Amarelis Martinez was born during one of the most devastating storms in recent memory. The category 5 tempest, Hurricane Hugo, robbed Puerto Rico of electrical power. Martinez’s mother gave birth in a lightless and waterless hospital room with nineteen other women while the hurricane raged on outside. Her birth, Martinez suggests, set the tone for the rest of her life. She can go without much and still make it – head first.
From Puerto Rico, Martinez’s family moved to Tampa, Florida. She lived there up until a few years ago when the loss of a partner and job made her yearn for a different scene. Though this life change initially inspired a move to a place like Paris, France – Martinez more pragmatically considered the potential of moving in with her aunt in Columbus, Ohio. Once here, she became acquainted with the community through the Latina Mentoring Academy, as a host for Canal Hispano TV, and through her church.
Martinez’s recent move to the Short North has inspired her to create. We met in her adorable apartment after Martinez’s work at a real estate firm downtown. There, she was happy to speak more on her passion for fashion while yet another storm carried on outside (forgive the rain and thunder sounds peppering the conversation). Martinez is now pursuing her longstanding interest in design by envisioning and sewing beautiful kimonos. Her dream is to use this art to help others, especially recovering addicts. Hear more about Martinez’s art and goals on this week’s ¡Dímelo, Columbus!:
Taking her talents to Columbus:
🎧 Listen (3:21)
“What really initiated my move to Columbus was I was searching for ‘me…’ You know I had that whole cliche moment where you lose a job – have a job layoff, I broke up with a boyfriend. Everything in my life was really just changing and I was yearning for something different, a different scene. So I really wanted to pack a bag and go to Europe and take my talents to Paris or something [laughs], but that wasn’t necessarily in the plans for me. I have an aunt that has been here for over a decade, and I just called her up one day and was like, ‘I’m coming to Columbus.’ I was in Tampa, Florida and made a decision on a Sunday evening that I was ready to leave.”
How fashion meets culture:
🎧 Listen (3:51)
“Growing up in Puerto Rico was very close-knit. My family and I would all live together in the same little apartment. There’d sometimes be 6-8 adults and two children living in a two-bedroom two-story apartment. Some people would think it was a struggle, but it was beautiful… I have a bond with my aunts and uncles that most people don’t have, because we all slept in the same room. Puerto Rico – I mean every time I visit it – it always feels like it’s home.”
“Fashion for me is very connected to my culture and the Caribbean culture is I believe a child of African roots. You know we were definitely a port for a lot of different drop offs… I’m really into mixed prints, I’m really into the texture of regular fabrics when I go to a store… I look for uniqueness, I look for exclusivity, I look for a statement piece. Something that will trigger a thought in someone else.”
How fashion fuels a passion:
🎧 Listen (3:45)
“I want to be able to show visuals, creative short films to people on what addiction looks like. I want to show the meaning of addiction, the euphoric feeling when the person is at the peak of their high all the way down to when they reach rock bottom… People look at fashion and they look at it as very vain, superficial. If I could somehow combine those worlds, that would be fantastic to me.”
“I have a plan on paper, now I’m taking it step by step… Fashion, holistic wellness, and philosophy are near and dear to my heart. So I’m like ok, what do I have training on and what can I do now – and that’s fashion.”
Chasing experiences and culture:
🎧 Listen (1:32)
“I identify myself as a cultured Latina. Coming to Columbus – out of all places – really grounded me to my roots. I mean I was born in Puerto Rico, but being where I was raised it was really hard for me to really find an identity and connect with a group of people… I don’t want to put myself in a box, I was raised around a lot of Caribbean culture; Jamaican, Trinidadian, Haitian. So I can appreciate anything along the Caribbean Coast. But my roots are definitely Puerto Rican and the minute I hear a drum I am dancing anywhere [laughs].”
“I would love to be able to be international. I’ve never really had those big dreams of a white-picket-fenced house, a husband, and dog and three kids. I’ve always dreamed of like walking barefoot in India picking fabrics. Or just the most extreme way to live, that’s what I envision for myself.”
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and text are copyrighted to Leticia Wiggins. Music for introduction & interlude by The Original Soundtrack (thanks, guys!).