Rojas' company, Havana on the Hudson, is doing just that with its one-of-a-kind clothing line for men and women. He has dubbed the style Nuevo-Latino Fusion Wear, which is all about the emergent Latino claim on American imagery.
The t-shirt designs include parodies on American culture as seen through the eyes of Latinos, such as the Lone Ranger's sidekick Tonto, which is the Spanish equivalent of calling someone stupid, and the Pepe Boys, which is a play on the popular commercial chain Pep Boys.
The first batch of designs also played more on the Cuban-American element, such as snow-covered bricks spelling out "Cuba," which takes away the traditional idea of tropical Cuba and explains the North Hudson Cuban experience.
"That's our Cuba," said Rojas, who was born in Cuba and brought to the U.S. as a child. "In Cuba it snowed. In our Cuba it was cold."
Rojas, who also owns the Learning Depot on 11th Street in Union City, said, "Basically, we started a year ago. I didn't feel at the time that there was clothing or apparel that was reflective of being Latino and bi-cultural."
In American pop culture, clothing has become a means of expression and representation, and the Latino element has also become a part of mainstream pop culture. Rojas's desire was to create a line of urban wear that played to the now twentysomething Latino generation that grew up in North Hudson through familiar icons and humorous symbolism.
"In order to get the t-shirts, you have to have an understanding of Spanish and English," said Rojas. "It speaks to the Latino experience, like having an understanding of both cultures at the same time."
Latino urban wear
The idea of creating this line of shirts that represented the heritage of North Hudson Latinos was something Rojas had in mind for some time.
"The idea was to open up a virtual store," said Rojas, who started distribution of his t-shirts through his website, havanaonthehudson.com. "Right now, it's still really small and underground. Not a lot of people know about it, but I've had a lot of positive feedback from those who have seen it."
Word of mouth seems to have been Rojas' prime selling venue. Since starting up the website about a year ago, he has sold his designs everywhere around the U.S., from California to New Jersey and Florida. He's also received orders from as far as Canada. Rojas has now also been able to give his merchandise a physical venue. Nuevo-Latino Fusion Wear has been made available at Havana Bay Coffee, 32nd Street and Kennedy Boulevard, North Bergen, and Handmade, Washington Street in Hoboken.
"It's lucky we've had places like Havana Bay Coffee and Handmade to give the t-shirts a visible space to exhibit," said Rojas.
Rojas' focus on the original 16 t-shirt designs was to reflect the Latino experience in the North Hudson, which he feels is in a category all its own.
"It's a statement you can wear," said Rojas. "It takes old traditional elements of Latino culture and the urban element of being Latino, and is repackaged for future generations. It's out generation saying something the way we see it."
Following the success of this concept, Rojas has teamed up with graphic designer Carlos Rodriguez from Miami to work on the next phase of Nuevo Latino Fusion Wear.
The next phase
"We're planning to come out with a whole new series," said Rojas, who hopes to launch this new campaign in September. "We're putting together the next phase of the company, and everything takes time."
Rojas and Rodriguez have been working together since May of this year, after they met through a friend in Miami where Rodriguez had done some artwork for the Celia Cruz Festival. In an ironic twist, Rojas discovered that Rodriguez had been one of his first customers for the t-shirts.
"He was really into the t-shirts, and now we're working together on the next generation," said Rojas.
Havana on the Hudson has been able to exhibit its line and company during the Cuban Day Parade and at the Jersey City Museum earlier this year.
The next wave of t-shirt designs will cater more to the entire Latino spectrum.
"The first time it was more of a Cuban-American thing," Rojas said. "With the next wave of t-shirts we're going to make it for all Latinos. Havana on the Hudson is about being cosmopolitan. It's about being bi-cultural, about being Latino and celebrating it."
Going a step further in that same celebration, Rojas has also packaged the t-shirts in Latin food containers. The next phase for the company is also hoping to include fall wear such as long sleeved shirts and hoods.
"We're thinking small. We just want to conquer the world," said Rojas with a laugh.
Rojas is also looking into various options, such as possibly exhibiting the line in New York City stores, and maybe one day in a store solely dedicated to Havana on the Hudson.
"We are 100 percent a part of this society, but we're enriching it with our own sense of style and humor," said Rojas. "It's not an either or situation. Rather, it's that being Latino is another way of being American. It's part of the American story."
Nuevo-Latino Fusion Wear can be found on the Havana on the Hudson website www.havanonthehudson.com, or in Havana Bay Coffee, North Bergen, and Handmade, Hoboken. Shirts range from small to large for men and women, and are priced at $20 each.