Despite the challenges of a pandemic, many first years are using their creative talents to earn extra cash. Jessenia Prado ’24, the founder of Los Dulce Sueños, celebrates Mexican culture and art with polymer clay jewelry. Her aesthetic is inspired by Mexican pottery and based on Mexican foods (like conchas, empanadas and tacos) found at small street vendors and businesses in Chicago.
Growing up, Prado felt like she did not belong in or fit the expectations of the Mexican community. “I don’t know Spanish, and I’m lighter-skinned. But I want to reclaim a connection to my culture through art,” Prado said.
Food is a great way to connect with others, according to Prado. Her mom would often surprise her with a concha, a traditional Mexican sweetbread roll, after school or a rough day.
Prado also remembers how strangers on the subway would point out her concha earrings and say, “Are those conchas? I love conchas!” Her earrings have helped create community ever since. “If you know what a concha is, then I’m automatically your friend,” Prado said.
Los Dulces Sueños began in Prado’s junior year of high school, when she applied for a paid internship program to pursue her joy for drawing and making cartoons. Funded by the Art Institute of Chicago, the program provided low-income high school students with the materials and spaces needed to create art that are normally difficult to access.
After a while, Prado began exploring the history of Mexican clay and studying pottery on display. With the help of her internship mentor — who was also Hispanic and had a great appreciation for Mexican culture — they launched Prado’s mini-project: concha earrings.
Prado only decided to sell them after her mom encouraged her to think bigger, saying that the earrings “would be a hit in the Mexican community.”
“Then I started on that challenge,” Prado said. “It’s fun to compare my earrings now to then.”
Although she wanted to focus on schoolwork for her first semester of college, Prado realized how “depressed she was without art.” She spoke with her advisor about her business in February and chose to expand it on campus.
After Prado made a quick flier, new jewelry and a few Instagram posts, several students reached out to her. “I wasn’t expecting that at all. I sold out on the first day,” she said.
Prado said that reaching the Mexican audience was a struggle back in Chicago. Due to the difficulty of reserving space in pop-up shops, she was unable to reach a majority of the Mexican community and endured the challenge of trying to sell her jewelry while simultaneously explaining its cultural context. However, she hopes to sell more in the summer due to the recent increase of pop-up shops in Mexican neighborhoods.
Prado has faced difficulty in getting to know other Latinx and Hispanic students on campus due to St. Olaf’s predominantly white demographic.
“It’s difficult doing the whole business thing by myself,” Prado said.
She has faced other challenges as well but continues to work at her art. In between finding the right materials and understanding color theory, she said that the learning process has been frustrating, but “finding the desired color is all worth it.”
Prado’s success on campus is thanks in part to her mentor and student Hall Coordinator Lori Tran ’21, who lets Prado bake jewelry in her oven.
Tran admires how Prado uses her artistic talents to showcase Mexican culture. “It’s important to support small businesses like Prado’s because the materials she needs aren’t very accessible in Northfield, yet she continues to make it happen,” Tran said. “Prado is demonstrating the hard work and dedication that many BIPOC women put into showing their cultural pride and making it accessible for people beyond their own culture. That deserves support and recognition,” she said.
“Just the community around me inspires me to keep working. I don’t think I could be making art if it wasn’t for their support,” Prado said. She also thanked her family for reminding her to embrace her culture.
Prado’s work process begins with googling staple Mexican foods or food vendors to brainstorm ideas. Then, she buys the necessary materials, meticulously shapes the clay with her hands, inserts metal wire and bakes it in the oven. Several of her batches even come out smelling like fresh pastries.
To personalize each pair of concha earrings, Prado varies its designs by thickness of sugar, plumpness, size, colors and more.
Prado is currently brainstorming the release of a spring-themed batch, centered around succulents and other plants. She is open to all suggestions and custom requests because she wants to explore her skills.
For purchases and inquiries, Prado can be reached at:
Instagram shop: losdulcesuenos