CHICAGO - Lilian is wearing an upcycled outfit she found in her closet. A Chicago-native, she grew up traveling the world and visiting the most remote locations. "My parents believed in development work," Lilian mentions with a smile. "I had the opportunity to travel with them during my childhood and a bit in high school so it was a great opportunity to learn about the world."
Lilian Gomez-Blanche, known to her friends as "Lily", was in town visiting some family in suburban Naperville and took the opportunity to speak with Le Prestige about her experiences as a fashionista, social-responsible woman, and Chicagoan abroad.
Lily, who is currently living in Chiapas, Mexico, is a firm believer in positive energy and creativity. "My mom always instilled me with a spirit to do good while looking good," she stated. "My dad was more on the business-end of development work, often helping women learn a variety of skills to help them become self-sustainable. Whether we lived in Cameroon, Bolivia, or Laos, they always looked good and did good for others: I want to follow in their footsteps."
I've always loved Mexico: it's a beautiful country. My mom was born and raised in Mexico City. Growing up, we used to travel throughout different parts of the country over the summer and I fell in love with the culture, the style, and the way people lived, particularly in provincial cities. Chiapas was a placed I visited during my teenage years. My mom was helping indigenous women learn how to set up a website for their arts and crafts. In the meantime, my dad and I would take in the sights, sounds, and flavors of southern Mexico. After college, I decided to move to Chiapas and do development work.
2) What kind of work do you do?
I primarily teach English to school children at a local church just outside of Chiapas. I also work with the Mixes-Zoques indigenous communities: we do jewelry work on the weekends and I help them find locations across Mexico to sell their work. I strive to help locals become more globalized by sharing their talents with local and international tourists. I've even helped a few of the women start websites to display their work to potential customers in Sweden, Singapore, and the United States. Giving back is really important to me.
3) What's the most interesting thing about living in Mexico?
There are tons of interesting things! Some of my favorite "Mexicanisms" that I've come to appreciate is the diversity in the people. While Chicago has diversity, Chiapas has multiculturalism in essence. With an indigenous Mexican population of 22%, it's quite the mosaic of food, languages, and customs. Many people say I look and talk like a local because my Spanish is now infused with regional variants, and that I look like Hollywood, whatever that means. I also find that even with such diversity in race, social and economic status, and political affiliations in Chiapas, everyone still gets along and there is a strong sense of community and identity.
4) How have your Chicago roots influenced the way you view yourself, your surroundings, and your work?
Chicago is a wonderful city, full of life and opportunities. However, it's also a very segregated city with vivid boundaries of race and economic issues. I think growing up in Chicago made me appreciate the diversity in life and encouraged me to see the world. My family gave me the opportunity to travel abroad and live the way many people in Chicago only read about in books. I believe that while Chicago is a diverse city, it isn't cosmopolitan. I live for an international environment and the opportunities it gives me with regards to development work. Plus, the fashion in cosmopolitan centers like Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Mérida are exceptional. The culture of vintage clothing and upcycling is really big here, and I absolutely love the opportunity to get creative every chance I get.
Chicago has deep-dish pizza, which I love. But Chiapas has culture, edge, and where my heart is right now.
Lilian Gomez-Blanche grew up up in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. She attended the American School of Doha while her mother worked in the region. After graduating from the National University of Singapore, she returned to Chicago for a year where she felt "clustered, lacking creativity". In 2010, she moved to Mexico City to work with a cousin's fashion boutique in the trendy Mazarik district. Upon a year of work in the fashion industry, she parted for Chiapas in the summer of 2011 to work with indigenous communities and "inspire hope, passion, and fun". She has no plans of permanently moving back to Chicago in the near future.