#SpotlightTuesday Young Latina artist, Brenda Castillo instills cultural pride, one card at a time

Brenda Castillo has been an artist since her days in middle school. She credits her sixth grade teacher for helping her find her passion for drawing and experimenting with various art mediums. A year after college with a business degree under her belt, she realized she could combine the love for culture with her inner artistic side. Not able to find greeting cards that highlighted her heritage, she decided to start a greeting card company herself. Her company, Sweet Llamita produces culturally relevant premium greetings cards that celebrate everyone – whether you grew up speaking Spanish at home, took Spanish for many years in school as a second-language, or just have an appreciation for Latin American culture. When Brenda is not working on #SweetLlamita, you can find her exploring Los Angeles mostly by foot or public transportation, hitting a spin class or trying a new ice cream spot.


MB: Where were you born and raised?

BC: I was born in Mexico and lived there until the age of nine, when my family moved to the U.S.


MB: Were you raised with two languages and two cultures?

BC: Yes, I grew up only speaking Spanish at home while only speaking English at school and with my friends. At home, my mom often made us dishes like taquitos or milanesas and would add a caesar salad, for example, which was not common for us living in Mexico. However, one thing that always stayed constant in our household, even before we moved to the U.S., was the music I grew up listening to. I grew up listening to 70’s and 80’s English music such as the Bee Gees, George Michael, and Donna Summer while also listening to whatever was popular on the Spanish radio stations at the time.


MB: You discovered art at a very young age. Is there an artist in your family that encouraged you?

BC: Both of my parents have always been very supportive of what I do, including my artistic talents, but I would say that my dad is the artistic one. I started to notice his artistic side when I was about seven. I vividly remember him helping me draw small illustrations on my flashcards for my English class when we were still living in Mexico. He would draw a bicycle for me; for example, on one side next to the word ‘bicycle’ while the word ‘bicicleta’ was on the other side of the card. And his talent was magnificent, even down to the screw of the bicycle’s pedal! I wish I still had those flashcards.


MB: Tell me about the platters you used to paint in high school. Did they raise a lot of money for the school?

BC: Painting platters for my high school fundraisers was definitely a highlight during that phase of my life when I was dealing with the pressures of getting into college – both from home and inherently in school, since it was competitive. Painting the platters was an escape for me as it gave me the mental freedom to not worry about school or home. There was one platter in particular that I spent twenty-two hours painting and the bid prices of my platters varied from $200 to $300+ each.


MB: You are an entrepreneur at a young age. How did you decide to start Sweet Llamita?

BC: I always knew I wanted to start my own business one day. My initial plan was to get multiple years of work experience and eventually start a business using the experience I had gained in the workforce. However, the more I observed other people starting their own ventures I realized that the best time to start my own business was now, since I only had to worry about my own physical and financial well-being. Also, my boyfriend at the time, husband now, was key to my decision. He was always very supportive and pushed me to just make the jump. So I did.

MB: What does the name #SweetLlamita mean?

BC: When I was brainstorming ideas for the company name I was sure of one thing – I wanted the company name to be in Spanglish. After months of experimenting with other company names, I finally had to register my business and I just went with Sweet Llamita. I found it to be unique and I love how expressive llamas (flames) can be, just like what I try to do with our greeting cards.


MB: How do you come up with the design and the titles?

BC: I get inspiration for designs from various sources – whether it’s my own everyday experiences, folk art from various parts of Latin America, to work from other artists. As to the titles, that’s more utilitarian, I name the cards in ways that would make it easy for people to find them online.


MB: Do you think that being bilingual gives you an advantage in the workforce?

BC: Definitely, I would not have been able to start Sweet Llamita without being #bilingual and without noticing the increasing number of bilingual population in the U.S. It has definitely been an advantage that has allowed me to stand out in what I do.


MB: Favorite Hispanic author?

BC: I don’t have a favorite Hispanic author, yet, but one of my favorite books is Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros.


MB: Favorite Hispanic music?

BC: This one is tough. I love it all – from 80’s and 90’s Spanish pop music, to current Spanish pop, salsa, reggaeton, to new fusion artists like Gaby Moreno and Caloncho.


MB: Who inspires you?

BC: So many people inspire me. When it comes to courage and hard work, I look up to my parents. When it comes to hustling, I look up to various women I have worked for and others I like to follow on social media. When it comes to innovation, I look up to Elon Musk. Finally, when it comes to design, I love getting inspiration from artists on social media.


MB: In addition to fairs and festivals, where can people find your cards?

BC: You can find our cards at www.sweetllamita.com and follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sweetllamita/


A very artistic way to honor our culture, verdad?


Bai, Bai for now,