An homage to her heritage


Embracing her diverse Latin heritage, Diamond Bar High School senior Isabella Nava sews her family’s history into a stunning corset top as part of her portfolio for AP Studio Art.

As one of five works required for her portfolio, Nava was prompted to create a piece that connected to her personally. When looking at her family’s photos, she drew inspiration from her older sister’s baptism dress and decided to create a structured top.

“Through this top I hope to convey how beautiful and colorful my heritage is and the beautiful culture we have,” Nava said.
The fabric used in her project is solely secondhand, either passed down to her from her family members or purchased from various thrift stores. Currently, Nava is working with a silky blue fabric, incorporating her Colombian and Ecuadorian heritage by representing the flag’s colors. To actually piece the fabric together, Nava is using her late great-grandmother’s sewing machine.

“Me and my great-grandmother were both really into sewing,” Nava said. “She was actually a seamstress, so that’s where I got the passion from.”

In her research for this project, Nava has consulted three generations of her family—her grandmother, mother and older sister—to learn more about her family’s history and her own heritage.

“People think it is really unique that I come from so many different Latin backgrounds,” Nava said. “I’ve learned that my family has so much more history than I thought and that is fun to learn about.”

Nava has decided to dedicate this corset top to her older sister, incorporating designs inspired by her favorite holiday, Dia de los Muertos, since she has been an influence on this project from the beginning. 

“My Latin heritage is influencing me a lot,” Nava said. “For the piece that I’m working on, I’m painting flowers that are supposed to be from the holiday, Dia de los Muertos.” 

Currently halfway through the project, Nava has been working on the corset for about two weeks.

“I have finished making the lining of the top, but I still have to make the shell, sew the shell and lining together, as well as paint on top of it with this fabric paint I made from mixing acrylic paint and a fabric medium together,” Nava said via email.

In addition to painting marigold flowers, traditionally placed on the ofrenda, or ritual altar setting, during Dia de los Muertos, Nava also plans on painting flowers native to the Amazon rainforest—an homage to Colombia and Ecuador.

As a woman of color, Nava has been subject to some racial prejudice and stereotypes her entire life. Despite this, she does not see her Latin heritage as something that holds her back.

“I think I’ve had to work harder than other people and be a lot more driven,” Nava said. “I want to show my family background and how that is one of my strong points that makes me who I am,”

Through her art project, Nava hopes to display her Latin heritage to others and show them different aspects of her culture.

“I would not rule sewing out of my future, especially since my Ecuadorian great grandmother and Mexican grandmother were extremely talented seamstresses, and I enjoy sewing too, so anything is possible,” Nava said.