By: Frances Molina
Early Sunday Morning I climb the winding staircase to Jacky Ramos’ apartment. She welcomes me in, friendly even though we’ve never really met before. The apartment is warm with the smell of cooking beans and jalapeños. It smells like my grandmother’s house. I immediately relax.
Jacky is younger than I imagined; 19, slight and serious looking, like the girls I grew up with back in Houston. She flits around the apartment, checking her phone between mouthfuls of her breakfast. “I’m sorry - my sisters are late. I’ll have to go down and help them with parking or they’ll get confused.” Then she’s gone and down the stairs.
She returns with two other girls in tow, each of them carrying a small bag of groceries. They don’t really acknowledge me. Instead, they wander into the kitchen, absorbed in their own conversation – commenting on the size of Jacky’s apartment, the milk they’ve brought, something their mother has said. When they come back into the living room, they introduce themselves: Julie and Alma. They’ve brought pan dulce like Jacky promised they would and we help ourselves, happily divvying out the pastries.
The Ramos sisters are the collective creative minds behind SomarATX, a Texas-based pro-Chicanx online shop. I can’t recall when or how I stumbled onto their Instagram account, but I’ve been in love since that first follow. Alma, the oldest of the girls at 25, is the founder of SomarATX and says that her inspiration for starting the store back in 2014 came largely from within.
“I started to come to terms with being Chicana,” she explained, “Being first generation U.S. born Mexicans, our parents taught us that being Chicano was a bad thing. It meant that you weren’t in touch with your Mexican side, that you couldn’t speak Spanish…I had to learn and get in touch with what it meant to be Chicana.” Alma, like myself, credits much of her instruction and education on Xicanisma to Tumblr. “I just started reading, started learning, finding literature, learning about different people.”
SomarATX started small. “I would get design ideas in my head and have to write them down or they would just float away,” Alma explained, “We started with iron on designs but they were low quality. I even invested in a print making machine but I’m a working student and it just took too long. We eventually found an affordable print shop, a local pin maker, and a sticker maker to help us out. We made an effort to work with local people.”
Although Alma is the founder and takes most of the creative initiative when it comes to design, SomarATX remains a group effort. Julie also routinely contributes her own designs; she is the artist behind the now infamous “Como La Flor” rose design, one of SomarATX’s most popular shop items. Jacky handles the social media, promoting the store and interacting with other local businesses owned and operated by women of color. Each of the sisters play an important part in production, approving Alma’s ideas for the store merchandise before they are drawn up and approved for print.
The response to SomarATX has been overwhelmingly positive. Of course, a feature with Buzzfeed definitely helped. “We definitely saw an obvious spike in the store after Buzzfeed featured us in one of their articles” Alma says, “Mostly people in California are buying from the shop. A lot in Texas. Even some international.” Jacky mentions requests for shipments to Japan and even Norway. “People are embracing being Chicano more,” Alma claims, “The shop is growing as the community is growing.”
Despite their focus on Chicanx groups, inclusivity has always been a major focus of SomarATX. “We’ve seen a pretty great response from everyone,” Alma continues, “But mostly young women, queer people, LGBTQ people. That’s what we were shooting for: people who were underrepresented.”
This spirit of Xicanisma is what inspires the Ramos trio and has brought their project to life. SomarATX’s designs are iconic and vibrant, a proud and political declaration of self, a celebration of “nuestra cultura”. The tees, the hats, the pins – they all speak a language of their own, proclaiming their Otherness with a style unmatched and unashamed. “We’re showing off,” Julie says, “Some of the shirts are more politically upfront. We’re wearing our culture on our fashion.”
I asked them about the DIY, almost punk element to their shop. To me, SomarATX represented something that was essentially punk: creating something profound from nothing, from a negative space to start a conversation outside of the customary script. As ideas about punk are quickly moving away from the stereotypical association of the Angry White Heterosexual Male and as more queer people of color begin to reclaim and reinvent punk definitions and spaces – how will these changes impact the creative force of the modern Chicana?
“I believe being brown, being a woman, is a political statement in and of itself,” Alma says, “We’re not an audience that is catered too. We decided with SomarATX that we needed to do it ourselves. We needed to express ourselves through it.”
SomarATX at its core is a political platform, and the trio use their newfound media mobility to their advantage, promoting political messages on their Twitter and keeping their followers updated with relevant social justice news. They also try to uplift other artists of color by featuring different brands and companies on their Facebook and Instagram. “We want to help each other out,” Jacky explains.
When asked about their ambitions for SomarATX, the trio all agreed that they wanted to take the shop to the next level. “Our main goal is have a brick and mortar shop here in Austin,” Alma replies, “Someplace welcoming to brown people, queer people, trans people…it would be a shop and an art gallery, and I don’t know…maybe a coffee shop too. If that’s not too weird…” I assure her that it’s not.