See What We See: Ayan / The Makeup Mariachi


See What We See is a storytelling campaign focused on listening to queer voices that bring injustices to light in their own way. Whether it be via activism, writing, self-care, or simply by existence, the humans involved are using their life as a catapult for their community--however that may be defined--to ascend.

A double water sign, Ayan Vasquez-Lopez, a.k.a The Makeup Mariachi, simply does not have time for constriction. They were born to embrace the space within and beyond boundaries of gender and sexuality. The upstream battle of soul-searching led them to embracing makeup as a form of self-expression, and the Makeup Mariachi was born. Within the harsh, divisive political climate of today, Ayan is a bright wave of truth telling served with a wink and a sparkle.

How did you get started in makeup?

I started playing with makeup when I was a kid because my mom sold makeup with Mary Kay. I remember very clearly as a little kid going into her stuff out of curiosity and finding the shimmer. I’d dip my whole hand in and just like lather it all over.  Then, as the years went on, for Halloween I would just do like, a little spooky look and a little eye shadow look. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive. They loved it. They didn't ostracize me or shun me for it.

In the last two years, I would get a little bit more creative, where I'd want to try a new technique or something. And it would get better every year. I would put makeup on and go to my mariachi gigs like that without letting anyone know. I was too scared to let anyone know--it was better if I just showed up. I felt like that was a bit of a bump, like I was emanating. Even though within my mariachi group we’re all family, there was still that fear of what they were going to say. Thankfully, that went away somewhat quickly. Natalia, who I consider to be my mom in the group and who is the first openly trans woman ever in mariachi, would always compliment me. 

I officially said I'm gonna do makeup makeup about a year ago, around summer 2019. Since then, it's just been me practicing doing makeup every day. Makeup has really been one way that I really express my non binary identity. I actually used to have really strong negative opinions of masculine people that did really feminine makeup. That was something that I had to overcome and be like, I really want to look feminine today. But I was scared of what I think of myself and what I’d look like, and what other people would think of me, all those layers. So all that all of that has just been stuff that I've had to go through with makeup with my identity.

At some point, I was just like, I don't care enough anymore. I want to look fierce and I just want to look like me. If it bothers some people, great. Maybe we can talk about it.

I could see how makeup in particular would help you get closer to that gender fluidity because there's so much space in there to move around in a fun way. It almost sounds like your mariachi family is similar to ballroom families.

It's very, very much a family. We work together, we fight together and we go through really great times together. The music is a huge part, but secondarily it’s about being queer: being able to play our music and express ourselves how we express ourselves without having someone giving us a rainbow sign or anything. When we go to rehearsal, when we go to our gigs, we are here

How do you blend the narratives of traditional Mexican mariachi and being the first openly LGBTQ group?

The director, Carlos, has very specific guidelines to represent our queerness through our music. We never perform any songs that are gendered. Let's say if a song’s lyrics are specifically speaking to someone who uses feminine pronouns, then it will have to be a woman singing it to kind of follow the queer narrative. The beautiful thing about songs and lyrics is there are so many songs that don't have any specific gender signifiers. So those are a lot of my favorite songs because there's no gender, there's only passion. I don't have to worry about using any kind of gendered endings or whatever, I just sing.

Our outfits are very stylized. They have floral embroidery, kind of like trim, which is actually not that common. We love to add sequins and rhinestones and stuff to our suits. There are these little things that the director has curated over the years that are just subtle but also flashy enough to show that this is a queer mariachi or a different kind of mariachi. 

That’s really the essence of authenticity: because the styling and song choice is coming from all of you, it’s inherently queer. It’s an attractive, engaging vibe. 

People just want to see authenticity and honesty. As queer people, when we reach that point of identity, because it's really hard to get there, it's just tenfold, it's such an unapologetic presentation of being human. Personally, for me, I love when people are just living authentically. That's what people are really drawn to with us.

When you’re putting on a performance either as part of the mariachi group or in drag, how do you condense what you want to say into the short performance time?

For me drag started as an exploration of my own perceptions of gender. I'm so, so fascinated by the masculine male physique, the features like the cheekbones jutting out to here and the angles and the darkness sometimes that comes with it. I idolize drag kings so much because I love the way they do masculinity. For me, gender is a performance and always has been. Drag is taking that performance and kicking it up to 1000, putting some hallucinogenic drugs in there, and just like, you want gender? Here's some gender. Especially as someone who has lived with a masculine role all of my life that I never really fit into or felt comfortable with, drag allows me to fully lean into that and and do it how I want to do it, not how my family or society has told me like to be a man. I get to say this is what a man looks like.  I have done drag from the masculine side and then I entered into the feminine drag side. And now I don't even know what to label myself as any more. But it's drag.

There are quite a few drag queens who have come out with their own makeup line. If you could create your own,  what would you start with and how would you incorporate your culture?

I’d of course work my logo into it. I mean, I’ve already been toying with some makeup ideas. An eyeshadow palette, first of all. The further I get into makeup, the more I learned the value of  wearability. I would want to make something that incorporates those sides of me, the colorful side and the wearable side. I would love to have a line of lashes too. All kinds of lashes. Some little thin ones, some really big ones. Some like sexy, sultry ones.

I'm trying to learn what I can from independent brands. I would want to create something that I'm really really proud of that I really spend time on. But at the same time, I don't want to be like, so nitpicky that it takes like forever to launch it. I'm a Pisces, so…

[Here we took a 5 minute gay panic break over the fact that we were born 3 days apart and have the same 3 signs for our sun, moon, and rising, just different combinations]

Since most of the projects or the themes that you come up with are solely from you, are there any that have been your favorite? 

There’s a Mexican drag TV show called La Más Draga. It’s a mix between RuPaul’s Drag Race and more grotesque drag.  It's on its third season right now and I'm doing a weekly review of it. It just started as me doing it in Spanish to get a Mexican audience. Then I invited my friend Violet Bloom on the second week and we did it in English. It’s been one of my favorite projects because of the collaboration aspect. Working with other humans on stuff that we love is preferable to working alone on stuff that I love. I love friends and I love exchanging energy. I've also loved doing this tiny series that I've started called Makeup and Tea. I do my makeup inspired by a story of a man that has disappointed me and broke my heart. The most recent one was this guy that I met earlier this year and it was great. I thought he was the one and then he ghosted me, deadass just stopped replying. So I did my makeup like a ghosty, greyscale look. I have so many stories of men disappointing me in the past, and those make great makeup looks.

Your Instagram feed is really good at balancing makeup and your own sense of activism from voting to pronouns. How do you personally figure out that balance?

At first, it was very organic--in the moment, I would see something or be inspired. But now, I try to plan it out and figure out what I’m trying to say, and how I can say it effectively. It’s a mix, which is very much me. As a Pisces, I fluctuate, and whatever drives our emotions in the moment inspires our actions. I love to be spontaneous. But the timing can really have an impact, and I’m trying to have an impact. It’s not about me or just my self-fulfillment anymore when it comes to activism.

I’m ending all of these interviews with the same question: what gives you hope?

Change. The idea of the fact that people can change and humans are ever-changing. I do my best to really be informed and change my behaviors that are negative. Being aware of everything makes you lose hope a lot, because there’s a lot of terrible things in the world that haven’t changed. But at the same time, there’s so many ways that humans live and interact that there’s always a way you can influence them for good. That goes into what I’m doing now as an influencer. I want to be a changer, a driver. I want to be able to say this makeup tells a story, or this makeup is owned by someone who has not been given access before, and bring this joy of makeup to the world. And what does that mean as a society--how can we continue to interact with each other and make our interactions intentional in that regard? Who can we uplift or try to bring to the forefront and amplify? More than making it balanced, how can we spread love so that happens naturally? I want to be able to do that with whomever I come in contact with. I just want to give my best self and inspire them to do the same.

You can find Ayan on Youtube and Instagram, or on their website


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