It’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed when you step inside La Sirena. Located in New York City’s East Village neighborhood, the tiny store reminds me of a kaleidoscope, with its endless stream of colors. As El Grito approaches (the September 16th celebration of Mexico's independence from Spain in 1810), I stepped inside this magical world, dedicated to the beauty and culture of Mexico.
My eyes don’t know what to focus on first. A long string of ornaments hang along a wooden shelf to my right – everything from clay birds to a heart with the image of Frida Kahlo on it. Small skeleton figurines fill an entire bookshelf to my left – there to honor the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos.
There are knickknacks everywhere, it seems, most of them from Mexico - with dips into Peru and Guatemala.
Though the shop is small, owner Dina Leor maneuvers around it like a pro. After having the same location for 13 years, anyone would.
Fun figurines honor the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos. Peep the super sexy pink-wigged skeleton with her cigarette and major cleavage.
After she opens the store, Leor begins each workday by hanging bags for sale outside. There are several religious candles by the doorway, which she bends over to light.
Leor gingerly places a vase beside the candles. Filled with red roses, it’s a gift for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“She’s my sweetheart,” she says of Mexico’s patron saint, known in Spanish as La Virgen de Guadalupe.
“I’m actually Argentine-American with a Mexican heart,” she tells me with a smile.
And after Leor tells me her story, I believe it.
As a girl, Leor’s Argentine parents would take her to Mexico almost every summer. She loved the country deeply – so much so that she almost ran away once. She really wanted to stay there.
“I still cry on the plane coming home,” she says. It's a love that remains - Leor used to travel several times a year to Mexico to relieve stress, as well as to shop for folk art.
No one has stepped inside the store yet, so as Leor continues to set up, she goes into detail about her love for artisan work, which stems from early childhood. Leor grew up making art with her paternal grandmother; they would make quilts, clay and mosaic pieces together.
"My fire and passion for creativity started with her," she tells me. Leor's grandmother passed away when Leor was eight.
"That closeness that I feel in Argentina and Mexico, I had with my grandmother," she says.
These papier-mâché plump mermaids (or "sirenas gordas") come from Guanajuato, Mexico. "There are a lot of mermaids in Mexican culture and folk art and, obviously because my store is called La Sirena, I'm always seeking them out," Leor says.
Leor has traveled far and wide in Mexico for art’s sake – Oaxaca, Puebla, Mexico City, and Michoacán are just a few areas she's purchased work from. The coast of Oaxaca, for example, has beautiful textiles, Leor tells me. Most of the wares Leor sells at La Sirena come directly from the artisans who make them, and in other cases, wholesalers of folk art.