Megan Branch, Founder & Director of MAIDA
Founder & Director of MAIDA
Hiking, Rock Climbing, Camping
Santa Fe, Pueblo Territory
How did you get started working on Maida?
I wanted to create a business that could contain and express all parts of my identity. MAIDA is named after my paternal grandmother Maida Teresita Maria Perea. She was born in the pueblita of Dilia, New Mexico, 84 miles southeast of Santa Fe, in the county of Guadalupe. On my father’s side, we are the descendants of Native slaves and Spanish slaveholders. Maida’s mother, Teresita Jesus Velasquez, was the daughter of Maria Benigna Sandoval, a Zuni/Santa Ana Pueblo woman who was stolen at birth and forced to reside in Dilia where the family remained for generations.
My career before I started MAIDA was as an actor. I was cast as Puerto Rican, Persian, always some other version of brown. My agent once told me that “ethnically ambiguous is really hot right now.” I was often considered too Latina or not Latina enough, and I felt like in order to ‘climb the ladder’ in the entertainment industry, I was constantly asked to compromise who I was and my values in order to fit into a box that others who have little imagination wanted to be filled.
I was ready to create a business in which I could be in full expression of myself, and to me that meant telling the story of my roots and my mixed ancestry in a way that was truthful and uncompromising. MAIDA was born from the frustration of lived experience of erasure, and that frustration turned into a celebration of the fraught and beautiful place that I am from.
What was your professional journey before launching this company?
After receiving an MFA from the New School for Drama in acting, I worked as an actor in theater, commercials, and film in New York and LA. I waited tables and was a personal assistant for a couple of famous actors. I was in a pop rock, feminist, power ballad band for two years in Silver Lake (Los Angeles), and wrote screenplays and plays for fun on the side.
What makes MAIDA pieces special?
Every piece sold through MAIDA is handmade by an Indigenous or Mestizx artist from the Southwest. Each piece is one of a kind and tells a completely unique story of Indigeneity/Mestizx ancestry. All of the silver jewelry is handmade by Gino Antonio and co-designed by me. Before each piece is sold, it is blessed and smudged by Gino in the same tradition that his Navajo silversmith Grandfather taught him to bless and smudge. The ceramic pieces made by Española born and bred artist Camilla Trujillo are reproductions of designs from the 1600s found in archeological digs.
What is your future vision for MAIDA?
MAIDA will always be the heartbreak love story of ancestry, homecoming, diaspora forced and chosen, memory learned and lost, reclamation and preservation.
MAIDA began predominantly by selling pieces online and at pop-ups. I really just wanted to get the MAIDA name and work out in to the world. My hope now is to be more intentional about where pieces are sold, to make sure that the environment supports the conversation around the MAIDA mission and the complicated history in which they come from.
I’m super excited to be working with one of my favorite artists Johnny Ortiz, also known for / Shed. Johnny is originally from Taos Pueblo, and in addition to / Shed, he works with locally harvested micaceous clay, creating small batch, one of kind plates and bowls. He has created some ceramics specifically for MAIDA that will be sold online very soon!
Additionally, I am releasing a film under the MAIDA name that I’m co-directing and producing with my filmmaker and artist cousin Xac Branch about land protection and the complicated relationship of people of color’s right to bear arms.
I’ve been photographing more as a means of having more creative control. I recently photographed my friend and muse Laura Hinman for the clothing company NOAH. Laura is Kumeyaay (Diegueño) and Payómkawichum (Luiseño) from San Diego and just came out with the most brilliant film called “One Big Selfie.” You must see it. Her work often explores what it is to be a Native woman in white America. This authentic Indigenous expression is at the core of the MAIDA mission, and is one of the many reasons why I was so honored and down to photograph and support her 1,000%.
What's your favorite thing about your work?
My favorite thing about my work is that I get to collaborate with artists I admire. Some I’ve known for a long time, and some I meet through their work. Most of the time we develop a friendship and mutual respect. The friendship and sharing of world views as artists is the richest part of having MAIDA. I’ve always been obsessed with being in conversation with the place that I’m from, and to do that with a bigger community that is also in dialogue with the same things, and expressing it in their own way, is a dream come true. When living in New York, I kept dreaming of a mentor or mentors who were badass boss women wearing suits telling me about ‘the biz.’ How naive I was, and how little I knew what the future held. I had no idea that my mentors would become the artists I work with, and others within the community that I have met through MAIDA. Some of them are my elders, some of them are my age.
What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Money. To have a monetary/capitalistic system to abide by and be a part of the work is frustrating and sometimes contradicts the work that I want to do. Despite existing in that construct, I want to help artists like myself make a living off of their work and have it support and elevate their lives in doing so.
I also think it’s complex being completely confident in my own particular shade of brown experience. My brown family has often chosen assimilation over full cultural expression, from the preference of English in the household to not letting your skin get dark in the sun. This behavior is due to wanting to survive, wanting to avoid racism and oppression for being non-white. MAIDA reflects my personal work in relationship to identity, the reclamation of what has been lost and oppressed. Reclamation can be very empowering, but also vulnerable. People within the community will be quick to claim that one experience is more authentic than the other. I believe that being brown in America looks like many different things, and is completely unique dependent on the person - if we act with integrity, they are all equally beautiful and right.
Who do you go to for professional advice, and what's the best advice they've given you?
Family, friends, and Gino. Gino gives the best advice and it’s to go into nature and listen. That always seems to work.
What advice can you give to budding creatives and entrepreneurs in Santa Fe?
Let’s meet and get a coffee and I’ll tell you any advice I might have.
When and why did you decide to move to Santa Fe?
I moved back home almost one year ago. Eventually it became unbearable to live in New York when all I wanted was to be learning more about the place I was from. Also, all I really ever want to be doing is hanging out in nature. In terms of quality of life, New York didn’t make any sense to me anymore.
What makes Santa Fe special to you? What are your favorite things about this place?
I love that my family’s blood runs deep in the soil and has since time immemorial. I love being a steward of that soil and land. I love that if I say my last name in most Northern New Mexican towns, locals will often know one of my family members. I stopped for gas in Ojo Caliente recently, and the owner of the gas station saw my name on my debit card and asked if I knew my grandfather. It turns out they went to boarding school together in El Rito long ago.
I also love the blue mountains. I love the way the air smells fresh and bright. I love that the stars are so bright. I love that I’ve lived many lives here and elsewhere, but that this place, because of my roots, will always be home.
If you could change one thing about Santa Fe, what would it be?
I would make it a requirement to read a New Mexico history book list before you move here. If settlers who move here knew as much about the Pueblo Revolt as they do about Georgia O’Keeffe, I believe conversations and development of the city would be very different.
What are you passionate about outside of your craft?
Rock climbing. My Puebloan ancestors did it and it’s one of my most favorite things to do in the whole world.
At the end of the day, why do you do what you do?
Indigenous and Mestizx identity and experience have been erased and oppressed for so long, the celebration and support of it deserves a louder voice than ever.