make a commotion because they feel that staying inside is taking away their rights. I was tired of everyone being only about themselves and being selfish – helping to spread the virus around because of their own selfishness and carelessness. Though in the beginning I was anti-COVID vaccination, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted life to go back to normal, if I want to keep myself and those around me safe, and if I wanted to help end this madness, this is what I needed to do. Not believing in the validity of the vaccine would be contradictory to what I’ve been practicing this whole pandemic – which is being safe, believing in the severity of this virus, and playing my part in reducing the spread.

I didn’t know how bad I wanted the vaccine until I couldn’t get an immediate appointment. When it was finally my tier’s turn to get the vaccine, I was in no rush. I saw that there were a lot of appointments through Moscone Center, but didn’t sign up right away. At that point I knew I wanted the vaccine, but didn’t make it a priority because I was still a little nervous about it. That all changed when I realized Tatay already had his appointments to get vaccinated. I read that people who are fully vaccinated and are not part of the same household could be indoors maskless. Suddenly, I wanted to be fully vaccinated right then and there. I desperately refreshed my phone with no luck, everything was booked. This pandemic has taken a toll on Tatay’s memory. In the 2-5 minute visits that we make to his house every Sunday, he questions why we have masks on. At 97 years old, he is not aware of the pandemic, and it breaks my heart to slowly see him not remember who we are, where he is, or what time frame he’s living in anymore. I’m anticipating the day I can remove my mask at Tatay’s house, hoping that my face triggers his memory, to be able to give him a hug hello and goodbye without feeling anxious about it. And that day draws near as I just got my second dose.

Never in a hundred years did I think that I would be desperate to be vaccinated. I was hesitant because this is all so new. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if people back in the day had the same mentality for Chickenpox, Tuberculosis, and all these other diseases that are basically no threat now and not common, we would still be battling those same diseases at an alarming rate right now. Nobody thinks twice on why children need certain vaccines to get into school because they have been a requirement for some time. I believe that’s where the COVID vaccine is headed – it’ll be a required vaccine to get to attend schools, etc. And it only seems like a big deal right now because we are the first wave of people getting it. But with time, herd immunity will kick in, and we will slowly go back to where we were before the pandemic.

The past year has had so much change. People have been isolating themselves, nervous to go out, and worried for their health. For me, getting the vaccine is a glimpse of hope. Not only am I protecting myself, but protecting my family, people I come in contact with, and even the people that don’t want to get the vaccine. I know to each their own – I was anti-COVID vax, but changed my mind. And I know there will be a lot of people who won’t change their mind. But speaking for only me – I chose to believe in science, even if I’m a little uneasy. This year alone has proved that staying home and living the lockdown life works, but isn’t going to rid the world of COVID. I’m optimistic about the future, as I see cases dropping and things scheduling to move up into the next tier.

The sticker board where you can place the sticker they give you with your time stamp on when you can leave 15 minutes after your shot, was near the exit of Moscone Center. I don’t believe it was there when I got my first dose, but noticed it on my way out after my 2nd dose. Seeing this wall reassures me that things are looking up.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ

When Normaje “Nana” had her son, she really saw her love for party planning come to life. She wanted to do the most for all his parties – everything from the food, the decorations, and the dessert table. Nana’s auntie has always inspired her to bake because she was always in the kitchen baking new items and trying out different recipes. After witnessing her aunt bake for years, she decided to try her luck in the kitchen as well. She wanted to have her son’s dessert table be a certain way, and places she checked out just wouldn’t have what she wanted, or was over her budget. Anticipating and planning her son’s parties was around the time Nana noticed that she was getting more and more into baking. She had no idea that her love for food would one day turn into her small business, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ.

When Nana would showcase her son’s dessert table on social media, a few people would keep a mental note of her aesthetic and talent. When her friends started to have kids, they would reach out to her to cater and set up their dessert tables. When others started to notice her passion for party planning and creating different desserts in the kitchen, Nana started to think that maybe she could turn her hobby into another source of income to get her little family into a better position. People were inquiring about her dessert tables, and she would post the finished look on social media. Suddenly, she was known as the girl to go to for desserts and all things “party.” But like any small businesses owner, the self-doubt started to creep in.

” I was so hesitant!” Nana said remembering how nervous she was to announce her small business to the public. “I was afraid of what people would think, and of course the outcome. Would my stuff even interest people? Would I even get any clientele? So many questions ran through my head until I was like, ‘you know what… what can I possibly lose?'”

And just like that, the Bay Area native became the owner of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, LLC. Nana describes BUSSDOWNMAMÍ as a one-stop-shop for events. She offers services for dessert and food catering, dessert tables, custom gifts, and more. If you faintly remember BUSSDOWNMAMÍ being referred to by another name, you have definitely been a faithful follower! When Nana first started to offer her services, she was offering dessert tables, party decorations, custom gifts, and a few minimal desserts such as chocolate covered strawberries, rice krispies, and Oreo dishes, to name a few. When she first started, her business was referred to as #DIYMAMÍ. The name came as a joke to mock her mom, who would always hashtag “cookingmamí,” in all of her Instagram posts. When Nana branched out and started introducing food plates and items, her friends would refer to her and her food as “NewNewsBussDown.” Being named two different entities became complicated and a little confusing to outsiders. So, she decided to ditch one name. Instead of letting go of one name completely, she decided to merge the two.

Nana started taking actual orders under BUSSDOWNMAMÍ around 2018-2019. She was originally known for her desserts and sweet treats. But customers couldn’t help but reach out to see if she would be serving the plates she would post her on social media. Nana has always been a huge foodie. In 2018, she really started to take an interest in cooking. Back in the day when she had Twitter, she made a thread of food, and the first dish she attempted to make was a shrimp boil. She looks back now and laughs that her and her husband were at Boiling Crab or Ray’s practically every weekend. Nana took a crack at it and was surprised how delicious her shrimp boil turned out. The success of this dish encouraged her to try out other foods – especially foods from fancy places that would cost an arm and a leg to dine in. She branched out to cooking steaks, well known side dishes, and dishes from other cultures. Now, her husband refuses to eat anywhere that he feels Nana could do better. There are times where they order from restaurants and he just gives her the “I told you so,” look, because they’re not satisfied with the meal.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s Quesabirria tacos and Birria Lumpia are one of the most popular items on her menu, so it’s surprising to learn that initially going into the business, Nana had no plans on selling food plates. People kept reaching out to her about the food she would post on social media, so she thought she would just give it a go. Her first pop up was a huge success, and she was glad that she decided to test it out. Nana figured that offering food plates as part of her services would be a step in the right direction. Since her main goal was to become a one-stop-shop for events, it only made sense that she include food catering to her long list of services. She’s glad that she listened to what her followers wanted instead of just going the route she had originally envisioned, because offering things outside of dessert is what made BUSSDOWNMAMÍ take off. She listened, and she received.

Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is a one-stop-shop with a lengthy menu, not just anything makes the cut. Nana still has a process on how a food item makes it permanently on the official menu. All of her food experiments get posted to her feed or story, and then she waits. If she gets multiple requests and inquiries, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ will do a trial run to test out if it sells and what costumers think of the new item. If the dish is successful, it earns a spot on BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s official menu. Nana loves that her business is an “all in one” business, because it gives the freedom to switch it up with her items without having to worry about ruining her business’ certain aesthetic. But despite her extended menu, there are still certain items that the business is known for. Dessert wise, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is known for their Banana Cream Pudding and Gourmet Caramel Apples, and food wise, it is hands down their Quesabirria and Birria Lumpia. When Nana hosts pop-ups, these desserts sell within minutes, and her Quesabirria and Birria Lumpia preorders sell out within the same day posted.

With items selling out the same day of announcing a pop-up, Nana is always buying ingredients in bulk. To maintain a system where every costumer gets the freshest products, she has to keep a close eye on her inventory. She keeps note of the amount of everything she purchases and what can be reused for the next pop-up, and takes into consideration what won’t last because it’s perishable. And it only makes sense that BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has two fridges to make sure everything is properly stored and ready for pop-up day. Other items like boxes, other packaging items, and back stock are stored at both pick up locations.

It took some time for BUSSDOWNMAMÍ to organically grow its clientele, but word of mouth and the power of social media worked in their favor. Now, Nana has costumers reaching out to her and placing orders that she doesn’t even know in real life. When she gets direct messages from accounts who have 0 mutual friends or connections, it’s a good feeling because it proves that how she is advertising her products are interesting those who she doesn’t know personally. It means BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is set apart from other small businesses doing similar work. But with growing popularity comes the concern of safety during pick-ups. Nana always makes sure to double check Instagram pages, ensure payments went through prior to pick up, and makes sure her business is “well protected.” Overall, Nana has faith in humanity, and welcomes orders from strangers.

But don’t get it twisted, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s success was not an overnight thing. It took a while before she started to get the traffic she is so used to now. Nana didn’t come right out of the gates selling out every week, even though that’s what her followers are used to seeing now. It took a lot of hard work and trial and error to get BUSSDOWNMAMÍ to where it is today. She went from being booked once a month to being booked months in advance. The progress was slow and steady, but in 2019 she started to see that she was starting to get booked 2 weeks in advance. 2020 is when BUSSDOWNMAMÍ really started to gain popularity and blew up. She saw her calendar being booked sometimes even months in advance, and she couldn’t believe it. Nana never imagined that her small business would be this busy. And she’s proud to say that she got herself and her small business to this point. Even though she started a few years back, there were very few businesses on social media that she could use as a reference and learn from.

” It was all trial and error,” she explained. ” It took time to figure out what worked vs. what didn’t, how to properly market, and understand the market / what interests / draws people in.”

For the most part, Nana keeps her personal life completely separate from her business. She does have a full-time job at Kaiser, and loves that she can balance out BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, a full-time job, going to school, and being a mother all at once. It’s her biggest flex because she knows that being a young mother is usually looked down on, and she is happy to say that she is holding it down for her family at 23 years old. And she admits that sometimes she surprises herself with how much she piles onto her plate. She believes in the power of hard work and dedication, and knows that if she wants something to be successful, she needs to put in the time and effort. One thing Nana doesn’t do is make excuses or feel sorry for herself. Her attitude screams, “keep your eyes on the prize,” especially since she has a family to provide for. To be successful, at the end of the day it comes down to how bad do you want it? And Nana has no issues putting in the extra time and work, because she believes a person will find time or make time for things that are important to them.

“My business is my baby!” Nana said, explaining how she finds the time for BUSSDOWNMAMÍ despite her busy schedule. “If it means coming home after a long day at work to spend a couple more hours to contribute to the success of my business, then so be it. We are all dealt a deck of cards, some have it better than others. Needless to say, it’s ultimately up to you and what you choose to do with the cards you are dealt. Anybody who wants something is going to go for it, no matter how it played out or what it comes with. I’m just grateful to have such a supportive husband and easy going son that I’m able to get what I need done.”

And the grind doesn’t and won’t stop, because Nana has no plans of slowing down. When asked if she would ever leave her full-time job to pursue BUSSDOWNMAMÍ full-time, she broke it down plain and simple. Her small business means everything to her, it is her creative outlet, her baby, her biggest flex for her and her family. As her business grows, it only gets harder for her to meet the demand of orders. Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is so successful and is selling out constantly, Nana will never put her family in a position where they have to sacrifice or question if they’ll make enough to cover the bills for the month. She understands that some people have the opportunity to quit their full-time job to pursue their dreams, but she also sees that those aren’t the cards she was dealt. She prioritizes her family and their well-being, and even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is successful, and she bets that she could probably make a living entirely on her small business, she prefers to keep her full-time job. Her job in the medical field provides her and her family with great benefits and sets her up for the future with a retirement plan. Nana’s mentality is simple, if she can manage both a full-time job and her small business, why not continue with both?

When people think of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, they think of Nana, the one woman show doing it all! But Nana really stresses the importance of her husband helping her fill in the gaps when needed to maintain a smooth flow of the business. Her husband helps her run errands, do pick-ups, and even helps throw down in the kitchen if needed. She is thankful that he can keep her grounded when she is folding under pressure, which usually results in her not speaking very kindly to him in the moment. Her husband doesn’t hesitate to stop what he’s doing to tend to a stressed out Nana to help a lending hand. And when it’s food sales and pop-up days, her family really steps in to help her with the whole process. They have come up with a system where they all have a certain task to tend to without her having to ask or manage, which is a great help on those chaotic days. She is so grateful that she has her husband and family that tolerate her breakdowns and attitude when she’s under pressure.

Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has seen a tremendous amount of support and sales, Nana still has her moments where she feels overwhelmed and discouraged. She has been doing this for years, but she is not prone to making mistakes. There have been many times where she has had hiccups on the day of pick-ups and gets overwhelmed with frustration. There are times when the “baking gods” aren’t on her side when she has a large order to fulfill, or her chocolate isn’t the right consistency it usually is, and other bumps in the road on prep days. What keeps her going and not just deciding to give up right then and there is knowing that there are people on the other side of those orders that are counting on her to execute what they requested. Times likes these, Nana has to take a deep breath, keep working, and remind herself that she has to deliver to her customers.

In September 2020, Nana’s grandpa passed away, and she lost all motivation to cook, bake, or tend to her business. It got to the point where she couldn’t complete a task without getting anxiety or having mental breakdowns. The passing of her grandpa was something she was not prepared for, and it turned her world completely upside-down. During this time, Nana thought it was best to take a break from BUSSDOWNMAMÍ until she was up for it again. She canceled orders that were pre-booked in advance because she mentally could not handle it all. Nana admits that canceling orders is very out of her character, since she goes above and beyond to deliver to her costumers no matter how tired, busy, or booked she is. But she had to put her mental health first to give herself a break and a time to mourn. She took a few months off of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, and the whole time she questioned if she had made the right move. By this time, so deep into the quarantine, there was so much competition that Nana was unsure if her customers would return back after her break. When she got the courage to start back up again, her clients picked back up from where they left off.

“The thought of the market being so competitive and questioning if  people will still order from me after being gone for so long raced back and forth in my head,” Nana said. “But my first pop up back, my clients did not fail to prove to me why I continue to do what I do. With that being said, I’m just honestly so so so blessed to have such solid and loyal client base. They are the ones who truly keep me going with this entire business.”

Since Nana started BUSSDOWNMAMÍ prior to the pandemic in 2018-2019, she definitely had to switch up her pop-up dynamic because of COVID. Her family and costumers’ safety is so important to her, and she doesn’t want anyone to be at risk. Because of COVID, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has cut down on their pop-ups. But as the pandemic persisted, Nana had to come up with a new routine to ensure that she could serve her clients, but at the same time keep everyone involved safe. Clients are required to use electronic payments for orders, must be wearing a mask, and must remain in their vehicle for pick-ups. Since Nana also works in the medical field and is handling food, she gets routinely tested. By following these protocols, Nana hopes that it brings her family and costumers some peace of mind.

“I had to put a lot of my plans and pop-ups on hold,” Nana said on behalf of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ. “I wasn’t able to operate as often as I was and that overall just kind of set me back. I know it’s easy to just keep selling but I have a family to protect and wouldn’t want to put my family in any position to be exposed.”

COVID also brought some other hurdles. When COVID hit, Nana started to see a lot of new Instagram businesses starting up. Suddenly, there were a lot more strawberry dippers, dessert pages, and food pages. At first, Nana felt some type of way, she felt that she put a lot of hard work into BUSSDOWNMAMÍ years prior to the pandemic, only to see competitors show up at an alarming rate during COVID. She had to remind herself that this is just a part of the business – there will always be competition. Nana quickly got over it, and realized that the pandemic hit people differently, a lot of people lost their jobs and the government isn’t being helpful with resources and financial assistance. She realized that she never knows what a person is going through during these tough times, and isn’t bothered by other businesses selling similar food items, because at the end of the day, “everyone can eat!”

“With a successful business, it’s going to get competitive, and you have to learn to adapt and understand that,” she said. “I’m the type of person that doesn’t like doing the same things others are, that’s why I’m just ultimately so thankful that I shaped my business to be a one-stop-shop so I don’t do just desserts or I don’t do just food, so it’s definitely a huge perk being so universal.”

Nana admits that she felt some type of way in the beginning, but that quickly changed. She laughs and says it’s because she’s an Aries and gets over things quickly. She knows that other businesses popping up will ultimately not affect her business, so it shouldn’t be any of her concern. In fact, Nana welcomes other small businesses to reach out to her. She loves to connect with others and come together as a community to collab and do giveaways. When she is completely booked with orders and costumers inquire about wanting to order, Nana will refer them to other businesses that sell similar items. And these small businesses refer BUSSDOWNMAMÍ as well. Nana appreciates that she and other small businesses help each other grow and succeed by being supportive and keep word going of the other business. She hopes to work with more small businesses in the future.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s goal for 2021 is to keep growing and try new things and techniques. She wants to gain more clientele, gain more knowledge, and step out of her comfort zone. Nana hopes to have more availability so she can cater to all the customers that want to try out her food. One day she hopes to open up a physical location, and hopes to do that in the next couple of years. In the meantime, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is taking orders through DM’s and emails because her order forms are currently under construction. She plans to launch her official website and order forms hopefully by the end of February. Nana’s advice to other small businesses is something she found on social media.

“I seen this post a couple months or maybe a year ago that changed my perspective indefinitely and I know others can probably relate as well: ‘When you feel discouraged about your business idea because there’s so many people around you doing the same exact thing, go to the grocery store & look down the bread isle. Same idea 15+ companies selling the same exact thing!‘ Everyone can eat!”

Reaux&Co

Before there was a “Bay Area Collection,” a “Vibes Collection,” an “Established Collection,” and so forth, Reaux&Co was merely a dream tucked safely in Pricilla’s heart. Since a young age, Pricilla knew she wanted to be her own boss, and she had everything planned out on how she would achieve her goal of owning and designing her own clothing line one day. So how did Reaux&Co go from just being thoughts and ideas jotted down on Pricilla’s phone to becoming a full blown business with over 1,300 sales and being sold in 2 physical store locations in just a little over a year? It started with an acceptance letter to FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Pricilla was so thrilled that she got accepted into her dream college. Going to FIDM was always the plan she had set for herself. She loved designing clothes – cutting and sowing fabrics on the dress form and letting her mind run wild with what she could create. Her mom had other plans though. Due to the cost of tuition, her mom encouraged her to go the junior college route instead. Pricilla was devastated, she was certain that FIDM was her next step after high school. Still, she took her mom’s advice and went to San Francisco City College. She didn’t resent her mother for encouraging her to go to a junior college, but she was still headstrong about FIDM. She couldn’t let it go, and in turn, it made her lose her drive to go to school.

“I wouldn’t say resentful, but definitely stubborn,” Pricilla said remembering how she felt when she appeased her mom by going to a junior college. “I just had my mind set on it for so long. So when it didn’t happen, I was just so disconnected from even wanting to go to any other school. Even though SFCC had a fashion course and major, which I did take a couple of those classes, I was stubborn and wanted it how I always envisioned it.”

While in community college, she found herself very unmotivated. She had no idea what she wanted to do, or what she was even interested in outside of the fashion route. Pricilla started to feel like she was just going to school because it was something she was supposed to do because that’s what’s expected of everyone right after high school, but it wasn’t something she really wanted at the time. She decided to stop going to college and start working instead. Of course her mother wanted her to stay in school, but her mom also understood that she was an adult who could make her own decisions. Therefore, Pricilla believes her mom didn’t feel personally responsible for her dropping out. FIDM or not, going to school was her choice.

Pricilla felt really stuck in life. She didn’t know what direction to go, what career move was next, or where to even start. And then, she had her “saving grace,” her son, Ronin. She discovered soon after he was born that he was the push she needed all along to pursue her life-long dream of being a business owner. Pricilla knew it was finally time to put all of her marbles in her small business idea because she couldn’t afford childcare and had to find something she could do while still working from home and tending to her son. It only seemed right to name her clothing brand after the person that motivated her the most, Ronin. She took his nickname, “Ro,” and decided to put a spin on the spelling. She liked how aesthetically pleasing “Reaux” looked and rolled with it.

“He just made me look at life from a whole different perspective,” she said, revealing why having her son was so eye opening. “When you become a mom you really feel this weight of wanting to be so much better for this other life you’re now responsible for. I was so stuck before I had him, in terms of what I wanted out of life and the direction I should go in. After I had him, I knew I just had to go for it, for what I always wanted.”

Pricilla was very hesitant to launch Reaux&Co because she didn’t know how people would react to her line. She admits that her self-doubt was just her overthinking it, being scared to fail, and just overall being too hard on herself. After all, she has had these collection ideas in her phone for over a year before Reaux&Co actually launched. She already had the ideas, she just had to finalize her business. But Pricilla knew she had to start, and start it soon, because it wasn’t about just her anymore, it was about Ronin. She even went back to school the same time she dropped the brand as her back up plan and safety net.

Representing the Bay Area was so important to Pricilla, that she decided to have her first collection drop be the “Bay Area Collection.” She is so proud to be from the Bay Area, and wanted to capture that in her clothing line. To her, there is no place like the Bay, and only those that are from here know that. She loves that there is nothing like the Bay Area culture, and really wanted to project that vibe in her first collection and brand as a whole. Luckily, Pricilla never had to go to her backup plan because Reaux&Co‘s launch was a hit! She advertised the “Bay Area Collection” through Instagram and gave teasers on what products she would be selling. Instagram was a great tool to help get word around that she was going to launch Reaux&Co.

From there, Reaux&Co took off. The brand is known for their matching and personalized clothing items for parents to match with their minis, specifically moms. Pricilla knew that she wanted to focus on clothing for moms and their minis because it’s what she liked as well. She is forever matching with Ronin, taking full advantage of it now since she knows he won’t want to match with her forever. That’s how she gets most of her ideas – she thinks about what she would dress Ronin in, and tries to put her own spin on things. Her “Vibes Collection” is especially popular for their mom tees and crewnecks, and she plans on dropping more “Mommy & Me” lines soon. She knows that matching clothes is a customers favorite on Reaux&Co for sure.

Pricilla was so happy that Reaux&Co was doing well. In the beginning, she was so worried about how people would react to her small business, and to her surprise, she suddenly had supporters and customers that loved everything she dropped. So much so, that she had a copy cat. Her “Mom Vibes,” clothing is very popular, it is one of her best selling items. So Pricilla was shocked to see another small business using the exact same font, wording, and shirts as hers. She couldn’t believe that her original idea was being copied, but took the higher road. She knows ultimately, there is nothing she can do about other businesses imitating her products. She takes it as flattery, but knows that she would never try to purposely copy another small business’ work. Reaux&Co does use other brands in their clothing, and Pricilla knows that that’s when things can get a little tricky.

“I know it’s a thin line some brands walk when we use certain logos of high brands like YSL, LV, Nike etc.,” she said. “You just really have to make it your own, and put your spin on it.”

And customers have definitely loved Pricilla’s spin on those high end brands. What surprised her going into the business is the tremendous amount of support she gets from acquaintances and complete strangers. She has met and built relationships with a lot of her customers who have supported her business venture. She also didn’t expect to connect with so many moms through Instagram. Some have reached out to Pricilla, telling her that she inspired them to go for what they want, that she was that “push” they needed to just get started. And Pricilla appreciates those moments because she looks back to the tine where she was in that exact same position.

“It still blows me away to be honest,” she said when asked about people she doesn’t know personally support her in everything that she drops. “I have strangers I don’t know in real life, that will support each and every collection and for that I am so thankful for. The support is everything to me.”

The support she gets from her customers motivates her to come up with new ideas and not be so hesitant with creating. Pricilla explains the process of dropping a new line as hard, but still fun. Most of her ideas come about when she thinks about what hasn’t been done or what she hasn’t seen for kids clothing yet. She knows what will set Reaux&Co apart from other clothing lines is how much they can stand out. Reaux&Co‘s goal is to go against the grain and be the leader at creating trends, not follow them. And when she gets that idea, the next step is to create a mock up on the computer, and make a physical sample. If she likes the physical product, she will take high quality pictures of every item in that line, on models and by itself. Pricilla stresses the importance of marketing, and building anticipation for your drop. This means posting teasers and countdowns 2-3 weeks before you intend to drop the line so your customers can get excited. The last step is to drop the items and make them live, crossing your fingers and hoping it’ll do well.

Thankfully enough, Reaux&Co‘s experience with dropping new lines has always been fairly successful. That means Pricilla is making trips to the Post Office about 5-6 days a week. She’s made friends with all the employees at the Post Office at this point, since she is such a frequent customer. Shipping has definitely been an issue since COVID. When the pandemic hit, Pricilla noticed that that’s when Reaux&Co really started to take off, about 3 months into launching the business. She admits that she still doesn’t completely know why that was – more time for people to be on their phones, being at home with extra time, making a conscious effort to support small businesses during a pandemic – whatever it was, she’s grateful for it because Reaux&Co started to flourish. That meant more shipments with many delays. With COVID, the postal services are delayed and that means a headache for trying to get things delivered and shipped on time.

During these times, Pricilla can get overwhelmed and discouraged, but has never thought about calling it quits. She understands that there are some things that are just completely out of her control, and the best thing she can do is to just stay organized. Things can get hard, like shipping and getting the wrong number of products, but she knows that at the end of the day, it’s all part of the job. She pulls herself out of that stressful funk by allowing herself to take time to rest. Pricilla will do activities with her son, like taking him to the park, order food, and spend quality time with him to get herself out of that hectic headspace. It’s all a balance.

And Pricilla admits that sometimes there isn’t much of a balance when you’re trying to be a full-time mom and full-time business owner at the same time. There are times where she has to work while Ronin is watching Cocomelon, eating his lunch, or going down for a nap. Most days she will set aside time for Reaux&Co so she can give her son her undivided attention. She is a one woman show holding down her business, but she appreciates that there are so many people that help her outside of the business to make sure she has time to work. And staying organized, making sure everything has a place, and ordering from her vendor in time is all a part of keeping the balance and making her life easier. Especially since she does all the creating at home.

All the hard work and the struggle to balance being a mom and her own boss is starting to pay off. Pricilla is starting to see the fruits of her labor, putting in her all into Reaux&Co for over a year. She has seen over 1,300 sales, and is selling her brand in 2 physical store locations. Haven Kiyoko Kids reached out to her to have her clothing be carried at their location. She is especially grateful for Kirsten for seeing the potential in her then small brand. The second store location came to her as a referral from a family member who knew the owner of a shop in Oakland, and now Reaux&Co can be found in “E14 Gallery.”

Reaux&Co‘s goal for 2021 is to continue to reach and connect with more people. They are pushing to try to have Reaux&Co be in another physical store location, and overall just want to keep making improvements to give their customers a great experience. Pricilla hopes to have her own store one day, for that is the ultimate dream goal. And she would want to carry other small brands in her future boutique, as others have done for her. She doesn’t put too much pressure on the idea, and knows that this is an end goal that will take time and hard work. In the meantime, she continues to pray on it.

Pricilla wants her customers to know that she was a mom who decided to go for her dream. When she didn’t attend FIDM, she found herself lost and having no sense of direction. She envisioned her school and career to go one way, and couldn’t reroute her plans when things didn’t go the way she had hoped. Ronin was that saving grace for her. When she had her son, she knew that she had to do it not only for herself, but for him. He was now her reason and motivation to go for her dreams. Without the Ro, there would be no Reaux&Co.

Her advice to other small businesses in her field is to stay creative and stay true to yourself – when people know and see that you’re authentic, they will notice and gravitate towards your business. Pricilla is excited and hopeful for what’s to come for Reaux&Co. She wants her customers to know that they can expect more unique lines for themselves an their minis. Pricilla is content knowing that so many mothers have found happiness, inspiration, and fashion through her small business. What started as just ideas on her phone, quickly turned into her empire in a little over a year. And she knows that she wouldn’t have made it this far without the people that continue to support her and Reaux&Co.

“Thank you for believing in us!” Pricilla said on behalf of Reaux&Co. “Thank you for always showing so much love and support with each collection. None of this would be possible without the support. Every like, share, repost, and purchase means the world to me, truly. We will continue to deliver as long as you will have us. Thank you so much for being here.”