"As far back as I can remember, my grandparents were my inspiration for everything I made. They are the inspiration for my colors, my embroideries, and my tapestries. Each family member has a connection to each of my works. They become motifs."

What do you do at The New Children’s Museum?

At The New Children’s Museum (NCN) I’m an Education Coordinator which involves scheduling school visits, talking to educators and kids, and also guiding them around the museum. I also train staff members that oversee programs for our visitors that come to the museum and do group tours and in the summertime, I teach a sewing and embroidery camp--my favorite! I started at The New Children’s Museum in 2013 as a teaching artist, then left in 2017 to complete my Master's Degree in Museum Studies from Boston University. I came back to my current role in 2018.

Can you talk a little about your studies at San Diego State University and background in fiber arts?

At San Diego State I studied Applied Design with a concentration in fiber art. Unfortunately, they no longer offer this major, but I studied under textile artist, Kathryn Harris. I’ve been working in fiber art since I was a child and was always encouraged to do so by my family. I’ve been illustrating my own embroidery designs since I was really young and still have some of those drawings today. My grandpa was a craftsman as well, he was a masonry worker in Queretaro, Mexico. He built chapels. He was dedicated and passionate about his craft and he handed down these characteristics to the younger generations. When they were young my mother and aunts who lived on the ranch would work as domestics in the city and then come back with gossip magazines. When he would catch my mom and aunts reading the gossip magazines he would say, “go get a crochet book and do something with your hands!”

My great aunt taught my mom and my mom’s sisters how to stitch. Then, when I was eight, my mom and aunts taught me my first stitches. I became obsessed! My mom would say, “It’s too early to learn how to sew. You’ll hurt your eyes.” But I would risk it and sew constantly. If I was ever in trouble, my crochet hooks were taken away because my mom knew they were the most valuable thing to me.

How does your family’s influence inspire your work?

As far back as I can remember, my grandparents were my inspiration for everything I made. They are the inspiration for my colors, my embroideries, and my tapestries. More specifically, my grandma’s garden was the inspiration for many of my colors. Each family member has a connection to each of my works. They become motifs. My grandpa is the ant because he was a builder, a mason. My grandmother is the chicken because her mother gave her chickens as a wedding gift. My dad’s father would take his cows on a walk, like you would a dog, so he is the cow. And my dad’s mother is a bougainvillea, a colorful vine with heart-shaped leaves and thorny stems, because her stone house had a huge bougainvillea that I loved to admire.

How do they feel when your family sees your work?

There is a Mexican comedian who does parodies. She says that “I’m neither from here and neither from there.” I was born in the United States and although I am American, the ranch and my family in Mexico are also a part of me. I had a difficult time adjusting to life in the United States. I didn’t learn English until first grade, and I had a hard time communicating. I didn’t look like a lot of my peers and couldn’t socialize as easily. I was Mexican in the United States, but American to my family in Mexico. I was constantly thinking of my grandfather and aunts back in Mexico. I didn’t have them near me, but the connection that I did have became my work.

Because of this, I was in a weird limbo that resonates in my work. The family didn’t take me seriously because I was an American. And I was still “little Mayra,” even though I was the oldest. I don’t think they realized how connected I felt to them, until they saw me as an adult, and saw how the things shaped my understanding of our connection. That I was really a designer.

So they came to the same realization as you?

Yes. I have a vivid memory of visiting my grandmother. I’ve inherited a lot of traits connected to them and try to go back every year. Once when I went back home, she told me that even when she passes she wants me to never stop coming back because that is where my family is.

Out of seventeen grandkids, just me and my brother live in the United States. I have a little cousin Maria Jose and my niece Adriana. They are the mermaids in my work. Coincidentally, I work closely with kids who are their ages at work too. Everything I gift to Maria Jose and Adriana is handmade. I remember my mom cross-stitched a pillow for me as a kid, and I still have it today. It is so important to me. I had so many adventures with my grandfather that they will never be able to experience with him.

Thinking of my own childhood, I want to create a similar connection for them.

Tell me about the Mexican embroidery technique you and your family use? What made it unique?

It is a combination of weaving on fabric and drawn work. I found information about it on Mexican YouTube. I’m a researcher. I’ve worked in a couple of different museums and also did an internship with Mingei. Even with that background, I couldn’t find the history but found a video made by a woman named Grandma Martha. I found that the techniques are generally conglomeration of a variety of fiber techniques. It’s called bordado fantasía, or fantasy embroidery. I’m not a historian but that’s what I deduced. It seems to be pretty modern. The magazines I learned from were Spanish publications.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am enjoying working on children's toys and soft sculptures. I’ve been reading about handmade, hand crafted toys for inspiration and I also took a professional development class with Mingei and taught a workshop which kid of blossomed into what I am currently doing. At this professional development, Mingei’s education specialist and friend, Charles, was working with stuffed alebrijes, so I used his patterns to figure out the dimensions for my toys and then use the weaving embroidery technique to create the animal and mermaid motifs. The mermaids came from a workshop I did a while back with Shannon on some of the Mexican Mermaids in the Museums collection. I'm interested in finding the simplest structure and embellishing it with embroidery. Safety is also a big concern of mine when making these toys. Working at a children’s museum safety is always on your mind, so when I was making these toys I did research into toy production regulations. I don’t include embellishments like buttons or things that can be a choking hazard. It is important to me that the toys are both lovable and safe.

I’m also working on clothing, and for that, I’m inspired by vintage patterns. I recently crocheted a sweater for my niece and I hope, like the pillow my mom made me, it’s something she’ll keep even after she grows out of it.

"Art in school classrooms is great, but in museums, there is less structure and more freedom to practice a process-based approach. It’s not Step One, Step Two, Step Three. I’m a facilitator and teach a technique that was taught to me."

How else are you connected with Mingei?

I enjoy doing workshops with Mingei and love teaching both children and adults. I love seeing what they make and I am inspired by them. I have had the opportunity to both intern and work at Mingei, and it made me realize I wanted to be in museums. While at Mingei I interned in the library and worked as an education and outreach evaluator. Then, I moved to The New Children’s Museum. I want to be in museums forever. Arts education is not just my job. I live and breathe it.

Why museums forever?

Art in school classrooms is great, but in museums, there is less structure and more freedom to practice a process-based approach. It’s not Step One, Step Two, Step Three. I’m a facilitator and teach a technique that was taught to me. After the demo, I’m here to support you. You can tell people how to ride a bike, but you only know how to do it once you actually start riding.

When I do this work I’m thinking back to my mom. She would give me a needle and teach technique, but I never finished a project until I wanted a bag. It was then that I realized I’m not a robot making a stitch, but I’m a designer making art, and there is great satisfaction in that.