You know that feeling of comfort you receive as soon as you walk into abuelita’s house and breathe in the forceful scent of Fabuloso right before you eye your cup of Café Bustelo beside a plate of María cookies? That’s the feel-good sensation that Central American artist Veronica Melendez wants to engender through her illustrations of popular Latino staples.
In 2016, the Salvadoran-Guatemalan photographer-illustrator created “Iconic,” an Andy Warhol-inspired pop art series featuring cartoon versions of all the branded goodies Latinos grew up devouring.
“I just felt like all these objects and things that I have a nostalgic connection with and speaks to me would also be something that other Latinos would relate to and admire,” Melendez, 28, told FIERCE.
Scrolling through the Washington, D.C.-based artist’s Instagram, is like walking into a bodega.
The colorful packaging of traditional Goya products grips your attention. Even if you’re stuffed, you get hungry — at least for a taste or a whiff of the delicacy your mother stirred up with these classic goods.
Melendez’s illustrations include products from different parts of Latin America. There’s Maseca instant corn masa, a fundamental ingredient for Salvadoran pupusas, Crema Guatemalteca, to make every plate better, Florecitas, colorful iced cookies from Puerto Rico, De La Rosa marzipan, a sweet almondy Mexican candy, Inca Kola, Peru’s signature soft drink, and La Estancia’s néctar de melocotón, a popular Cuban peach juice, among so many others.
In many ways, Melendez says, these products become a link to the country we left as children or a motherland we have never been to.
“Growing up in this country, so far away from your homeland, you use these products in your everyday life to be as close as you can to where your parents grew up. They’re a bridge connecting you to wherever your parents came from or where your homeland is,” she said.
Similarly, these goods connect Latinos to one another.
Regardless of the Latin American country we come from or the different ways we cook with these products, these branded staples are a shared moment, a ubiquitous memory and a language we all understand.
“It’s a relatable experience between us. Just knowing there’s other people like you that find importance in otherwise trivial grocery store products is nice,” Melendez said.