How Young Latinx Flower Shop Owners Are Honoring Tradition

Whether you’re in a Salvadoran neighborhood in Washington, DC, a Puerto Rican barrio in Chicago, or a Peruvian ‘hood in New Jersey, there’s one shop you’ll find on any Latinx block in the United States: abuelita’s florería
As Latin American and Caribbean immigrants make their new home in cities and suburbs across the country, many bring their cultural and regional practices, like pruning flowers and arranging colorful posies. In fact, Latinxs head more flower shops than any other ethnic or racial group in the U.S. other than non-Latinx whites. But despite owning nearly 12% of the market, the demographic is also the lowest paid in the industry. With increased competition from online retailers, rising costs, and the Covid-19 pandemic, these mom-and-pop floral shops—where a $50 bouquet comes with a complimentary bendición—are struggling to survive. Luckily, a new generation of Latinx creatives want to return the blessing by preserving their ancestors’ traditions. 
“One of my best memories growing up in the Boyle Heights community was el 12 de diciembre when we’d celebrate La Virgen,” Juan Renteria tells Refinery29 Somos. “As a child, you kinda get dragged to these things, but I felt a special connection con La Virgen.” 
It’s that attachment that prompted Renteria to found el Creativo, a Los Angeles-based floral creative studio, in 2019. In addition to his stunning floral arrangements and installations, Renteria creates a La Morenita altar each year for Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “I’m creating not only to create, pero con corazón, creatividad, y cultura,” he says.
Showing respect and adoration to ancestors and divine beings is just one example of how Latinxs utilize flowers. According to Giana Guizar, flowers symbolized creation and destruction in Aztec philosophy and practice. “Vibrant colors, bold patterns, and delicate details have a huge influence on our culture,” the Mexican-American founder of Flor del Cielo, an online floral design shop, tells Refinery29 Somos. Similarly, in the Afro-Cuban faith of santería, followers offer flores to deities to protect and guide them throughout their spiritual path. White gladioli are often given to La Virgen de las Mercedes, known as a pillar for everything pure in the universe, and Jamaica flowers are used for love spells and good fortune. “At the end of the day, [the flowers are] a gift,” Elizabeth Jaime, the Cuban-American founder of Miami-based floral studio and shop Calma, tells Refinery29 Somos. 
Jaime is one of the growing number of millennial and Gen Z Latinxs opening floral businesses that reinterpret a long-standing tradition with innovation and respect. At Calma, a floral event and installation studio that has worked with brands like Nike and Dior, she blends old-school traditions, like working with the tropical flowers used in her family’s homeland, with modern styles so that these inherited practices “stand the test of time.” In New York, Aurea Sanabria Molaei is inspired by the small but impactful Latinx-owned flower shops she grew up around. In 2015, the Puerto Rican entrepreneur and creative director founded Flower Bodega, a modern floral design and content studio specializing in events, installations, editorial, and experiences, including workshops on flower care and conditioning, selection, color theory, and more.
For Molaei, education is an important part of the work. In the 1970s, her father was a florist’s apprentice. With flower care a direct part of her lineage, she, like other young Latinx florists, feels a responsibility to reignite interest in floral work and design. These traditions, she believes, are essential to Latinx culture and wellbeing. “Flowers help bring emotion when you can't find the words,” Molaei says. “They represent joy, they can be celebratory, they can say, ‘I'm sorry, I messed up,’ they can say, ‘I'm thinking of you,’ they can say, ‘sorry for your loss.’”  
For the new generation of Latinx florists, social media has been key in popularizing the art and tradition of flower work and design that OG tienditas like Alisol Discount & Flower Store in East Los Angeles and Nevot Flower Designs in Miami have been doing for years. While strolls past local flower shops sometimes turn into everyday, mundane moments, a jaw-dropping arrangement on an Instagram feed gets hundreds of shares and saves. It reminds younger Latinxs of the beauty, skill, and heart that goes into this practice. Like the elders behind street-corner flower carts or market booths, social media has allowed young florists to position the beauty of bouquets and floral installations in your face.
It’s this hustle mentality, grouped with a sincere hunger for connection through art, that separates Latinx florists, young and old, from the rest. “Te lo vendo porque te lo vendo,” Renteria quips, remembering his mom saying these words when he was a child. But it’s also these old-school florerías and florists, and the lessons they have imparted through their craft, that have set the precedent for generations of young Latinx entrepreneurs; they have laid an unwavering foundation of heritage, passion, and drive. 
In many ways, flowers are a reminder of our Latinx elders. In the petals, we see our ancestors. In the stem, we see years of hard work against all odds. In the sepal, we see our loved ones. In each bloom, we see our community. As Molaei says, “while [flowers] are fleeting, the joy and delight that they bring are priceless.”

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