“It all comes down to our core value that we’re trying to instill in anyone who’s rockin’ with us: it’s confidence. It’s knowing that someone can copy you but so the f-ck what? They’re not you.” – Lala Romero, Recording Artist & Co-Founder of Bella Doña
Growing up, I was embarrassed of my culture and where I lived. Of all my friends, I was the only Latina, and my family worked hard, but we still struggled. I never had anyone to empathize with, and none of my friends understood what it was like to have a crazy, religious abuelita, who would cook me lentejas con arroz, every day after school for two weeks straight. Or a single mom who worked tirelessly to make ends meet, yet still made sure I had the best. Hey, that’s just what happens when you’re part of a Latinx family, run by working women.
At the time I didn’t know those were the things I should take pride in –our struggle, our heritage. I was surrounded by upper-middle class white kids everyday, and instead, all of my embarrassment eventually piled up. It forced me to assimilate, to erase all the remaining parts of me that made me a Latina. It was only last year that I began this journey of self-discovery, reclaiming my roots. It was also during this time that I came across Bella Doña on Instagram.
At first, I was only about their clothes, but the more @BellaDonaLA posts I actually read, the more enamored I was with their mission: to empower young girls, encouraging them to embrace their beauty and the neighborhoods they grew up in.
LaLa Romero is the co-founder of Bella Doña, alongside Natalia Gold. With their voices alone, these mujeres have helped the Latinx community reclaim their fashion, sexuality, and spirituality, ensuring that we never forget who we are. That we are the flyest around.
I first met LaLa Romero four months ago, on set for Bella Doña. The second time, I’d be sitting right in front of her, talking empowerment, influence, and roots. Below is my exclusive interview with Bella Doña’s own and Van Nuys’ finest, LaLa Romero. Enjoy.
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Brittany: I admire that you use real Latinxs from the neighborhood as the models for Bella Doña. I love reading the corresponding IG captions ya’ll write too, like “First They Laugh, Then They Copy.” Representation is important. And the copying part–it’s so true.
Lala: Look, I grew up in a neighborhood, in a situation like that. Often times I was embarrassed. I grew up in Van Nuys/ Panorama City area. I shared a bedroom with all four of my sisters growing up. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was young and it’s tricky being in those situations and you’re so little. Our dad was a gardener and he would take us to work with him, mowing lawns in big beautiful mansions. My dad would be mowing the lawns and they’d give us hand-me-down clothes. There’s a certain feeling that comes with that; you feel less-than. Growing up in my neighborhood I would see the older girls with their fashion, style, nails, specific eyeliner, winged eyeliner, their specific lipstick looks. You know, all of that stuff.
Then I would see it in high fashion or mainstream, but never see the neighborhood get the credit, and only see the neighborhood as being viewed as dangerous or scary. All of the things that the media portrays it as, that was really frustrating to me. Like when you’re never told that where you’re from is beautiful, is the heartbeat of the community, is where all the f-cking heartbeat, best fashion, best food- it’s the heart. Of any city. The neighborhood is always that. So I think those posts are, it’s just genuinely how I feel.
B: You’re right, as someone from the community, it’s so frustrating to see brown people being portrayed as the poor, criminal stereotype. We are so much more than that.
L: I’m frustrated, but excited. It’s an exciting time to be coming into our own power, to be creating our own lanes. For you to be doing what you’re doing and for it to be resonating. For you to be everyday finding more and more businesses popping up. And watching your database explode as you start looking. I think that’s really exciting. So as much as it can feel frustrating, it’s like also there’s some sort of peace that I have with us recognizing where we are and claiming that space, pushing things forward. So yes it’s frustrating but at the same time I’m always excited to figure out how to like dig a hole under the wall, climb over the wall, go through the f-cking window, squeeze through the crack in the door. And unfortunately that’s where we’re still at. But just being able to use art and connect with other women, there’s comfort in that.
There’s other girls out there, there’s other girls who feel the same way. That’s kind of where it’s at for me. Those posts can maybe come across as feeling frustrated, but then I watch our base grow and I see girls wearing our shirts to go vote, or to go to important things in their life. Like you wear our pin on your sash to graduation, that’s really meaningful to me and it feels good to me to see the brand mean to much to other people.
B: Have you had any of your designs get ripped off? I know Forever 21 is notorious for doing that.
L: Not that I know of but honestly, Natalia and I made a pact, like we put blinders on and we don’t give a f-ck what anybody else is doing. Like we literally dont. Forever 21 can copy us but by the end of the day we’re onto the next. Like by the time they catch up with where we’re headed– it doesn’t matter. Like it literally doesn’t matter to us. It all comes down to our core value that we’re trying to instill with anyone who’s rockin’ with us: it’s confidence. It’s knowing that someone can copy you but so the f-ck what? They’re not you. I think when you’re doing something that’s really authentic, nothing else matters.
B: Confidence. Is that what Bella Doña stands for?
L: When someone asks me what Bella Doña stands for, first and foremost it’s about a sisterhood. We [Natalia and I] are two best friends that created this brand together. We’re basically sisters at this point. We finish each other’s sentences.
All the things that Bella Doña exists on like, it’s what I’ve been doing for almost 10 years now. Like the first song I ever wrote that got played on the radio that went into rotation on Art Laboe is called “Homegirls”. *Points to her Bella Doña “Homegirls” enamel pin* The themes are the same. It’s literally the theme of my life. I have four sisters. I grew up with my Tias living with my grandma, all the women always holding each other down. So to me I don’t feel feel like- I don’t even need credit for it. I just do what I feel is my purpose. And it’s weird because work doesn’t feel like work. I was just telling my girl like I haven’t had a day off just to chill in months, because I’m always working. But when your work is purposeful, I think you almost don’t mind.
Sometimes you’re like, “f-ck, I could use some sleep, I need a fill, I need to go get waxed,” or whatever. I think it’s just helping people find their purpose, and being their inspiration, their muse, and their confidence that keeps me going.
B: Growing up I never had a connection or felt included in my Latinx culture. I didn’t speak Spanish, I didn’t have Latinx friends. I was raised up in the Valley too, but in Sherman Oaks, so all my friends were Jewish and Black. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve been on this journey of self-discovery and decolonizing, like many other Latinxs have.
L: That’s so interesting. I think that’s when Natalia and I connected, it’s like you kind of fall in this weird space where you’re… I’m trying to think of the best way to explain this. I grew up with Latino friends, I grew up in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood. My parents speak fluent english. My family is mixed, everybody’s mixed. All my sister’s husbands are Black. Like everybody in my family is mixed so it’s like a hodgepodge of culture. I grew up with my Chicana grandma who also speaks fluent English. And a lot of my family is Navajo and Apache, like indigenous Native American from northern New Mexico. So it’s kind of like this weird place where it’s a lot of cultures coming together and then it was never a pressing issue.
Then for my elementary school I went to my neighborhood school, then I went to a gifted magnet. So here I go, I’m the only Romero in the entire student body. So, like what you’re saying– all of a sudden I’m going to Bar Mitzvahs like, what the f-ck is that? You know what I mean.
But it’s weird because that’s when I felt the most out of place. My family is super poor, my dad drives a gardening work truck that doesn’t have a gas cap, it has a sock in it. All these other kid’s parents are dropping them off in Mercedes and this and that. It was such a pivotal point for me to be like, when you don’t have a lot of money, how do you figure out your identity when you’re surrounded by all these rich kids in these important years of life? It’s tough. But I always knew where I came from was the f-cking coolest.
B: Who instilled that confidence in you?
L: I just always felt it. I just saw my dad being such a hard worker and all these dads in my apartment building that we lived in when we were little, the tios, everybody around me I thought was amazing. So it was always weird to me how when I’d turn on the T.V., I’d never see that amazingness reflected. Just because a guy has a bunch of tattoos that means what? No, it doesn’t. Not where I’m from. But in your movie, you keep telling that same story over and over again and that’s how people think these places are so dangerous.
All I’ve wanted to do is paint a different picture of what the city is really about. It’s not girls in Hollywood dancing on tables, popping bottles of champagne. That’s not L.A.
B: If it’s not about the money and the fame, then what is L.A. to you?
L: L.A. is the neighborhood I grew up in. It’s Van Nuys, it’s Boyle Heights — the old Boyle Heights. It’s East L.A., it’s mariachis, it’s elotes. It’s lowrider culture, it’s moms pushing babies in strollers down the block trying to make sh-t happen. It’s the gardeners mowing your f-cking lawn, working harder than anybody else in the city to put food on the table for their kids, so their kids can have a better life. That’s what makes this city thrive. That’s the heartbeat.
You can follow Lala Romero on IG at @LaLaRomero, and Bella Doña at @BellaDonaLA.
Also be sure to check out her upcoming EP, Palm Tree Dreams, set to be released January 2017.