We had the good fortune of connecting with Aleja Jimenez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Aleja, why did you pursue a creative career?
Hey bebés, my name is Aleja Jimenez. I am a queer Chicana Creative Writer, Fashion Entrepreneur, and Podcast Host. As the daughter of migrants, security was the American Dream my parents were constantly telling me would bring me fulfillment. My parents have taught me so much about thriving in any environment, which always surprised me because they often functioned out of survival mode. When we are in survival mode, there is rarely time for self-exploration, much less self-expression. They worked, took care of their family, and took care of their material belongings. However, despite these all being ordinary things and responsibilities- they went on to do them with so much love, gratitude, and passion. I often wonder, now as an adult, who they would be if they had the opportunity to express themselves creatively; to truly know themselves. I did not want to carry the weight of that question in my own life. I was about 25 years old when I had this realization. It was the greatest internal battle of my life. I was beginning to break out of the years of conditioning to do as was expected of me. I began writing for pleasure and dabble with fashion, it was something I had done in my youth, as a form of self-expression. This time I shared my art and found that others resonated with it. It made them feel seen. I then swore to myself to pursue everything my inner-child dreamt of doing. I pursued a career in creative writing, published a poetry book, Mujer de Color(es), and am now acquiring formal training in fashion entrepreneurship as I get ready to launch Morena Mía, a clothing label that prioritizes collaboration with BIPOC designers. Each of these endeavors, especially the latest, is my form of standing up for what I believe in: equity building through action. I have taken the time to know myself, to honor the sacrifices my parents made for my generation. I did not pursue a creative career because I enjoy doing it, though that is a huge factor. I pursued a creative career because that is where I can make my community feel seen, empowered, and represented- and that is my true passion. Betting on myself and my dreams, which are ultimately my ancestors’ dreams, is the greatest way I can truly honor their struggle and my own.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As I prepare to launch Morena Mía, a clothing label and fashion business model that will bring BIPOC fashion designers to the forefront of the brand, I can see how, though I never allowed myself to believe creating this platform was actually possible for me- I had been dreaming it into existence since I was a child. Like most creative individuals, who do not confirm to societies rules and binaries, I always felt like an odd ball. I spent some years trying to fit in and other years wondering why I was so different and eventually accepting it. Today I know that being different is what allows me to be innovative. Being a queer woman of color, who often struggled to feel safe, accepted, and loved, created a deep sense of empathy for other individuals and their experiences. I have used this lens or way of moving through life to help me create art and a community in which other people can feel seen, beyond that celebrated. Though creativity is a major component in this creative business venture, it is not the greatest. I also have had to overcome a crushing fear of money. While this sounds a little funny to say out loud. Yes, I was terrified of money: investing it, losing it, running out of it, managing it, etc. Financial literacy is something that truly lacks in my community and money fears are overwhelmingly present. When I first began creating, I did it just for fun- to express myself. Now, I create to inspire and to build generational wealth. I still have so much to learn to truly influence change, however I have began by taking to time to instill equitable values in my brand and the way we do business. We have micro-analyzed every business decision, from ensuring who we source from has safe working conditions and fair wages to standing up for what we believe in by committing the brand to financially support those causes to fair and beneficial collaborations when partnering with BIPOC designers- even fact-checking our packaging materials are safe for the environment. As a creative entrepreneur, my greatest asset is my knowledge and my ability to remain open to learning and growing, especially from and for the very people whom I want to celebrate. The greatest thing I have learned through this journey is that I am worthy of everything I believe I am worthy of. When my self-worth has lacked because of self-esteem issues, I prioritized investing in my mental- emotional- spiritual health where possible. Then, I turn right around and teach what I have learned to others. I believe, this is how we create equitable change- through action.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love a spontaneous adventure! Whether its checking out a new restaurants, street vendors, and hangout spots! I think the best spots are in the micro-pocket communities of LA. The street-dog vendors at The Santee Alley, margarita flights and Surf-n-Turf tacos at Tempo Cantina in Downey, Xelas in Boyle Heights for dope music and a good vibe, and then hit a local beach or walk the creative-small-business-hub that is York Blvd in Highland Park. Of course, to hang with me is to end the night at some gay bar in WEHO, likely on Latin nights! I am an immensely shy but my friends know that after a drink or two, my highly extroverted alter-ego is going to show them a great time.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
When entering this new, creative space I felt completely out of place and often struggled with imposter syndrome. It was channeling my parents’ incredible courage that often pulled me out of those dark spaces. Whenever I had to attend an event or a conversation with people who intimidated me, who all had years of experience in their fields I would recall all the times my parents, as migrants, had to enter spaces where they encountered language barriers and even challenges as a result of lack of knowledge. After entering those spaces, I began to connect with other BIPOC creatives and online communities. I stumbled upon Alegria Publishing. They were pivoting from a Bilingual Latin-American Culture Magazine to an indie Publisher that prioritized elevating the voices of Latinx voices, especially BIPOC individuals. Their first project was a submission contest that eventually turned into The Latinx Poetry Project. It was an anthology of over 45 poets that wrote on themes of feminism and immigration. I submitted my poems and encouraged some of my fellow poet friends to submit. Our poems were selected and that event went on to change so much for me. I had found my community. Writers inspired by the same themes, fighting for similar causes, and pursuing our creative passions. The founder, Davina Ferreira, became my mentor. I went on to publish my first book under her guidance and even more meaningfully, in community with other Latinx writers who were part of my writing workshop cohort! I have learned, thanks to these experiences, that true change isn’t created through mere representation- though that is a start. Change is created through investing in and building spaces for our communities, sometimes it even means starting a completely new system or way of doing things.
Yulissa Mendoza @yu.lis.sa