Photo: Steven Molina Contreras
Name: Aurea Sanabria Molaei
Occupation: Floral designer
Motivator: The future generation. For people like me, for the kids like me. I’ve overcome racist moments and moments of self-doubt. I always think there’s a girl that’s like me that isn’t sure if there’s a place for her.
NYC neighborhood: Sunnyside, Queens, but I grew up in The Bronx
Tu país: Puerto Rico
Aurea Sanabria Molei experienced the City through its expansive art community. Growing up in the Bronx but attending school in Manhattan, she gloats about her time at Fashion Industries High School: “My freshman year, on the first day of school, there were kids playing Hacky Sack, kids playing the guitar. And I was like, What is this school? I was exposed to all walks of life and embraced that and fostered that. I was inspired from age 13 to be a sponge.”
A second-generation Puerto Rican–American, Molaei grew up in an English-speaking household and spent every summer visiting her grandparents back in Puerto Rico until she turned 28. She began her career as an ad sales assistant at Complex Networks, working her way up to an events role that exposed her to video shoots and celebrity talent.
Tired of the male-oriented organization, she moved to women’s lifestyle publication Refinery29. That’s where, she says, she learned the importance of design and how to refine your vision. “It’s not about throwing a logo on things. Everything was designed with the intention.” It was there that she fell in love with floral design, finding it meditative and fun. Moalei identified a void in the industry for a mini-bouquet service and started Flower Bodega, which now also does immersive floral installations and virtual and in-person workshops. Read on for more of what’s important to her.
What makes NYC home? Access. The temperature check when I go to a different city is how quickly I can access something that I need. Like in New York, you have the subway and multiple forms of transportation. Everything’s open. You can always find food. A 24-hour drugstore, all types of vendors. Literally, everything is here.
Go-to Latino-owned spot: in Bushwick. It’s a Puerto Rican spot and they make alcapurrias [stuffed and fried plantains] that taste just like my grandma’s. Like I actually teared up and cried when I ate it. It takes me back to my childhood in a way nothing else can, back to sitting there, watching TV, and my grandmother hands me the alcapurria in a paper towel.
Describe Latino culture in NYC: It’s vast. We have every type of Latino here: Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians, Colombians, Mexicans—literally everyone. And the access to the cuisine is what I love about the Latino experience here. Food brings you back. These small businesses always bring the community back to a place of nostalgia and feeling connected.
Favorite saying: “People are just people.” It’s actually a Regina Spector lyric from a very early album [“Ghost of Corporate Future,” from Soviet Kitsch] that looped in my head since the early 2000s. It always prepares me for important meetings and meeting new people. If someone makes me feel a type of way, or I’m having a celebrity encounter—it’s always, “People are just people.” They shouldn’t make you feel any less than. And that’s how I walk into every situation.
What’s next? I really want us to get back into the world that we were in pre-pandemic of large-scale installations and art. I don’t want to be seen as a vendor. I want to be seen as a floral artist and have opportunities at places like Art Basel to create installations with intention.