Leaving her mark through her work

Courtesy photo Helen Maya Cerda is pictured here in a recent photo.

Helen Cerda leaves a legacy of family, friends, creativity

Even though she spent most of her life in Mexico, Helen Maya kept her hometown of Avalon close to her heart and the relationships she established on the island, dear to her. She was born on Catalina in 1927 and graduated from Avalon High School in 1946. She would marry and leave the island about nine years after graduating, moving to Long Beach with her husband, Francisco Cerda.

The couple would eventually relocate to Guadalajara, Mexico, where she would live until her passing on August 31, 2022. It was there that she used her talent for embroidery to create hand-embroider clothing and sell them door-to-door to make extra money. They sold well enough for her to eventually set up a clothing shop in 1967 that not only helped support her family, but eventually brought her quite a bit of fame.

Back in the ‘50s Guadalajara was a popular celebrity retreat, particularly for those based on the east coast who were looking to get away from the cold winters. Her line of clothes became popular with some of them and despite it being well before social media, her business essentially blew up.

“She was very successful with her line of clothing,” her son David Maya said.

She became close friends with Bing Crosby and according to David, she was even commissioned to make a custom blouse for Lady Diana, later in her career. Much of her work is still being re-sold online at sites like eBay, esty and Poshmark under the name Helen Cerda.

Helen Maya Cerda was still living in Guadalajara when she passed away on August 31, but she held on to her connection to Catalina. Just a few months ago, David and his wife visited Catalina and when he visited Lolo Saldana at his shop, David set up a Facetime conversation between the two and they were able to catch up. And she always made time for islanders who visited Mexico.

Lolo’s younger brother Sylvester traveled to Mexico with an Army buddy in 1970 and despite the fact that he was much younger than her, Helen knew exactly who he was. She had been classmates and friends with Sylvester’s older sister Isabelle. Sylvester said that when he and his friend paid her a visit, she insisted they check out of their hotel and stay at her home.

“She was such a wonderful lady,” Sylvester said.

Her business was at the height of its success, so she was working in the store every day, but Sylvester said she would make he and his friend breakfast in the morning and they would eat together before she went off to work and they would go about their touring of the city.

Sylvester said that during his visit he got the impression that she had a lot of friends. And in her youth on Catalina David said that was what he thought, based on stories he’d heard. She worked several jobs, in the saltwater taffy shop, selling tickets to the glass-bottom boat tour and as a checker at the grocery store, then a Safeway.

David said he’d heard stories about her line always being the longest because people were willing to wait for her, so they could chat with Helen for a few minutes. According to David, she also babysat for members of the Wrigley family when they visited the island.

Even today, clothing items of her creation are still available on line. A web search of Helen Cerda embroidered clothing brings up multiple listings for vintage clothing. She and her husband Frank would have six children; Lucia, Cristina, Francisco, Victoria, Carlos and David. Lucia Maya, born in 1953, when the young family was still on Catalina, is currently a well-known artist in Guadalajara, specializing in painting.

From her youth on Catalina, to her life in Guadalajara, Helen Maya Cerda leaves a legacy of artistry, family and friends who stretch from Mexico to Catalina and popularity for her work that still resonates around the world wide web.