Interview with Paulina Cantú-founder of Adelita & Moi
Blisshood: How long ago did you move to Paris and why?
Paulina Cantú: I arrived in 2006 for a double-degree. I'm an industrial engineer from the Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, (I'm Mexican) and it was my first time living abroad. I did my studies in Nantes at the Ecole de Mines de Nantes. It is an engineering school so, mostly French guys who are really smart and I was one of the few girls and, well, I didn't speak French very well.
Blisshood: So, how did you meet people? Was it difficult?
Paulina Cantú: I think the first months [in France] were really difficult because you think you speak French but you arrive here [and you realize that in fact] you don't speak French, you don't understand anything (laughs). I remember after two months of being here I called my mom and I cried, like "what am I doing here? I'm going to go back". Then, you suddenly start speaking and I don't know...since I was in school, there was an organization that tried to organize like going out or trips and stuff.
It was harder when I moved to Paris than in [Nantes]. In school everyone is in the same situation, it's easy going out.
Blisshood: Did you met your husband at the university?
Paulina Cantú: Actually, my husband is Italian, he was in an Erasmus exchange but a year before I arrived. So, we didn't actually meet at school, we met afterwards when I started working in Paris and he was working in Paris and we had friends in common from school.
Blisshood: And you now form a family with two beautiful boys... what's it like raising your kids in Paris? I mean, you're a very international family: Italian, Mexican...
Paulina Cantú: The biggest issue is language, everyone asks us "what language do you use at home?" It is sometimes more natural to speak Spanish, obviously, to my kids or for my husband to speak Italian. The other day, the little one fell down and I was like "cuidado!" and my husband "attento!". It was really funny, we both reacted in our native language. It's difficult for [the kids] because their first language is French so, yeah, it's a big mess sometimes (laughs) ...but kids get everything and they understand pretty well...I think it's mostly a good thing for them because, hopefully, they'll speak three languages. But, I think the hardest part is not having our family with us because it's a big support having your family and your in-laws around and we don't have that so....in some way, I think it's a good thing because we need to be really strong together, rely on each other a lot. But sometimes, I don't know, you want to go out or you just need a break and you don't have that but, I mean, it's okay. We are a stronger family because of that.
[In terms of raising kids,] at first it was really hard because everything was new and I really didn't know what it was like to be a mom in Paris, not even in Paris, but just to be a mom. When my first son was born, my mom and my sister came to help and I remember coming to my house from the maternity and I remember in the kitchen my mom and my sister saying "I think Pau had no idea what she was getting into". I will never forget it because I really had no idea.
Blisshood: You have now managed to have your own circle of friends....how important do you think it is for women, specially expat women, to have a supportive network and you know, to have someone to go out and have coffee with, for example?
Paulina Cantú: I think that for expat moms that are alone like me, it is very important because you never know like...you have an emergency, my husband travels a lot for work, and whenever I have had to go to the emergency room...with kids that happens, they are kids, they fall they open their heads and they break a leg, you need someone to call and someone who is happy to be there and who understands. Well, for me, I live in the 15th and I have developed a lot of relationships in the neighborhood through school, through the crèche or through friends of friends and you start finding a lot of nice people around...living nearby people who you know are willing to help you and you are willing to help them is very important.
Blisshood: Now you've started your own business, how do you combine being a mom and an entrepreneur with kids?
Paulina Cantú: One of the things I like the most about France is the crèche system because they have a great service, like, my kids I see them and they are very very happy. Maybe we have that idea that, in Mexico for example, the kids have to be with the mom and in the house all the time. I mean, I love my kids more than anything in the world, but I am not trained to be with kids all day. I play with them but c'est pas réflechi, I just play and in the structures that exist here in France and, maybe everywhere in the world it's the same, I don't know, but, they go to a place where they eat a lot of healthy new things each day, they play with friends that come from all different types of nationalities, for me that's incredible! My little one...they are 11 in his classroom and they're from everywhere so, I think that's amazing. The girls that take care of them, they are really professional. When I arrived, first I was like "I shouldn't pick him up very late because he's going to miss his mummy". Now, sometimes it happens that he wants to stay longer because he is having a lot of fun so, it means that they're happy and they're learning
Also, I thank very much la directrice and the puéricultrices because they know since the beginning that I left my previous job maybe with some issues and they have been very supportive, and making me know that my kids are being well taken care of. They have been living this adventure more than my sisters, for example! I don't know, with the time difference, you know, it's not the same. So, definitely, it's one of the things I love about France. Everything is made so that you as a woman, as a mom, can thrive (at least in my experience).
Blisshood: Speaking of having support, thriving and women supporting women, in Adelita & Moi you're trying to do something similar... Can you tell me how you developed a relationship with the people that embroider the clothes? It seems like you have a bigger mission for these women and their talent...
Paulina Cantú: Actually, I never knew I was going to stay this long in France. I'm really happy here but I have always missed my country and have always felt responsible for [leveling the ground]. I come from a country where either you are born with the means to have a good life, by that I mean: you can study, you can work or you are born into a family that cannot give you that and you have to do what you can to survive. So, I don't know why, I feel like "OK, I had the luck to have everything". I had the luck to never have had to ask anyone for food, for water...it's not fair, you know.
I went through a really difficult experience in my past job here in the fashion industry. It's very competitive, there is a lot of women and sometimes we talk about feminism and women empowerment but sometimes it's the women that don't support each other and that bring each other down...it's not even the men! So, I lived through a very hard experience. It made me realize that as Mexicans we are strong women. I mean, I see the women in Chiapas and it really touched me when [one of the embroiderers] came to receive me in San Cristobal to take me to her house, and she had on her back, her son who is the same age as my son, and she was happy, smiling, even though she had just traveled for an hour. In Paris, I sometimes complain because we need to go grocery shopping and push the stroller with two kids in it and we're complaining about stupid stuff. People over there are just simple and they're smiling, to me that was a very important lesson.
I worked in the fashion industry, where customers value the french savoir faire, things that are handmade. In Mexico it's very hard work what they do. They've been learning that since they're little girls and they're experts at doing that. I tried to do it and it's really hard!
I hope to give [Mexican embroidery] the value that it deserves through designs that are elegant and you can wear them in your everyday life...to bring value to their work, that way we can have a more responsible fashion industry in which we're not just adding something more on our closet but actually buying a piece of art from someone who's been learning that type of techniques since they were young girls, in a sense it means connecting women and helping each other out.
Blisshood: In Blisshood we believe in moms finding their bliss, what is yours?
Paulina Cantú: The first thing that comes into mind is when I pick the kids up from school or from the crèche, seeing that they're happy playing with their friends gives me a lot of peace and reassurance. Seeing that I can work and still have a happy family, that's perfect.
Blisshood: What would be your words to an expat mom that just arrived in Paris and is trying to figure things out?
Paulina Cantú: Try to find a support system that empowers you and brings positivism into your life, it's very important!
To find out more about Paulina Cantú and Adelita & Moi, visit: https://adelitamoi.com