By Angie Escalante
It’s difficult living in the United States when your culture is rooted somewhere else. Sure there are reminders here and there with how diverse America is but authenticity sometimes lacks.
Mi Cultura is a Mexican art and gift shop located in Downtown Riverside that stemmed from the need to connect to Mexico while living in the Inland Empire.
The shop is co-owned by mother-daughter Elizabeth and Kassandra Becerra. Father and son, Raul Sr. and Raul Jr., help operate the business when they can.
High school sweethearts Raul Sr. and Elizabeth grew up in San Diego. They eventually moved to the IE with their kids, started a plumbing business and overtime noticed a lack of connection to their roots.
When they lived close to the border in San Ysidro it was easy experiencing Mexican culture but that experience was harder to grasp the more time they spent away.
Elizabeth was inspired to get serious about the shop in 2021 while visiting family in Mexico.
“I felt so connected (to the culture) that I got overwhelmed and I said ‘How nice would it be to have this (piece of Mexico) and show it to the youth in the Inland Empire,’” she said, “so that they can feel the same way that I did.”
Upon entry, you’re greeted by an explosion of color. Hundreds of trinkets, accessories and clothing that resemble many of the mercaditos in Mexico are spread throughout the store.
The Becerra family expressed their empathy for families of Mexican descent that don’t have time, means, or possibility to visit and connect to the country of Mexico.
“It makes me happy knowing that (for any reason) if you can’t travel to Mexico, there’s a store that you could feel connected with,” Kassandra said.
Kassandra grew up with a speech impediment that hindered her ability to connect with her culture.
“I was unable to speak Spanish so I always felt disconnected with my roots,” she said, “I can’t grasp the language well but (working) here I feel deeply connected.”
Raul Jr. works as a plumber during the week but helps out his family in the shop when possible on the weekends.
“It makes me feel proud to be a part of this culture, representing how beautiful it is and what it has to offer,” he said.
The Becerra family shared a sentiment of gratitude for customers who thank them for bringing a little bit of Mexico to Riverside.
They shared many meaningful stories of children, young adults and old couples that have shed tears upon entering the store. Customers have shared with the Becerras that many items are things they’ve either only ever heard about or haven’t seen in many years.
“We’re people’s people,” Raul Sr. said. “We are always asking what (customers) would like to see, what we can bring to improve (the business) and make them happy,” The Becerras travel to different states in Mexico to get a mix of items with the intent of representing all of Mexico.
The shop sells items specifically from family-operated talleres (factories) in Mexico where everything is hand-crafted.
They said they emphasize being family-oriented, a key factor in managing their business.
“It’s about always being there for each other and supporting each other,” Raul Jr. said.
Kassandra thinks it’s important to have a place like Mi Cultura to connect to, especially for younger generations.
“There was a little girl that came in (who) was learning Spanish,” she said, “It made me happy knowing that there’s kids and people my age that love (the store).”
Her brother agrees.
“Even if you don’t speak Spanish it’s OK because you will always be connected by blood,” Raul Jr. said, “Don’t stray away from your culture, no matter what it is you should be proud of it.”
The store is not just for Mexicans, the Becerra family welcomes all to Mi Cultura with open arms.
“It’s for everybody, our culture and every other culture,” Raul Sr. said. “It’s nice to see people come together and connect.”
Elizabeth said she can’t wait to see where Mi Cultura goes and thanked her entire family for their support.
“To me, Mi Cultura means carrying the strength of my parents, grandparents and ancestors who faced obstacles and barriers with courage so they (could) give us more opportunities than they ever had.”