Wanda Hernandez, Catherine Lopez, Ingrid Ortega and Vanessa Fuentes // Photo: courtesy of Creating Casa

Placing Latinxs On The Marquee: Creating Casa Celebrates Diversity In DC Art

DC has an incredibly vibrant art scene, from the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, to the small independent galleries and pop up shows, art is seemingly everywhere. Yet despite that, the women of Creating Casa couldn’t help but notice that there was a strong lack of representation of Central American, Latinx art in DC.

They were determined to change that.

Together, the group has organized pop up art shows and art exhibitions featuring up and coming Latinx artists, as well as spoken at numerous panels about being Latinx creatives in the District, ensuring that the Central American Latinx perspective is both seen and heard. Their latest project takes things even further by making it a truly collaborative community effort. The project “Siempre Aqui,” asks for photo submissions of everyday life memories of growing up in the DMV. These photos will then be considered for a two-fold project, including wheatpasting, and an immersive gallery experience.

Read on to learn more about the brilliant women of Creating Casa, and their mission to highlight and celebrate the Latinx diaspora in DC!

On Tap: Who are the faces behind Creating Casa? Do you each have a specific role, if so, what are they?
Catherine Lopez: I am a first generation Salvadoran-American born in Falls Church, VA. My professional background is in public health, but at the center of what I do is the role of community. From translating documents for my parents or family members [at] a young age to working with vulnerable immigrants or teaching children of immigrants, I have seen the need to create space and give voices to those who feel they do not have one. My interest in the arts has a very similar core and I find my role in Creating Casa aligns nicely with this. My role includes that of supporting and coordinating our programs, fundraisers and continuously searching for funding along with supporting the rest of the team in our endeavors. 

Wanda Hernández: Similar to many of my colegas from Creating Casa, I was born in Arlington, VA to Guatemalan immigrants – shoutout to my beloved parents Elda and Julio – and grew up in the neighboring Falls Church. My professional background is in museums and I am currently pursuing a PhD in American Studies at the University of Maryland. I have found that my lived experiences shape all of what I do professionally as an educator, curator, scholar and cultural organizer. Creating Casa allows me to artistically explore questions that formulate about identity and belonging, which often leads me to be the one that researches and connects with artists, galleries and other like-minded organizers. 

Ingrid Ortega: I create our graphics, event flyers and post to our Instagram (@creatingcasa). As a team, we are committed to expand Latinx dialogue through all art mediums by representing and empowering emerging underrepresented artists in the DMV area. That is a passion we all share. We, as a team, work very collaboratively and we’ve never defined roles. We all have our strengths and we utilize all our strengths to make our events a reality!

Vanessa Fuentes: I am a second-generation Salvadoran-American born in Arlington, VA. I am passionate about my involvement in the Latinx community. 

OT: What made you come together to create ‘Creating Casa’?
IO: It came out of frustration, really. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed a lack of Latinx representation, specifically Central American in the DMV area. Since 2018, I’ve seen a positive change. I knew something had to be done about the lack of representation of Latinx people, but I didn’t know what. I always dreamt of curating an art show featuring Central American artists in the DMV area. I had no idea where to even start, but I knew who to call – Wanda Hernandez. Wanda listened to this idea, provided input and ended the conversation saying, “I’m 110 percent in.” A week or two later, I told Catherine Lopez and Vanessa Fuentes about this idea, and without any hesitation – they wanted to be apart of it, too.

For almost a year, we had meetings at NorthSide Social, countless phone calls and a very “poppin” group chat. We came to be because of the passion and love we have for our community. Our first self-titled art show, “Creating Casa,” was so special to us, our guests, the artists, etc. 

OT: I love how passionate you are about highlighting and bringing focus to the Latinx creatives in the DMV! Do you think that DC area Latinx artists are under-represented?
WH: Absolutely. In high school I wanted to be a fashion designer. However, I thought, “What are the odds that I’ll make it as a fashion designer?” So, in college I decided to pursue fashion merchandising, which I saw as much more practical but I ultimately dropped that major because it did not fuel me. I think that growing up in a working-class, immigrant family, as well as a first-generation Latina in college, I was looking to pursue something that was likely to give me a job. I think this strays Latinxs and other people of color away from pursuing a career they are truly passionate about, which leads to the overall underrepresentation of Latinxs in the industry. 

OT: Who are your current fave local Latinx creatives?
CL: Luis Peralta del Valle is at the top of my list. I was introduced to him as we were planning our first show. I think he has paved a way for himself and has created avenues to showcase his work throughout the DMV area.

IO: I believe we’re all fans of Luis Peralta del Valle! C’mon! His art alone is so breathtaking, but if you’re fortunate enough to talk about his art with him – you’ll seriously be blown away. We [Creating Casa] were very fortunate to have him featured in our first show back in March 2019. 

WH: I cannot disagree with Catherine or Ingrid. Luis is amazing. He’s been such a guiding light for me as I entered the DC art world. To mix it up a bit, however, I am really excited about Cielo Félix-Hernández. They’re currently in school in Richmond, VA, however, I hope they make their way back to the DMV after graduation. Also, I have to shoutout two amazing women: DJ Beleza and J’Nae Morrae.

On Tap: How did the concept of your current project, “Siempre Aquí” come about?
WH: The idea behind “Siempre Aqui” came about right after our first show. Upon attending the show a friend of the collective, José Centeno-Melendez, shared photographs of himself when he was young in the 90s. They depicted him visiting the national monuments for the first time and busting a piñata on the sidewalk for a birthday party in Hyattsville, MD. I thought, “Wow! How many of us have pictures just like this?” We wanted to create a huge photo album, if you will, of our experiences in the DMV. And from there, the show began to evolve. 

If you would like to submit to the “Siempre Aqui” project, click here. Creating Casa will be accepting submissions until January 18. For more information on their initiatives and future projects, follow them on Instagram @CreatingCasa.

Mayra Mejia

Mayra Mejia (She/Her) is a fat positive, queer Salvadoran American freelance writer and advocate. She is passionate about fostering a strong and inclusive body positive community and is the founder of PLUSH DMV, a DC-based fat positive monthly meet up. You can follow her at @BadBadPrettyGood on Instagram and @MayraTweeets on twitter.