Nos Vemos: visiting with artist/jewelry designer Melina Aguilar of City Champ

The final artist we’re featuring in our four-part series Nos Vemos/We See Us, which highlights arts-based approaches to community engagement to help inform future transportation investments in the Southeast L.A. area, is Metro Art commissioned artist/jewelry designer Melina Aguilar. Her creative work is under the name City Champ.

Melina will lead two hands-on community workshops where participants can make bold earrings and keychains representing beloved SELA landmarks. You can choose to make one of five designs, each representing a SELA place or icon. You’ll also be able to share your favorite landmarks and related stories, which will later be featured in a print zine created by the artist.

  • The first City Champ DIY Earring Workshop will be an in-person pop-up at the South Gate Farmers’ Market on Monday, Nov. 1 from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • The second City Champ DIY Earring Workshop will be virtual and held online on Saturday, Nov. 6 from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

For details on how to sign up for one or both events, click here.

Now let’s learn a bit more about Melina and what inspires her! 


Artist and jewelry designer Melina Aguilar (photo by Cristina Pillajo)

Artist and jewelry designer Melina Aguilar (photo by Cristina Pillajo)

Tell us a bit about your connection with SELA?

I am connected to Southeast LA because this is the neighborhood where I was born and raised. All my childhood memories took place here and it will always be a place I hold close to my heart. Southeast LA is where I learned to play soccer, went to school, walked my dogs, got my first job…it is where I grew up. I have learned to really appreciate my neighborhood through my experiences. Even though it is a no-frills community, there is plenty to explore and enjoy through the simple joys. 

What inspired your jewelry line, City Champ? 

I started City Champ right after I graduated high school. I was on the wrestling team and placed first in the LA Division finals. I adopted the moniker “City Champ” from my coaches and used the nickname when opening my online shop without thinking about it too much! The designs that I produce are inspired by everyday life and can be considered kitsch. I love using objects that are not usually used for jewelry and turning them into earrings. This started as just using whatever materials I had available. Then, I kept that idea as the aesthetic of my shop.

When did you first find a connection between place and jewelry?

There’s this water tank on Florence Avenue, right between Bell and Huntington Park, with an illustration of a small girl and text that reads “Shop in Huntington Park.” Everyone who lives in Southeast LA has the image of that sign stored in the back of their head. I saw it once on someone’s skateboard and without even speaking to the person, I knew we were connected. I simplified that idea and made earrings with the illustration of the girl. I showed the first pair to my mom. She immediately recognized her, and I knew I could use earrings as a medium to express experiences and represent places and communities. 

Your good friend is visiting SELA and you want to show them a great time (using transit, of course!). Where would you take them and why? 

I would start our day grabbing some coffee from Cruzita’s Deli and hit up the thrift shop across the street. From there, we would walk through Salt Lake Park until we end up on Gage Blvd. where we’d grab some tortas from YaYa’s Burgers. Then, we’d take Line 110 across Bell until Veterans Park and walk to the riverbed to step on the mossy concrete and climb up to catch a glimpse of the LA skyline from the bridge. We’d then take the 258 down Eastern Ave. until we reach South Gate’s El Paseo and watch a movie at the Aztec-inspired Regal Theatre. The day would end with a perfect view of the sunset down Firestone Blvd. overlooking the sea of commuters trying to get home. 

Melina Aguilar is a jewelry artist, DJ, and small business owner based in Los Angeles. She graduated from UCLA in 2019 with a B.A. in Art History and a minor in Music Industry Studies. When she is not working on her next art project, you can find her at a local music show or walking her cat, Sambita. Follow her project on Instagram at @shopcitychamp

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