July 25, 2024

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Crafting Fashion Trends

‘Beto’ Mojardin’s art and fashion shows his deep love for his culture

12 min read

Norberto “Beto” Mojardin is a multifaceted artist and community leader who has lived in Commerce City for six years. Beto’s extensive work includes founding Latin Fashion Week Colorado, Viva Colorado and Beto’s Hair Studio. His creative endeavors span fine arts, including painting, sculpture and fashion design, always with an aim to elevate traditional Mexican art.

In addition to his artistic talents, Mojardin is a skilled cook and launched a YouTube cooking channel in 2019 to share his grandmother’s traditional recipes. His commitment to the Latino community is unwavering; he often donates his talents to support various causes. During the pandemic, Mojardin created a mask-making business, donated masks to first responders, and delivered home-cooked meals to those in need.

Portrait of Latino man
Norberto “Beto” Mojardin came to Colorado from Arizona, after being brought to the U.S. from Sonora, Mexico, when he was 11. Credit: Courtesy Beto Mojardin

Despite the challenges of 2020, Mojardin continued to innovate, hosting Latin Fashion Week Colorado virtually and then creating the largest Día de los Muertos altar in the country for the fifth consecutive year. His dedication to fostering cultural awareness and supporting the community has earned him numerous accolades, including the “Mayor’s Diversity Award” from the city of Denver.

Mojardin shared his insights on environmental issues, community engagement, and his vision for the future of Commerce City.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Norberto Mojardin: I have been living here for six years since I moved from Denver to Commerce City. I think it is an area where you don’t see many events, apart from the rodeos they sometimes have.

But for me, being in Commerce City now makes me feel very proud to be a good representation of the Hispanic community, especially as a Mexican, because of all the culture, traditions and stories that come from my country.

I believe that by living here, together with Adams County, we will be able to create spaces and more events where artists like me are invited to get involved to not only educate the community but inspire it, too.

Mojardin: I was thrilled to be invited as an artist. They didn’t know I lived in Commerce City, which was great because when they found out, it was even better.

They treated me very well with the project, being the first Latino festival in Adams County. They didn’t expect the result. I normally have a lot of people attending events that I organize. It had a lot to do with us artists being there to invite the community. My public relations are very extensive. I have been working with Univision and Telemundo for 17 years, and I use those relationships a lot to invite the community.

So this event opened doors for me as an artist and as someone who loves working with the community, and I let them know about beautiful events like this. For the first Latino festival in Adams, it was a great success, with many people attending.

Image of a Day of the Dead art piece
A Catrina installation to honor the Day of the Dead. Credit: Courtesy of Beto Mojardin

Beto: Keep our orgullo (pride) at the forefront. All the time, (we need to) feel proud of who we are. We also have to show it, not just feel it, but demonstrate it and be involved with our public social media, in both religious and political events, and in helping our community, being involved with our society.

I believe that, as Latinos, we have to do it this way because it beautifully represents that we are included. We don’t just come to a country to take advantage of what the country and the opportunities it offers, but rather, the country should feel proud of who we are and what we come to give and educate non-Latinos about our culture, about our traditions.

And who we are as people, Latinos, are full of love, calm, compassion, and the inclusion that we always have at our core. So, my message is this: be inclusive and feel proud of who we are and share our stories with the whole world.

Mojardin: Well, I think everything is about survival. I’m from Sonora, Mexico; it’s close to Arizona. I was around the age of 11 when I moved to the United States, and I lived in Arizona until the age of 18. Sometimes life teaches you how to survive. Sadly I went into one period of my life where I was being abused sexually, mentally and physically.

The first time I touched Colorado at that time, I used to be a professional dancer, so the Vatican invited me to dance for the Pope at a reunion that was here in Colorado. I came and I danced, and what I love about Colorado, was the green —  the beautiful weather — so when I was going through, through that period of my life, feeling like my world was ending in Arizona, the first thought that came to my mind was there was a green land.  I said, that’s going to be my new home, where I’m going to continue growing with no one abusing me, where no one can take advantage of me. I will decide from there what my future will be starting from zero. 

I moved to Colorado. I was between 19 and 20, barely graduated from high school. I started living here in Denver. I was homeless for three months. It took me only three months. Nobody knew that I was homeless and then, I went to the Emily Griffith school, and they gave me a scholarship to be a hairstylist. Because I just didn’t want to do anything that I used to do in Arizona, nothing that would remind me what I wanted to do. So that’s how I came here, and that’s how I started, it through hair. 

My first job was at Cherry Creek to get my experience from the best and then bring it to my community. That’s how I started with the hair salon. Then, thanks to the hair salon, I came into fashion and then went back to the arts because now I was able to afford it, paints and everything. I need to be able to be creative. 

Oil painting depicting a woman
An oil painting of a woman representing Mother Nature. Credit: Courtesy of Beto Mojardin

Mojardin: It is funny, sometimes, for me. People say: “Now you are a hairstylist, and then you’re a designer, and then you are a dancer.” But people don’t know me because before, at the age of 18, I was already a professional dancer and a fashion designer.

I’ve been an artist all my life since I was born. The difference is that for you to survive — to pay your rent — you have to have a career where you make money, where you make your living, and then when you are on your feet you can start doing what you like and do what your passion is.

And that’s what happened to me. You know, I was patient enough to come to a new state. Start from the bottom, go to school first, prepare myself. And then it took me, like, maybe 10 years or more to be able to be where I wanted to be. 

Then the Day of the Dead Festival started because my grandmother passed away. (She was) the one who gave me everything; the only person who I had as an example. (She was) my hero and my everything. So when she passed, almost seven years ago, that’s why I started Día de los Muertos at my salon, doing an alternative altar, so beautiful that I started inviting all my clients to put their pictures of their loved ones if they didn’t have one. But I never saw that by doing that, I was going to create the biggest one in the state of Colorado. 

The same happened with the Latin Fashion Week. When we created that, it was because as a hairstylist; I was in different competitions in hair and fashion and design. I was with Denver Fashion Week for many years, closing their shows, as one of their main artists. I saw the lack of inclusivity. There were specific models, but I was the only Latino at the time, and I didn’t see Asians, Black designers, or others. 

I kept telling (designers of color), you guys need to bring that up because I felt bad that they were asking me how I got there. I just didn’t know what to answer to all these designers; they were even better than me. So what I ended up doing, since I didn’t hear any answers, I said, OK, then I’m just going to have to do my own fashion week.  

(I was) very inclusive — not only with designers, but on sizes with the models: short, tall, large, small. (I was) more inclusive in all aspects, and especially in bringing the opportunity to not only Latinos but (designers) from Asia and the Middle East.

I did it to teach the people that Latinos, are not typical, short, black hair and brown skin. In my case, I’m Japanese and Mexican, Indigenous Yaqui … That’s the reason why I started creating these events because of a necessity, not exactly that I just wanted it to do a fashion show, or that I just wanted to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. 

I did the Dia de los Muertos Festival to honor my grandmother, and to be proud of who I am and make other people proud of who they are. To be proud to showcase their textures and their stories through fashion. 

So, that’s, for me, it was just what life threw me there. And thanks to the salon, I was able to afford all this because I have never been helped or funded by anyone. Everything is, every, every money that we put into the event is through my clients and friends. They think like me.

Mojardin: The reason why I started designing with organic materials was because most of my guests that I was bringing from other countries and our local designers were working with textiles. So for me, as an artist, I want to put the art into the fashion. So what I start doing every year, is that most of my designs are organic. In a lot of the cases, I use corn. I use corn seeds or corn husk.  Of course, I do tie-dye to be able to create any color I want.

Let’s remember that when you work with corn husk, it’s like hair. You use a curling iron to make curls. If you use color, just like when you color hair, that same texture adapts and gets the color you want. So the reason why I started working with that one was because I wanted it to have the arts involved with fashion.

Second, corn for me is very important where I grew up. It reminds me of my grandma when we used to go and pick the corn, to be able to make the tortillas and make corn tamales. It was just not choosing the corn, it’s that I think Mother Nature represents us to the corn. It’s just a belief that I have.

For me, every woman represents Mother Nature. So, when I do a model and I put on that dress made out of corn, I see how Mother Nature looks in my eyes. I never thought I was going to be so successful, to be honest, or that a lot of people would love it. 

Sometimes I don’t only use corn; sometimes I use hair; I use paper too. I have been recognized worldwide in New York with that costume that was 100% made of paper, but when you see it, it is like a gold medal. Everything that has to do with creating and trying to teach the new generation how to be creative, that’s what I do. You know, I try to bring that up so they don’t feel like they need to use fancy materials or expensive silks to be creative.

Detail of intricate papier-mache art piece
A close-up of the details on the Mojardin’s “Aztec Princess” dress. Credit: Courtesy of Beto Mojardin

Mojardin:  Passion. I’m very proud of where I come from. So everything I do, it has to have something about where I grew up in Mexico, a little town of like 300 people, and they survive out of the corn. Those people, they were so happy living off their agriculture.

Then I’m coming to another country with more opportunities,  and (I’m learning) how to take advantage of them. But at the same time, just because I come from a little tiny town, doesn’t mean that I don’t have an education that I can share. I can make others also learn from me.

Mojardin: You know, at the time when I started Latin Fashion Week, I didn’t see any inclusivity. Now that I see so much inclusivity,  I’m not saying that it is thanks to me. I’m just proud of seeing Africa Fashion Week, Asia Fashion Week. So now everybody’s jumping on. Now everybody understands that they own those words in their own life.

Latin Fashion Week is too short for me now, because we have grown so much internationally. We’re changing the name because we’re locking ourselves in to being more inclusive to other countries. Every year Latina models call me and they’re like, this is for Latinos only. I always tell them, of course not.

What does a Latino look like? We have white, we have Black, we have everything. So, for this following year, I believe, the name will be changed. The reason I opened this platform was to be inclusive, and now other people are not feeling included with this event. So to continue my mission, I need to be more open to other nations and to other people, so that they will feel included.

And I’m not using one word, Black, white, Latino, American. No, I think it’s other words that we can use to make people feel included. I don’t do it for myself. I’m just using this platform to educate our communities and our new generations to feel proud of who they are.

Mojardin: To be honest with you, I just became a father. I had a baby a year and a half ago. His name is Norberto.

Right now we’re about to open a restaurant where we have my grandmother’s recipe. People will come and taste those beans, that salad she used to make for me, or those little antojitos or dishes that she used to sell in the small town to be able to survive. 

So not only for people but for my kids, I want to leave that to them, that restaurant, where they learn about how grandma used to cook. That’s basically what my plan is right now. It’s going to open in a week.

Mojardin: Yaqui, like the Indian Yaquis of Sonora. (It’s a) Sonora-style cocina, with carne asada on the grill. In a week we’re going to have an opening. The real, real thing. People, when they go, are going to learn so much, these beautiful stories, how the food is made. We’re working on a little book that has the recipes, and people can take it home, they can make it themselves.

So it’s no secret here, it’s just sharing a little bit more of who we are, who I am, you know, and for me, that’s the more important thing. Life is too short not to take advantage of it. God is with me every single day, but you don’t know how long you’re going to be here. So for me, this new project is there just to share a little bit more of home.

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