TEST SITE FOR ART & HOSPITALITY EXPERIENCES
Where About Now: Where are you right now?
Paola Castelo: Currently, my family and I are at home in Mexico. We live in a very small town by the Pacific Ocean called Pescadores, in Baja California Sur.
WAN: Where would you rather be?
PC: To be truly honest—even though this word has become overused and even cliché—I am extremely grateful to be exactly where I am. Here, we are by the ocean, with space to grow some of our own vegetables and fruits, there’s room for our kid to run around and be a part of the small but vibrant community. I am truly so grateful. In that past, we’ve only come to visit for two weeks of the year but since the pandemic, we’ve been living here. This year we’ll have spent 9 months in Mexico, which has been a gift. We will be heading back to Vancouver in a couple of months to have our next baby.
WAN: Can you tell us about your background? Where do you live and work?
PC: Of course! I grew up in Mexico until I decided to venture to Canada on my own when I was 18. Having come from a very humble background—with half my family indigenous, the other half European and parents that separated—I grew up in a divided world with two different perspectives. I always had big dreams that I felt didn’t belong in Cajeme, Sonora—the town in Mexico that I am from. When I was 17, a well-known modelling agency cast me to do a TV show in Mexico City, which inspired me to further pursue modelling in Hong Kong—something my extremely conservative mother was not happy about. I distinctly remember her getting on her very first flight to Mexico City to come get me and bring me back home so that I would finish high school. These past few months in Mexico City were my first real time travelling and when I returned to my home town, I wanted to leave immediately so that I could see more of the world. After reading about Vancouver on the internet, I found an opportunity working as a nanny and saved all my modelling money so that I could go, despite how difficult it was to convince my mom. I assured her that I would be back in a year, emphasizing that this would be a chance for me to learn how to speak English. And with that, I finished high school on a Friday and was on my way to Vancouver by Monday, which was12 years ago now.
When I arrived, I worked as a nanny for a year and then got jobs under the table at restaurants until I was able to get my work visa three years later. I had a dream to attend university and knew that I would need to support myself in order to do so. After five years of work and saving, I was able to go to English school; once there, I needed to get a 95 on one particular test in order to attend university. After three months of studying, along with my full-time job or sometimes two, I succeeded and was able to start university to achieve my Bachelor of Commerce. I have always been ambitious, driven by the desire to make it for myself, which was the energy that propelled me through the next five years and led to the completion of my degree. Looking back on these years, I find myself thinking: wow—how did I have so much energy! Working full time all the while studying, attending class, commuting back and forth and taking care of myself was a lot and I’m proud to have stuck with it.
During my last year of University, I met an amazing woman from Toronto and we decided to start a clothing line with her artistic talent leading our designs while I focused on the business side of things. Together, we had a successful collaborative business, which gave us the opportunity to travel to new and exciting places to host pop-up shops. After working on our clothing line for a few years, I met my now husband and fell in love like I never had before. There was something distinctly different about our connection—life’s synchronicities would have it that we had many friends in common but had never met until that day. At the time, I wasn’t looking for a relationship—I was solely focused on my career—but he pursued me because he felt it too. He knew. After four months of dating we were engaged and got married exactly one year from the day we met. The rest is history: I’m in love, growing a family and connecting to my heritage through starting Vuelta Sur. Every day, I feel truly happy and grateful.
WAN: Through Vuelta Sur you work to promote and preserve Mexican art and culture with a beautifully curated Instagram. Can you explain the concept and how you research the content?
PC: I have dreamed about exploring this work for a very long time. Our goal is to educate people on Mesoamerican culture through sharing stories, celebrating artists and delving into the region’s rich heritage. My main hope is to do so with an authentic, honest lens—one that may share a perspective of my home that might clash with mainstream media. I feel so excited to do this work and truly humbled—it is a great honor and something that is deeply important to me.
In the next few months, we will be sharing interviews that feature individuals who are working in various fields and mediums across Mexico, highlighting many aspects of the vast culture. We have also partnered with an organization that is devoted to creating educational programs with indigenous communities in Oaxaca, which I am really excited about.
In terms of research, I find information and inspiration all over—from books to in-person encounters. I’ve been fortunate to receive guidance from a mentor who has a doctorate in Mesoamerican culture and the Mayan calendar; she possesses a breadth of knowledge and shares many great resources. Additionally, there is so much contemporary content, which I’ve found researching new and existing talent. I seek to use the platform to promote up and coming artists that are worth celebrating.
WAN: What inspired you to create the platform and what are your goals for it?
PC: I am interested in preservation and hope to prevent the loss of tradition, customs, art techniques—and well, soul—that comes with a culture becoming homogenized. Mexico’s geographic proximity to the United States puts it at great risk of becoming an “Americanized” society, which threatens to strip the country of its rich identity. This is why I think there is some important work to do. Through empowering and educating Indigenous communities, I hope they will understand the importance of their art techniques, cultural traditions, and sacred rituals. It is important to preserve their ancient knowledge, and to share it with the world.
WAN: Your platform seems to show contemporary art and historical culture of Mexico. What is your understanding and approach to Mexican contemporary art and more traditional culture?
PC: How it is all colliding into one. How it is being rescued by creative minds because they know how essential it is to revive it. How the past can affect the present and, specially, how much we can learn from the historical culture of Mesoamerica.
WAN: How has the pandemic affected your activities and the people you work with in Mexico?
PC: I must admit, the pandemic has brought me closer to my work in Mexico—literally and figuratively speaking. Previously, while living in Canada, I felt far away from my home yet called to it; I was yearning for a reconnection. Since the pandemic, we have been living here, which has exposed me and my family to a life of simplicity and joy. Even though a lot of my work is online, I still feel nourished by being connected to the land and the communities that surround our home here.
Recently, we were fortunate to travel to Oaxaca—taking all the necessary covid precautions—to interview some master artisans. The experience was truly wonderful and deeply inspiring.
WAN: You recently produced a film in Oaxaca and interviewed communities from the arts and culture there. Can you tell us more about the project?
PC: During this time of immense stillness, we—at Vuelta Sur—have become acutely aware of how necessary it is to remain inspired. These unprecedented times have illuminated how we are all connected, which is evident through the art and stories we share. Our page is centered around sharing stories of the past and present in order to highlight this connection. Over the next few months, we will be releasing a handful of interviews featuring people who are involved in arts and culture, and are making an impact through learning from indigenous communities.
Recently, we took a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico to meet a few of these exceptional individuals, which moved us to create a specific section of Vuelta Sur that is devoted to stories of curators and creators. These stories are intended to ignite inspiration in others—especially now—and to help celebrate these incredible artists and the important work that they’re cultivating. The people and work featured explores a wide breadth of industry and expertise—all fascinating in their own right. However, upon completing our interview series, we were struck by the parallels that are shared: each individual is committed to delving back to the origin of their work; to explore old wisdom in order to preserve traditions, language, heritage and the environment. Many of the artists are starting to discuss ideas around consumerism, plastic and how the media portrays people and things. These common topics further iterated how we are all connected.
We will be sharing these interviews in the following months through a series of short clips with links to longer format on our website. We will include written content for those who are interested in learning further about these stories and people. Our team is overwhelmed with respect and admiration for the artists we captured and feel immeasurable gratitude for their time and trust—for opening their doors to us during this global pandemic. It is our hope that their work and perspective sheds a bit of necessary light
WAN: When it’s safe again to travel, where is the first place you will go in Mexico? Probably, Chiapas and a few archeological sites I have been dying to see.
PC: Where in Mexico can visitors discover something culturally rich and surprising? I would recommend starting in Mexico City. There is so much to explore—the museums, the beauty of the city itself, the liveliness, the food. My personal favorites are archeological sites and beaches, of course. In Mexico City I would recommend visiting Teotihuacán. I love the turquoise water of the Caribbean but the Pacific Ocean aside the desert has its own magic. There is just so much to experience. Oaxaca is also a must. I could go on.
WAN: Can you recommend our readers some online resources to discover Mexican art and culture?
PC: Honestly, I don’t have a specific link to share but I think Conde nast traveller does a great job in researching amazing places to visit in each city. However, I can assure them that following along with Vuelta Sur promises authentic, inspiring content so perhaps they should check us out!
WAN: What plans do you have regarding Vuelta Sur for the near future?
PC: We have 2021 planned. We have so much work to edit regarding interviews and have upcoming photographer collaborations while also working on a few products with master artisans that will be live next year. Our near future is focused on community building and on continuing to enrich our online platform.
Also, about to have my second girl in a few months so lots to get ready before I turn into a zombie for maternity leave.
Header image by Gabriel Cabrera
TEST SITE FOR ART & HOSPITALITY EXPERIENCES