Last week, Latinitas celebrated its twentieth anniversary at the Latinitas Purple Party for Chica Power Gala. As part of the annual fundraiser, Latinitas chooses six courageous female leaders to honor. The women that were chosen all have incredible stories and immense accolades, but what sets them apart is the passion they bring to their field. I got the opportunity to sit down with four of our honorees, and this is what I learned from our Arts Honoree Reji Thomas, whose life story was so enthralling it could be a book of its own. Reji is an American glass artist, whose art has been displayed everywhere from Main Street, Austin to Steven Spielberg’s house. She supports the arts by lending her studio to the community, hosting numerous benefits and fundraisers, and was commissioned to create not just a work of art for Queen Elizabeth, but also a gift for the President of Mexico. I didn’t know what to expect prior to meeting Reji, but boy did she blow all my expectations out of the water.
Reji was boisterous and endearing, saying a dirty joke in the same breath as she would pass on age-old wisdom. She could bounce between lighthearted banter and intense passion like it was a ping pong game, and speaking to her was an absolute delight. From a young age, Reji was surrounded by the arts. Her mother collected glasswork and was into interior decorating herself. Her entire family had various creative passions, from gardening to canning. And if those don’t sound inherently creative, Reji is here to prove you wrong, “There’s nothing that you can think of that creativity isn’t involved.” She went on to explain that nothing from gardening to even designing business cards exists without creativity. Someone has to design where the plants will grow, what a book cover will look like, the curves of a car. And all of that, every single thing, is creative.
Reji grew up with an even deeper sense of community. She always loved to draw but was discouraged from actually pursuing a career in the field. Instead, Reji followed in her mother’s footsteps and worked as a medic and surgery tech for years before she would adhere to her passions. When Reji did finally resolve to do glasswork, she felt the discouragement of judgemental comments. She didn’t want people’s perceived notions of an artist to define her, “You know, I would say I’m an artist and they said, ‘oh, a starving artist’, and I go, ‘no, I’m not a starving artist, I make money, I’m a successful artist’, you know, and so I would shut it down like that.”
Reji is the embodiment of an artist. Her love of community transcends her upbringing and comes through in everything she does. Reji wants people to know that, while the arts can be a daunting thing to pursue, you’ll get by if you have some people and she’s willing to be that person for you, “Our cultures have always been associative and distributive because that knowledge has branched out from each person and it connects, reconnecting growth and I believe that Dell computer and Motorola in the city of Austin, I think that they need that all of our young minds to be available. So I want to, I’m here as a voice to say if you don’t have, if you can’t come up with an idea, you can call me and we can talk and I bet you we can come up with some ideas.”
Reji firmly believes that reciprocity is essential to the arts. She has faith that young people are the future of our creative fields and is willing to put her own time and money to back it up. Multiple times throughout our conversation she declared how she can see creativity in every single person she walks by. But, it’s up to them whether they want to tap into that or not. She dares anyone to be courageous enough to let their creative juices flow, and know they’re not alone in that journey. There is community everywhere.
If you’re curious to learn more about Reji’s story, or even the honorees I didn’t get the chance to meet such as Entrepreneurship Honoree Angela Angulo and Education Honoree Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, you can learn more about them and how to get involved with the Purple Party Gala at https://www.latinitaspurpleparty.com/. If you’d like to listen to my full conversations with the incredible women I did get to meet, check out our podcast Unrepresented on Spotify and all other podcast services right now.