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Painted Hats Connect Charlotte Dreamer With His Mexican Heritage

The American Dream at its most idealistic is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or their socioeconomic class, can attain success through hard work and determination in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone. 

It may not always be attainable for marginalized groups in our country, but it’s a notion that’s inspired generations of people to come here and try; that includes the parents of Charlotte Dreamer Jorge Gonzalez.

With aspirations for a better future for their family, Gonzalez’s parents brought him to the United States from Guanajuato, Mexico, illegally in 1999. He was 11 years old when he left his hometown and hasn’t been back since — but not by choice.

As a recipient of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Gonzalez was granted the temporary right to legally live, study and work in America as someone who entered the country illegally as a child. 

However, if Gonzalez were to return to Guanajuato to visit, he wouldn’t be able to return to the U.S. As a Dreamer — a nickname for DACA recipients that came from the heretofore failed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, for which DACA was the resulting compromise — Gonzalez can travel outside the country for work, school or humanitarian reasons, but not for leisure.

Now living in Charlotte, Gonzalez told Queen City Nerve that, ever since he left Guanajuato, he has been searching for a way to bridge the distance and feel more connected to his family and Mexican culture.

His latest business venture, Bonitos Hats, is his way of doing just that.

In April 2021, Gonzalez learned his cousin, Monse, who lives in Mexico, was struggling to earn sustainable income through her practice making hand-painted jute and canvas hats — a family tradition dating back 40 to 50 years. 

Eager to help, Gonzalez suggested they partner to sell the hats in the U.S. 

“I hadn’t seen them around, painted hats; they’re everywhere in Mexico for sure, but I had never seen them here in the states, so I was like, why not? Let’s see what happens,” he said.

Gonzalez and his husband, Trey Klingensmith, officially launched Bonitos Hats in June 2021 with their first pop-up at NoDa Brewing. They admit they weren’t sure how the hand-painted hats, so popular in Latin culture, would be received in Charlotte. But the feedback they received at that first event put them at ease.

We sold five and I was ecstatic,” Gonzalez said. “At that point I was like, at least someone likes it.”

For him, Bonitos Hats has become a way to share a piece of his own cultural background while connecting to the hometown he strives to see again someday. 

“It does bring a lot of memories and some sort of sentimental value to it to know that part of my culture and part of the work that I’m doing that’s also representing my culture is out there,” he said. “These hats are part of my culture and when I see them out there it brings joy to my heart.”

Tapping into a hidden talent (click here to keep reading)

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