Celebrating Hispanic Heritage with Fashion

Image by Andrea Gamez @andreavidasol

Hello, fellow fashion lovers. My name is Kaylah Melendez and I am a Mexican-Honduran-American. I was born and raised here in the U.S., but both my parents are immigrants from their native countries. Although immigrating to the U.S. and receiving their citizenship were blessings to my parents, it brought new obstacles. After falling in loving and getting married, my parents would have to raise American children. This is where I come in. Growing up, I lived in a middle-class, primarily white, suburban community. Inside the four walls of my home, I was a proud, cultured little girl, but outside those four walls, I felt as if I needed to leave my cultural customs behind me. That meant no speaking Spanish, no packing a torta (a.k.a Mexican sandwich) to school, and no wearing clothes that would show my ethnicity. I look back, and I get angry with myself for being ashamed. Yet, the dead honest truth is that I was.

My love for fashion started to develop at a very young age when my dad and I would go thrift shopping every Monday afternoon. I loved finding new pieces and styling them to make a new outfit. Playing dress-up was soon my favorite hobby. As I grew up, my style continuously changed from girly, to edgy, to earthy, and then to a complete early-life style crisis. I say that I was going through a crisis because I was forgetting about my Hispanic origins, and I was forgetting about my deep interest in fashion.

My first two years of high school, I invested all of my time in being a part of my school’s cheer team. Cheer was a great form of exercise and it helped me make friends in high school, but it was quickly taking over my life. If I am honest, the reason I sought interest in cheer was so I could be what I thought was the ideal American teenager. In the movies, the cheerleaders were always white and wealthy, and the juvenile delinquents, nerds, and low-income students were always of color. I didn’t want to be a part of the minority group, so I forced myself into the majority. Cheer took away time with my family and time that I could have spent pursuing fashion as a potential future career. Thankfully, in my junior year of high school, my parents encouraged me to quit cheer for the better.

Junior year was a turning point in my life. Since I had more time to get involved in other activities, I could finally be a part of my school’s fashion club. The fashion club would be hosting a fashion show in the spring semester, and models, makeup artists, hairdressers, photographers, and designers were needed. Immediately, I knew I wanted to be a designer, so I got to work. To me, it was important for this collection to be personal to my life experiences, and my most beautiful experiences have come from the summers that I spent visiting my family in Jalisco, Mexico when I was a kid. I worked on this collection for about four months and I enjoyed every moment of it. The collection was a mix of thrifted, new, borrowed, and redesigned clothes. Finally, I got to put my mother’s old sewing machine to good use. On March 03, 2017, on a runway, I presented my collection to my friends, family, teachers, and classmates. Seeing my hard work and my Hispanic culture literally walk down a runway filled with so many positive emotions. I was glad that I had taken on the project, and I was proud of myself for making it personal to me.

It was at this time of my life when I realized that I should never have tried to hide my Hispanic heritage. Instead, I should have embraced it. To make up for time lost from my Hispanic roots, I decided to spend the first half of my senior year in Mexico. This was one of the best decisions of my life. I finally got to learn more about my family, their traditions, and my culture. Now, my favorite way of embracing my culture is through my personal style. Never be afraid of expressing yourself through your clothes because fashion should be personal to the wearer; if not, than it is meaningless.

Happy Hispanic Heritage month.

Photo by Jose Carmona (@pepsj)

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