Sarah Hurtado of Luzknit models one of her hand-knit scarves. (Photo/Bernadine Hurtado)

5 gift ideas made by Latinos

Darlene Tenes is a Mexican-American who has a successful marketing and events company called CasaQ, and has also reinvented Christmas ornaments.

“One Christmas [2007] I just wanted to put Latino ornaments on the tree, so I decided to make Sancho Snowman and Pancho Claus,” says Tenes who also includes a legend card with history behind her ornaments. “People get attached to the names. The next year I started making them wholesale.”

She says she was first inspired by seeing a statue of a pregnant Virgin Mary in a priest’s office, and since then, she’s been sketching different characters and designs for ornaments. In 2009, she got her glass, hand-painted, family-inspired ornaments to Macy’s, and today she sells them at 100 stores nationwide.

“I’m focusing on keeping Latino traditions alive,” says Tenes.

Darlene Tenes with one of her Christmas ornament designs and finished product. (Courtesy CasaQ)

Darlene Tenes with one of her Christmas ornament designs and finished product. (Courtesy CasaQ)

Sarah Hurtado, 21, taught herself to knit and crochet when she was about 12. She says within a few weeks she was making scarves and purses.

“The root of my inspiration is my great grandmother, everyone called her Mama Luz,” says Hurtado who is Mexican-American. Unfortunately, she passed when I was a baby, but her love lives on in the form of the many afghans, shawls and pot holders she crocheted for us. Her  hands were always busy making someone something warm and cozy with love in every stitch.”

She says she studied Mama Luz’s basket of unfinished crochet projects that she left behind.

“I studied every single stitch so I could get my work to look just like hers,” says Hurtado who uses her profits to study business marketing at San Jose State.

Most of her pieces range from $15-$30, and you can find her handmade hats, scarves, headbands, and baby booties on You can also ask her to make custom items for your loved ones by e-mailing her at

A baby modeling Sarah Hurtado's ear warmer headband. (Photo/Amy Schnutenhaus-Hurtado)

A baby modeling Sarah Hurtado’s ear warmer headband. (Photo/Amy Schnutenhaus-Hurtado)

Twenty-five-year-old Colombian-American Alejandro Velez was two months away from graduating from UC Berkeley in 2009 and heading into the world of investment banking and consulting, when he and his partner decided to take an idea they learned in class and turn it into a business. They founded Back to the Roots — a company which sells grow-it-yourself gourmet mushrooms in a box using recycled coffee grounds.

After experimenting in Velez’ fraternity kitchen, they grew one test carton of oyster mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds, and  with that one bucket, they got interest from Whole Foods & Chez Panisse and a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor for social innovation.

Back to the Roots has since grown to create the Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden which lets anyone, anywhere, grow their own gourmet mushrooms at home for $19.95. It now sells in more than 300 Whole Foods nationwide, select Home Depots, on, or, and has reused 3.6 million pounds of coffee grounds this year alone.

Alejandro Velez' Mushroom Garden sold for $19.95. (Courtesy Back to the Roots)

Alejandro Velez’ Mushroom Garden sold for $19.95. (Courtesy Back to the Roots)

As a child, Denise Gonzalez LaPaix says she enjoyed going to her parent’s native Puerto Rico and looking at the colorful bracelets in the local town.

Inspired by her colorful culture, LaPaix started making her own jewelry. She now sells her unique pieces, ranging in price from $28-$238, on and on her own site

“My art was a hobby for many years and it was also something that helped me cope,” says the mom of two boys with ADHD and ADD. “It’s something that is not usually talked about in the Latin community. As a mom, it is a daily struggle, but when I create it helps me mentally.”

All of her pieces are handmade by her in her New Jersey studio. She uses high quality semi-precious stones and Swarovski elements.

“Sometimes we just want a personalized piece of jewelry that makes us feel special,” says LaPaix.

Bracelets by Denise Gonzalez LaPaix (Courtesy JewelsbyDLaPaix)

Bracelets by Denise Gonzalez LaPaix (Courtesy JewelsbyDLaPaix)

Carolina Fontoura Alzaga says she grew up with second-hand objects around her, and learned to appreciate the beauty of old objects and antiques from as early as she can remember.  Today, she makes a living making chandeliers out of used bicycle parts — mainly the chains.

“I have a studio — probably 5 feet wide by 14…It’s not huge, but it’s enough,” says the simple artist happily. “It’s amazing actually — the guy who owns that warehouse — that furniture is made for Croft House, and I sell my stuff there too,” says Fontoura Alzaga, who also sells her chandeliers on her site.

Fontoura Alzaga hand crafts each chandelier upon order, and prices are based on size and complexity of form. She donates 10 percent of her profits to the Derailer Bicycle Collective — a free, volunteer-run, community bike shop in Denver, Colorado.

Chandelier made by Carolina Fontoura Alzaga (Courtesy Carolina Fontoura Alzaga)

Chandelier made by Carolina Fontoura Alzaga (Courtesy Carolina Fontoura Alzaga)

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