If you don’t know who Ana Maria Parada is, you should. Her active presence in the Latinx Community of Sydney is vital in the progression of giving us an authentic identity. Originally from Colombia, she has found a home in Sydney. She is a painter, social work activist and Indigenous jewellery supporter. She is a force of nature and her presence does not go unnoticed. She is the definition of a strong young Latin woman. There is a lot more to this Sydney Latina than first meets the eye.

C- How long have you been here?
So I came here 12 years ago. My sister came to study English and then my mum followed and they stayed here. I grew up in Colombia with my dad and when I was about 16 my Mum brought me over here [Sydney, Australia].

C – Where did you settle when you first arrived?
We lived in Redfern and I went to Cleveland Street High initially for English and after that, I went to Randwick Girls. I hated it when I first arrived. I missed home so much, it was too different, I missed all my friends, so I went back.

When I got back I realised that nothing was the same anymore. My world had been expanded and opened and I just wasn’t the same person that I was when I left. I didn’t belong there anymore. So I came back to Sydney and I’ve been here ever since. I went to uni and studied political science and did my Honours in government and international relations. Through that, I discovered my passion for Indigenous cultures. I’ve also just finished my Diploma in Community Services.

I went to Bolivia and Ecuador as part of my thesis for my Honours year. I spent a lot of time in Indigenous communities interviewing the Indigenous people. My passion for Indigenous cultures was born here in Australia. I grew up very sheltered in Colombia; middle class, very patriotic, Catholic culture. I would’ve never had a chance to discover this passion if I didn’t move here.

Living in Redfern and being so close to Indigenous people I realised, well we also have Indigenous people in Colombia. In fact, I could partly be Indigenous and I wouldn’t even know. We are a lost people and we don’t know where we come from. I wanted to investigate more. I fell in love with Indigenous cultures.

C – How did you feel coming back to Australia the second time?
It was so strange because I came back [to Australia] and that whole phenomenon of Colombians are drug dealers was in. The popular culture for a woman in Colombia was that you should get a sugar daddy drug dealer and get fake tits. I was brainwashed with that. When I came back, Australians found it very cool that I was Colombian because I reminded them of cocaine and I’m part of this hot Colombian stereotype that Latina’s are good in bed and it’s very sexualized. That almost stuck with me so much.

I was 17, I thought I was a Latino gangster because this is what was cool. If I’m Latina and I want to be myself this is how I needed to be so people could accept me. But you know you grow up. It’s a long process of belonging to a new country. Especially learning the language and being understood by other people.

A – Did you learn English being in Australia the first time or were you already practising?
I was already practising [in Colombia].

C – Were you able to make friends at school easily?
It wasn’t too bad. I think mainly because I’m like a chameleon, I can adapt to any situation. When I came back my mum moved me to the school Brigidine High and it was mostly white girls. I guess my defence mechanism was to behave more like them. Growing up I never saw myself as different, you know, subconsciously I thought I was white as well and I had life expectations like they did. Then you realise no matter how hard you try, there are so many barriers to achieving your dreams as an immigrant and as a coloured person. When you’re competing with other white women or men it’s very hard. I started to realise, well actually I’m not like them. Even though I’ve been here a long time it’s still a long way, we are not equal.

C – Tell us about your art?
I’ve always loved painting. Every day I wake up, I think about Colombia. There is no day that goes by that I don’t think about my country, my family and my culture. My family comes from the country, I’ve always grown up in the open, on very agricultural land, it’s very Indigenous as well. I’m really interested in the diversity of Colombia because we have Afro, Indigenous and Spanish descendants. All that mixed up, the best music of the world was born. So I paint realism, all my subjects are about Colombia and the diversity of the people.

Right now – talking about that stereotype of Latino’s and drug dealers; I hate it. Every time you say you’re Colombian you literally get asked, How much is a bag of cocaine?. During my placement, I was working with this man and one day he was like oh I’ve heard Colombians are really good in bed. This really shocked me, I was so angry. After that I thought, I want to change the way people see us. So through my art, I’m doing a series of portraits of influential Colombian people, like Totó La Momposina. Totó La Momposina, she is the mother of Afro-Colombian music. I’m painting Feliciano Valencia at the moment, he is an Indigenous leader who is a political prisoner.

C – What about your jewellery line Mami Watta Collections, what inspired you to start it?
Behind the same line where I want to support Indigenous communities and art. I’m a creative, so when I see creativity and talent, I’m drawn to it. I was in Colombia with my boyfriend Julian, we were just hanging out and we saw these Indigenous women who were selling their art… I call them artworks because they really are artworks, but they were selling their jewellery on the floor. I was like wow these are beautiful, we spoke to them and I asked them if they would be interested in making some for me so I could bring them to Australia. That’s how we connected and now I have a relationship with them. I have a contact who I go to, I send him requests and they come up with their own patterns. They literally do their own thing.

C – So you give them that freedom to do what they like with the jewellery?
Yeah of course. We just go by numbers and they come up with the best creations. So it’s supporting them. We make sure it’s at a really good price so they are not losing. The idea is to support them, not rip anyone off. We are in constant contact. I’ve never been in such constant contact with Indigenous Colombian people before and through this I’m learning so much from them.

C – Where in Colombia are they from?
Risaralda, Colombia

C – What is the name of the Indigenous Colombian community you’re working with?
Embara Chami

C – How has the jewellery been received in Australia?
People love it. There are many different Indigenous cultures that use beaded work.  The patterns, the colour combinations and the geometrical designs are very Andean. They love connecting with the story. We try to be very respectful, we by no means are selling ceremony artefacts, it’s literally what they want to sell. We hate cultural appropriation and we would never fall into that. The business belongs to my boyfriend and I. He is doing the same thing in Morocco. Our whole motivation is supporting traditional art making because it should not go unrecognised.

C – What do you love about Australia?
I love the diversity; I have friends from all different cultures. I know people from all around the world and I get to learn from their cultures. I also love the resilience of Aboriginal people here. It’s amazing, all that they have achieved and are still achieving. It’s an example and I look forward to someday being able to help Indigenous people back home.

A – It’s weird that we can have this Indigenous blood and connection and we just don’t know about it
More than knowing, it’s supporting the Indigenous people who are still alive today, that have actually survived all that colonisation and are still fighting. We need to support them…

C – What do you miss about Colombia?
My family number one, the food and the spontaneous life. Anything can happen at any point. I miss the social connections, I feel like they happen more quickly there and more natural. I also miss the music and the dancing. Everyone is so creative. Also the warmth of the people.

C – Who in your family is still there?
Everyone except my mum. My sister is in San Fransisco, but everyone else is there.

C – So you have no other family here?
No one here. Although I have a distant cousin who recently came to Australia.

A – It must be hard, family is such an important part of life. Did you guys create a family in a sense?
Not really. It’s hard. You can have all the friends in the world but in the face of tragedy, it’s a different story. My mum is a cancer survivor and so is her husband, I was the one supporting them. That’s when I was like wow this is what it feels like not to have family. As many friends as you can have, family would just drop everything and be there. Things like that make you realise how far away from home.

Ana Maria’s Instagram; @anaparada
Mami Watta Collections Instagram; @mamiwattacollections

Interview by Carolina De La Piedra and Aimee Flores
Words by Carolina De La Piedra
Photos by Aimee Flores