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Our Story

Following her relocation to Santa Cruz in May of 2019, Isabel Contreras, founder of Mi Gente CA, noticed the absence of a vibrant cultural community within the area. Drawing from her own experiences as a mixed Indigenous artist and her unwavering commitment to equity in arts & culture, Isabel had long advocated for increased visibility and inclusivity of diverse artistic voices throughout professional artistic her career since 2014. Because of the lack of cultural art events, Isabel decided to organize her first arts festival, centered around the celebration of Día de Muertos, on October 31, 2021. Little did she comprehend the significance that this event would assume.

 

During the festival Isabel had the privilege of connecting with numerous underrepresented artists from neighboring regions, who candidly shared their narratives of marginalization and systemic challenges they faced in finding spaces that championed their artistic endeavors within Santa Cruz. Deeply moved by their stories, she recognized the significance of sustaining the work that had inadvertently commenced. Despite grappling with doubts regarding her own preparedness for such an undertaking, she realized that this movement transcended her individual experiences. It was a resounding call to amplify the stories of all artists, ensuring their visibility and representation within the community.

Seizing the opportunity to uplift su comunidad y su gente, Isabel formally established Mi Gente CA on January 11, 2022, coinciding auspiciously with her 24th birthday. Under her keen leadership, the organization orchestrated its inaugural event, Block Party, on July 3rd, 2022, in collaboration with Barrios Unidos, providing an inclusive space that accommodated over 50 underrepresented creatives. Since then, Isabel has continued to spearhead a multitude of cultural festivals, performing arts events, and networking socials, each offering a unique and uplifting experience. Her unwavering dedication and contributions to the community have been acknowledged and esteemed to such an extent that she received a Mayoral Proclamation for Hispanic Heritage Month on September 12, 2022, a mere two months after her first Mi Gente CA event.

 

Isabel continues to curate unique events that instill a sense of value and belonging within every participant, thereby enabling them to share and radiate the light that shines within them.

our team

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ISABEL CONTRERAS

founder, executive director

Isabel is a multifaceted, mixed Indigenous artist who received her BFA in Communication Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University, and has since held positions as a Graphic Designer, Illustrator, and Marketing Manager. She has been recognized for her philanthropic work in Santa Cruz County and was named Community Builder of the Year and Activist/Changemaker, joined the City Arts Commission and received a Mayoral Proclamation for her work during Hispanic/Latine Heritage Month; all in her first year (2022-2023) as an art-ivist and organizer.

 

Whether it's a new art piece or community project, Isabel's main focus is to prioritize culture, representation, and inclusivity in her work. She enjoys creating work that people can identify with and aims to build spaces that increase community access and support for the arts, while giving back to her community. Her personal artwork can be found at esachabe.com or @_esachabe on Instagram.

Esmeralda Fregoso

board of directors, secretary

Esmeralda "Esme" (she,her, ella) is a proud Latina creative, born and raised in Santa Cruz, California, with a passion for fostering inclusivity and authenticity. Graduating from San Jose State University with a Bachelor's in Hospitality Management, with an emphasis in event management, she brings a unique blend of skills and vision to her work.

As the founder of Fregoso Creative, Esme is dedicated to creating safe spaces through photography and videography where individuals can embrace their true selves. Her mission is to highlight the beauty found within our differences, ensuring that every person, regardless of background, feels valued and understood.

Esme also serves as the inaugural Communications & Membership Coordinator for the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, a non-profit dedicated to strengthening Latina power for collective success through sisterhood, leadership, and civic engagement.

Esme's commitment to community and creativity is evident in all her endeavors. She believes in the importance of creating spaces where people can show up authentically, recognizing the magic and power in embracing one's true self and inviting others to do the same.

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