Indigo ink coats Daniela del Mar’s hands; layers of blush pink cover Camila Araya Pérez’s. The two, co-owners of bilingual letterpress outfit Letra Chueca, are showcasing their work at an art show fundraiser to defend DACA. “I dream her fire stays lit,” “Revolution,” and “Mamá Donna” are just three phrases of hundreds they’ve imprinted onto pieces of cardstock. As attendees jot down their requests, a single piece of paper explains Letra Chueca’s collective messages in bold print: “We have names and these are our dreams.”
Del Mar and Araya Pérez say they dreamed of opening a bilingual press together almost immediately after they met. Del Mar was fervently working on a project late one evening in 2012 at Em Space—a now-defunct letterpress and book arts studio in Southeast Portland—and she immediately perked up when she heard Araya Pérez ask for help with a machine. Del Mar, who grew up in Tennessee in a multigenerational Chilean and Austrian immigrant household, placed Araya Pérez’s accent as Chilean and discovered she had come to the United States from Chile only a few years prior.
The pair became fast friends and bonded over their shared culture and love for the antique art of letterpress. One year later, they spontaneously jumped at a fortuitous Craigslist deal that equipped them with the complete letterpress starter kit necessary to launch Letra Chueca.
“I decided to do printing because sometimes it’s really hard for me to speak,” says Araya Pérez. “If I can print it, I don’t need to speak it.” Araya Pérez, originally from Santiago, Chile, spent the first five years of her life living under dictatorship. She witnessed firsthand its lingering effects, including a fear of honesty, and engaged printmaking as a tool to make her voice heard.
While del Mar says she was originally interested in the techniques and craft of letterpress, she says the work now is about much more. “That's how Camila has influenced me. It’s really not just about what I call ‘precious printing,’ but using print more as a mode of empowerment.” The results of their knack for printing and commitment to “as much representation as possible for Latinx, queer, and feminist voices,” are vivid, unique, and often witty bilingual prints.
While the duo has plans underway to launch an online shop, they also stay busy by tabling at community events (typically with an interactive element), doing product design for Latinx-owned businesses at the Portland Mercado, and designing and producing books for local groups like the Nat Turner Project. “We really believe in our craft and its capacity to effect social change,” says del Mar.
Written by: Emilly Prado
Photos by: Cervante Pope
Published: April 2018