By Raymond R. Beltran
Eren Serrato was surprised to learn that International Women’s Day is this month. Now it acts as a backdrop to her new venture because she opened up her shop this Thursday, Arte Y Loqueras, in the Chula Vista Center.
It’s a little tiendita that sits in front of a towering Macy’s, just small enough to survive as a business and rare enough to attract a new South Bay consumer population for her.
“It’s something different that you don’t see everywhere,” says the young female business owner. “You don’t find these things just anywhere.” T-shirts for children that read “Got Leche?” or “Chicanito Pride” are usually something you only find at a Chicano themed celebration, like Chicano Park Day, but now, the Chula Vista Center is making these items, some politically charged, an established product at the mall, where a predominately Latino-based audience shop.
Serrato’s other products include Chicana power themes, like tote bags with feminist icon, Rosie the Riveter, which reads, “Don’t Underestimate Me” or a manipulated Coca-Cola logo that says, “Educated Chi-Cana.”
Filling a void for Latino consumers who want to flaunt some pride, or making a statement that progressive products can sell? Serrato is doing both.
“I wanted to open up my own place that says something about Mexican people,” she says.
So what is it saying? Maybe, we don’t always have to wear a corporate logo to look fashionably savvy. Serrato, a native of Chihuahua, México, started accumulating vendors while selling tees and sunglasses at the Spring Valley Swap Meet a year ago, ultimately acquiring a kiosk at the popular Parkway Plaza Mall in El Cajon.
From selling Chicano-themed tees and black sunglasses scribed with “Chula” or “Chicana” on the side, she now has eight vendors including Carving Image, Cartel Ink who makes the shirts, and art like Simon Silva prints and Dia de los Muertos trinkets by artist Aida Martinez.
Her husband Phillip Serrato, a professor at San Diego State University’s English and Comparative Literature Department, has been Eren’s Chicano influence since she came to the U.S. in 1994, she says.
“I think it’s really cool that people who are from here are keeping their Mexican pride,” she says.
Right now, the store is acquiring a deal to provide tiles with the face of Frida Khalo on them and she’s happy to be providing Latin music fans with albums of the popular El Vez. Her products are very hip and witty and gear toward the Mexican culture, something she says won’t get watered down in the future.
“It is hard having a business, but my experience in retail helps, knowing how to have good customer service,” she says. Whatever it is, it is working for this Chihuahua native with no business education background.
Even though there’s no degree, she’s currently reading up on her Che Guevara and Frida Khalo, two politically revolutionary figures whose faces will probably lead in t-shirt sales for Serrato.
Asked if this is a gamble for her family, who helps run the business, she says no.
“I don’t want to get out of the concept,” she says about some Latino themed stores who begin to tap into the Tupac and Scarface genre of clothing. “I don’t want to carry anything that doesn’t have to do with the culture.”