At Decisive Latino, we believe to honor Mother Earth means keeping the spirit and intent of Earth Day alive, on Earth Day and every day after that.
The Earth Day tradition was started by Gaylord Nelson, an environmental activist who happened to also be a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. In response to an oil spill off the California coast in 1969, he called for a “national teach-in on the crisis of the environment.” He called for this event to be held at all universities in the United States. The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement and 20 million Americans participated at thousands of colleges and universities.
This is not intended to be a consumer holiday, a day to spend money on supposedly green products that may or may not be honoring our natural environment. Instead, let’s pause and consider the intent of Earth Day and to gain insight into one woman’s life to see how she honors Mother Earth every day.
Sandra Artalejo is a fashion designer and artist in Dallas. Trained in fashion design by an Irish nun at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Sandra’s beliefs and ideas have always been grounded in something far outside herself. She is a highly creative and unconventional thinker who has become what I call the "queen of creative reuse."
To understand how Sandra came to honor the second R of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” we must first meet Sandra’s grandparents and parents. Young Sandra spent many weekends at her grandparents’ home in El Paso, Texas. It was a creativity-rich, loving environment, where reuse was the norm; very little was thrown away.
Sandra tells us her grandparents said, “We don’t waste anything. If we get something, we use it. Then we figure out how to use [again] it for other purposes.”
Why buy a can to mix paint in when you can use a coffee can? Why buy wrapping paper when you can use a newspaper?
Her grandmother was a seamstress, always creating something new for herself or family members to wear. She created original designs for her customers, using newspapers to make patterns. Wedding gowns, dresses, formal wear and men’s suits were just some of the garments she created. Her grandfather worked on the railroad, but his passion was art. He was an incredible painter and sculptor. He creatively reused many found things.
Sandra remembers, “He would put leftover bread crumbs in the coffee can and call it a bird feeder. The birds waited for this feast daily. Nothing was wasted.”
She loved spending the night at their house because there was so much going on all the time. "I remember so distinctly the warm, soft color and uniquely creaky sound of the hardwood floors," she recalls. "I see my abuelito rolling his cigarettes and I remember the strong scent of tobacco. I loved watching him paint as my abuelita was sewing. I wanted to be just like them.”
Sandra clearly remembers her grandmother filling tin cans of coffee with sand. She would then wrap twine around them to hold them tight. Using pretty scraps of cloth or old curtains, she “upholstered” them. The result was a footstool for grandpa and a powerful example for a child.
Of the constant reuse activity she witnessed, Sandra says, “As a little girl, I perceived it purely as creativity in my grandparents and parents.”
Her mother, like many mothers of Mexican descent, made clothes for the children at home. Sandra says, “My mom made all our clothes—her mom had made all of her clothes. She made curtains and bedspreads too. If she could have made our shoes, she would have done so.”
Sandra’s mother skillfully cut and twisted aluminum cans into daisies, roses and other flower shapes. She placed them around the garden as shiny accents. She created artistic items from milk and egg cartons. “Is it any wonder that now I am using aluminum cans to create fashionable headbands?” Sandra asks.
To honor Mother Earth means keeping the spirit and intent of Earth Day alive, on Earth Day and every day after that.
Today Sandra runs Sola Studios in Dallas, specializing in fashion design, illustration, product sourcing and development. As a business woman she understands that there is value to creating something when the raw materials are available for free. For example, she starts with dog food bags and ends up with clever beach totes or backpacks. In her hands, gorgeous scrapbooks and journals are born from lovely wine boxes. Boxes for shipping wine consumed considerable natural resources and energy to be created for one-time use. Sandra believes those pretty boxes deserve a second life and she gives it to them.
“I love the idea of permanence from the disposable,” Sandra eloquently states.
Her teenage daughter is now reaping the lessons passed to Sandra from her grandparents. Francesca loves what her mother can create out of what people consider trash. She frequently brings home colorful throwaway items from school and suggests a new fashion accessory. Sandra creates a prototype and together they design this new item. Later Francesca and her friends wear something chic to school and others want to do the same. I think Sandra is on to something powerful. She is teaching the values of reuse to another generation. Senator Nelson would be proud.
In honor of Mother Earth, let’s get over our Earth Day hangover and take inspiration from Sandra’s creativity. Let’s do business with people like Sandra who are brilliant problem solvers. Let’s buy from people like her who have always lived the true values of a sustainable life style.
To read more about Sandra and others like her that are running businesses while honoring our environment, pick up a copy of this new book that features her story. Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them by California author and veteran Graciela Tiscareño-Sato. www.latinnovating.com. The author will be speaking in Baltimore on May 3, 2011 at the Green Economy Business Opportunity Conference.