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  • Writer's pictureTyzza Macias

Art, Healing, Empowerment: Ursula Rodriguez and Soleil Vida's Journey

Have you ever stepped into the vibrant aisles of Michaels Arts and Crafts, marveling at the intricate tapestries of creativity that adorn the shelves? As you roam through the colorful displays, have you ever paused, even for a moment, to consider the brilliant minds and passionate hearts that came together to curate and design Michaels' groundbreaking inaugural collection, Viva Tu Heritage?

In a symphony of cultural celebration and artistic ingenuity, a team of visionaries, driven by profound respect for heritage and an unwavering dedication to creativity, embarked on a journey that not only shaped the store's shelves but also redefined the essence of creative expression.

And now, with the season of Dia de los Muertos on the horizon, the air buzzes with an electrifying blend of reverence and festivity. Beyond marigold petals and sugar skulls, emerges a tale of collaboration and inspiration that showcases the intricate dance between tradition and innovation. The architects behind the Dia de los Muertos assortments at Michaels have ingeniously woven together a mosaic of cultural narratives, reminding us that art is not just a solitary endeavor, but a communal tribute to the rich tapestry of human experience.

At the very heart of this artistic journey beats the story of Latinx fashion designer, artist, supermom, and entrepreneur, Ursula Rodriguez. As a first-generation Mexican American, Ursula's narrative is one of finding her Latina identity through corporate work, embarking on a journey of self-healing as a recovering perfectionist, and ultimately discovering her mission as a 1st generation Latina Entrepreneur.

Ursula's transformative role as Lead Product Designer and featured Maker for Michaels' Viva Tu Heritage collection was awe-inspiring. This collection, a celebration of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, bore the fruits of three years of ideation and collaboration with the Frida Kahlo Estate and Michaels' in-house Latina designers. Every intricate detail resonated with Ursula's passion and dedication, as she wove her cultural heritage into every thread.

"As a first-generation Mexican American, I was inspired by the strong women in my family who used their handmade crafts as a form of expression and livelihood. I am ever learning about my cultural heritage and proud to be a descendant of great artisanal ancestors," Ursula shared with fervor.

Ursula's creative brilliance extended to the Día de los Muertos assortments of 2020 and 2021. Drawing inspiration from her Mexican culture, she authentically represented a time of remembrance, where the living pays tribute to their departed loved ones. These assortments beautifully encapsulated the essence of the holiday, demonstrating how art bridges the gap between generations and cultures, inviting everyone to partake in a shared celebration.

But Ursula's impact reached far beyond her creative work. As one of the Leaders/Founders of the DEI ERG named HACER (Hispanic/Latinx Association of Creative Engaged Resource Group), Ursula played a pivotal role in promoting Hispanic/Latinx inclusion and diversity awareness at Michaels. Collaborating with other leaders, Ursula and her team delved into researching and celebrating Hispanic/Latinx heritage holidays, festivals, and independence days. This effort fostered an authentic representation that deeply resonated with both team members and customers.

Yet, behind the scenes of Ursula's remarkable creative journey, a deeply personal story of healing and empowerment unfolded. After eight years at Michaels, Ursula confronted burnout and emotional turmoil. The pandemic brought her struggles to the forefront, leading her to face her anxiety and ADHD diagnosis head-on. This turning point marked the beginning of a transformational journey. Ursula transitioned from mere survival to active healing and growth.

Taking a step back, Ursula sought rest and therapy, shedding the mask of perfectionism to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Her mission transformed into breaking the cycle of generational trauma for her two toddlers, Luna and Phoenix. Through this metamorphosis, Ursula found her purpose and birthed Soleil Vida Studio.

Soleil Vida Studio, translating to "Sunny Life," encapsulates Ursula's vision for a community of mujeres who invest emotionally in their inner growth. Ursula's DIY craft workshops focus on positive self-talk, inner empowerment, and mind-body connection. Through these workshops, she aims to guide others toward self-love and authenticity. The studio's name reflects Ursula's aspiration for a generation of empowered mujeres radiating self-love and creativity, embodying a balanced and vibrant life.

Ursula's journey from crafting designs for a retail giant to curating a haven of self-discovery and empowerment highlights the potential for transformation within us all. Her story teaches us that curiosity, creativity, and connection can propel us toward our most authentic selves. It demonstrates the power of healing generational wounds and unleashing our inner brilliance.

So, the next time you find yourself wandering through the colorful aisles of Michaels Arts and Crafts, remember the powerful stories woven into the vibrant tapestry of creativity before you. Ursula Rodriguez's journey stands as a testament to the magic that transpires when cultural heritage, creative expression, and personal healing converge, inspiring and uplifting.

In the symphony of life, each individual is a note, and Ursula's note resonates with inspiration, resilience, and empowerment. It reminds us all that we, too, can embark on journeys of self-discovery, create art that profoundly resonates, and craft a legacy of positive transformation. As you step into Michaels, keep in mind that behind every creation lies a story, and behind every story lies the potential to change lives, starting with your own.

Join Ursula and Soleil Vida Studio on a transformative Journey of Art, Healing, and Empowerment. The time to embrace your inner glow-up, to tread the path of creativity and self-love, is now. Mark your calendars for the upcoming workshops: Saturday, August 26th from 2 pm to 4 pm at the Social Chica Creative Space in La Jefa room, and Friday, September 15th from 2:45 pm to 3:45 pm at The Hispanic Mental Health Conference 2023 in Session C, Room 11. Let's unite, embrace our heritage, and celebrate the transformative power of art and self-discovery. Your unique story awaits – and it all begins with a step into your vibrant, creative future.

Ah, the sun-soaked days of this summer brought more than just heatwaves – they brought me the incredible opportunity to dive into the vibrant world of Ursula Rodriguez! From the moment our paths crossed, her story became a magnetic force, pulling me into her orbit of entrepreneurial magic.

With a heart full of curiosity, I listened eagerly as Ursula unraveled her tale, each word painting a picture of determination and dreams. Her new venture, a dazzling star in the business galaxy, shimmered with innovation. As Ursula spoke, her passion and enthusiasm danced like fireflies in the night, lighting up the room. This summer wasn't just about sizzling temperatures, but about the sizzle of inspiration, Ursula brought into my world – a reminder that stories and dreams are the real treasures of these sun-soaked months.

OLM: Your journey in finding your Latina identity through your corporate work and becoming a first-generation Latina entrepreneur is truly inspiring. Can you take us back to the moment when you realized that your cultural heritage and your passion for handmade crafts could lead you on this path?

Ursula: In my pursuit of self-healing, I started discovering my inner mija. She is an artist with constant curiosity, creativity and is a descendant of strong women who used their handmade crafts as a form of self-expression. To nurture my inner mija, I decided to start an art challenge on Instagram. I shared the ABCs of my self-discovery journey. Each letter in the alphabet I designed served as a journal entry in pursuit of my self-discovery. The time I spent in introspection led me to define my values and followed up with my “AHA” moment when I realized my mission.

OLM: The Viva Tu Heritage collection that you curated and designed for Michaels Arts and Crafts sounds like a remarkable achievement. Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced during the three-year process of bringing this collection to life, and how did it feel to see it on the shelves nationwide?

Ursula: A. In the first year, our (leaders of HACER: Marizabel Reyes, Katia Koo, and myself) challenge was figuring out how to authentically curate a line of products that was inclusive to the entire Hispanic/Latinx community and not just one country. In year two we were challenged with having to compile a robust presentation for concept approval. From compiling Hispanic/Latinx consumer research data, and competitive analysis on the market, to teaching the executives about the Hispanic/Latinx culture, our presentation successfully led to beginning the product development cycle for the first-ever Hispanic/Latinx assortment at Michaels. During the entire process, we were very fortunate to have had executive-level advocates but sadly none were of Hispanic/Latinx descent. The lack of Hispanic/Latinx representation among the executive-level employees was a hindrance but didn’t stop us from paving the way forward.

B. When I first saw the Viva Tu Heritage collection at my local Michaels with my daughter and I’s face on it, I went through the motions of taking pictures but I truly didn’t understand what this meant until weeks later at a local networking event. I promoted the collection to a Latina I had never met before. She followed up by hugging me and saying how proud she was of me. I cried. I hadn’t even needed to prove my worth to this stranger and she saw it regardless.

OLM: Día de los Muertos holds significant cultural importance, and your role as an artist and designer for the 2020 and 2021 assortments must have been a deeply meaningful experience. How did you infuse your Mexican culture into these creations to authentically represent the time of remembrance?

Ursula: First and foremost, I did an extensive amount of research on the history of Dia de los Muertos. Having not grown up celebrating the holiday but having found a love for the tradition, I wanted to ensure I authentically represented this time of remembrance. I infused my Mexican culture into the artwork I created for Día de los Muertos by adding icons that were of significance. I drew and advised we include the following icons, the sacred heart, monarch butterfly, cempasúchil flower, and papel picado into the assortment. My favorite addition was La Catrina I drew dressed in traditional artisanal clothing; my face was painted with ribbon-filled braids. Having grown up wanting to be a fashion designer, seeing La Catrina on product validated and brought joy to my six-year-old inner mija.

OLM: As a leader and founder of HACER, the Hispanic/Latinx Association of Creative Engaged Resource Group, you've been instrumental in promoting diversity and inclusion at Michaels. Can you tell us about a specific event or initiative that brought authentic representation to your team members and customers, and how it impacted the community?

Ursula: The Hispanic/Latinx events we led at the Michaels Support Center were imperative when building the case as to why Michaels needed Hispanic/Latinx representation in the marketplace. When HACER put together a Mercado-style Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month event and it filled the Michaels Auditorium with over 100 employees, the message was clear. There was a need for Hispanic/Latinx representation, support, and diversity awareness. During our Mercado event, we set up tables showcasing different Latino countries that shared diverse food samplings, artisan goods on display, and educational information. There was a baile folklórico dance performance, aguas frescas and a Frida craft component. The celebration was talked about for days even years after it took place. When bringing together the Viva Tu Heritage assortment we ensured to include the HACER members by asking for feedback and doing polls to see what phrases best resonated. As to the impact that bringing a Hispanic/Latino assortment to stores all over the U.S., I still to this day get messages from customers sharing their praises, appreciation, and stating that representation matters.

OLM: Your healing journey from burnout, anxiety, and trauma is both courageous and transformative. How did you find the strength and willingness to address these challenges head-on and embark on your self-healing journey?

Ursula: No matter how much I had achieved at 35 (ie- husband, 2 kids, home in the suburbs, successful career) I couldn’t celebrate myself. I was burdened with a deep sense of sadness and dissatisfaction. I had no sense of self and suppressed all negative emotions to the point of feeling like an empty shell of a person. My strength to begin my healing journey came partly from my family. My husband supported me and made a financial plan to allow me the privilege of leaving my full-time job. My eldest child was becoming aware of the world around her and showing similar signs of anxiety. This is when I knew I had to model healthy behavior and not just teach it. I chose me. I delve deep into introspection. Having to sit with me has been the hardest part. It was not easy and almost daily I wanted to stop and revert to being less consciously aware of how trauma had created many unhealthy habits in my life. Learning to be conscious of every trigger, the limiting belief stemming from them, and processing the emotions hiding behind the triggers has proved to be invaluable.

OLM: Breaking the cycle of generational trauma is a powerful motivation for change. How has this process of healing and personal growth impacted your role as a mother to Luna and Phoenix, and how do you envision modeling a mujer who lives with intention and self-love for them?

Ursula: Healing and personal growth have impacted my experience as a mother by teaching me that I do not have to be self-sacrificing to be a good mamá. Being present with my children yet also doing what lights me up is necessary. When I am triggered to cry or get angry, I model to them it's okay to have big feelings, apologize if my triggers led to yelling, and remind them it's okay to make mistakes. As a mujer living with intention and self-love, I model by doing. One action I take with my five-year-old daughter is looking into a mirror together and asking her “What do you love about Luna?” This leads to answers like my soul, and my eyeballs and prompts her to ask me what I love about myself. I am constantly affirming it's okay to be different, you are beautiful just the way you are, and I emphasize the need to take care of your body whether that's putting on lotion or feeding it well. My daughter keeps me in check as she will respond “I don’t see you put lotion” if I request it of her yet I don’t model it.

OLM: Soleil Vida Studio is a wonderful initiative focused on empowering mujeres through DIY craft workshops and positive self-talk. What inspired you to create this support system, and what aspects of your workshops do you find most impactful in helping women discover their inner glow-up?

Ursula: My inspiration for Soleil Vida Studio came from seeking my support system of Mujeres. When I began networking with other Latinas in DFW, I quickly found that they too were healing, in need of Comunidad, and ready to support one another with a mentality of “juntas somos mas ponderosas.” My DIY craft workshops are most impactful because the crafts are focused on positive self-talk, empowering our inner mija, and cultivating a mind/body connection. For example, at the Inner Mija Workshop mujeres craft and take home a mirror decorated with positive affirmations as well as learn about mirror talk and the importance of positive self-talk while connecting with other mujeres on their healing journey. The workshops provide the mujeres with the tools needed to GLOW (G-Growth Mindset L-Love O-Openness/Acceptance W-Worth) from the inside out.

OLM: The name Soleil Vida Studio, meaning "sunny life," carries a beautiful vision for the future of empowered mujeres radiating self-love and authenticity. How do you see your studio making a lasting impact on the lives of women who participate in your workshops?

Ursula: The lasting impact I see Soleil Vida Studio making in la Comunidad is to break down the status quo and cultural stigma surrounding healing. I hope to craft a legacy where mujeres feel seen, heard, and supported because there is healing through connection with tu comunidad. The DIY craft workshops serve as a judgment-free zone to share our stories and learn new crafts while improving their mood, self-confidence and reducing stress.

OLM: Your values of curiosity, creativity, and connection are integral to your mission. Could you share an example of how these values have come together to create a transformative experience for one of the Mujeres who joined your workshops?

Ursula: I haven’t conducted my first workshop as of yet. I will say though by showing up with vulnerability and authenticity on Instagram, I have had multiple mujeres in my comunidad compliment me for having courage, moving forward even in fear, and guiding the way for others. I created a weekly Support System of Mujeres post on Instagram that expresses the kind words that my support system shares with me. This is not to boast but to showcase that sharing gratitude and kindness is key to fostering meaningful connections.

OLM: As you continue on your entrepreneurial journey, what message would you like to send to other first-generation Latinas who may be seeking their path of self-discovery and pursuing their dreams?

Ursula: My greatest ambition for myself and my message to Mujeres everywhere is to constantly challenge yourself, never lose your curiosity, and have the courage to try something new. You are worthy of a life full of abundance, where discovering your values, purpose, and mission is only a step away. Take the time to sit with yourself, become consciously aware of how trauma presents itself in your life, and build a support system that empowers you to follow your dreams. “When you accept your unique self + begin your self-healing journey = Glowing opportunities” - Ursula


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