Portland's Letra Chueca Brings Printmaking Back to the People
By the time Camila Araya Pérez and Daniela del Mar arrived at the worker center of Voz, a Northeast Portland labor rights organization, one Saturday last fall, 30 jornaleros, or day laborers, were already gathered, ready to find work for the weekend. Some leaned against the building; others huddled under awnings. When Araya Pérez and del Mar entered, someone asked them what type of workers they wanted to hire. Instead, the pair gathered the workers together and launched into a captivating introduction, in Spanglish, to printmaking and its history.
“We choose letterpress because of how physical it is, reinserting la mano y el alma [the hand and the soul] directly back into the process,” del Mar told the group. The landscapers, electricians, and mechanics in the room nodded in agreement.
Araya Pérez and del Mar are co-owners of Letra Chueca, a local press that makes greeting cards and posters. Their self-stated mission—to “decolonize” print media—leads to colorful, typographical work with a strong political bent. Some posters declare Somos todxs nasty (a gender-inclusive “we are all nasty”) and Antipatriarchy begins en la casa. Others evoke the unmoored identity of some immigrants: Ni de aquí, ni de allá (“Neither from here nor there”). When they teach classes, they bring along a portable press available to anyone interested.
Araya Pérez and del Mar met in 2012 at Em Space, a now-defunct community printing and bookmaking resource center space in the Kerns neighborhood. Araya Pérez, who had recently moved to Portland from Santiago, Chile’s largest city, asked for assistance. Del Mar, herself raised by Chilean and Austrian immigrants, immediately placed Araya’s accent and helped out. The kindred patiperras connected. (“That’s a word that makes more sense in Spanish,” explains del Mar. “It’s less about being from distinct places and instead of a mixed, mutt culture.”) A year later, they opened Letra Chueca, with the goal of using printmaking as a tool of empowerment and amplification.
“I was born after 12 years of dictatorship, and it was really difficult to live through that,” says Araya Pérez. “People were still really scared. Printing was the only medium that allowed me to speak for myself.”
It wasn’t until 2016 that the duo says the business truly came alive, refining its mission with education and outreach. “We started printing for ourselves,” del Mar says. “And in doing so, [we] are printing for our community. That’s everything.”
Adds Araya Pérez: “It lets them express in a way that they haven’t been able to express before.”