Her mother named her Maritza, but a clerical error legalized her as Marisa Estrada. Her family called her Maritza; her teachers called her Marisa (because, well, legal). Around town, she was known as Ritz.
She’s an explosion of determination, street smarts, sass, brains and talent. However, “proud Brown woman” was not part of the dialogue of her youth. Instead, the thought was, as Estrada says, “never call attention to yourself; you are a brown-skinned girl in America. Fit in quietly.”
Estrada never met her dad. Mom was an immigrant who eventually married a man Estrada calls Tex-Mex. “A Mexican from Texas,” she tells me. “So double machismo.”
He was abusive—mostly verbally, but there were times it got physical. Estrada made herself scarce around the house.
In school in San Diego, she tested into what she calls “nerd classes,” aka classes for gifted students. Estrada had the same peers in every class, and she longed to hang out with “real” people in the “real” world. She already had a craptastic home life; gifted classes were just too extra. She requested a transfer, but her parents had to sign off. Tears were involved—they may or may not have been crocodile tears—but she got Mom to sign.
It was the ’80s, when hip hop and graffiti dominated street culture. Although she wasn’t a graffiti artist—Estrada claims she wasn’t good enough—during junior high, she was a tagger, putting her signature on public surfaces with crisp lines, shadowing and depth.
Estrada transitioned from street to mainstream art by enrolling in a performing arts high school. All the other artists were drawing or painting 24/7. and she knew right away that was not her jam.
“If you’re a little bit left- and a little bit right-brained, you organize and communicate ideas spatially and visually,” she says.
She was lost as to who she was as an artist—until they went on a field trip to a graphics-design firm. “I was like: Right! this is me,” she says.
The head of the firm told her to apply to Long Beach State, because the school had one of the best graphic-design programs in the country, but Estrada couldn’t afford it. She went full time to community college while working full time at a private-jet company catering to celebrities and politicians.
The year she turned 20, when she’d earned enough to enroll in Long Beach State, her mom died. She never went back home; there was nothing left for her there. Estrada moved to Long Beach and earned her bachelor’s degree.
In Los Angeles, she began a career in the music industry as a member of a hip-hop street team.
“We would get posters and fliers, and climb telephone poles in the middle of the night. … It was a big thing,” she says. “(All hip hop artists) had their own street team.”
In the late 1990s, she met the man she would marry. He was a hip-hop artist. She initially resisted, but he was so different from all of the other artists she’d met.
“He was a child prodigy. His intelligence is off the charts. And I was like, wow.” She stops for a moment. “He’s the love of my life.”
AEG later hired her to work their larger concerts—USO shows, Celine Dion in Vegas, the King Tut exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Coachella. By 2006, and the workload was wearing on her.
“My husband was like, ‘On Sunday night, you don’t want to go to sleep, because Monday means work. It’s affecting your life,’” she says.
She resigned. Everyone asked: What are you going to do?
“People didn’t know that I was a graphic designer, because I was in concert marketing. I oversaw design, but I bought the print ads,” she says.
The relationships she’d acquired led to her own brand, Ritzy Periwinkle, a blend of all of her talents. The work rolled in—but now she was in control of her project load and was able to balance work and home life.
Their son, the kid she calls “the supernatural bear,” was born in 2013. The family soon grew disillusioned with Los Angeles. She’d worked Coachella for many years, so she and her husband were familiar with Palm Springs. When a friend offered their house for rent, that sealed the deal.
Estrada today works from home and home-schools “Bear.” As a first-time teacher, Estrada needed a tribe. “I couldn’t find secular homeschoolers who looked like me, who were into similar things,” she says.
She thought about a blog and podcast, but that idea slept until Aug. 28, 2020, the day Chadwick Boseman died. The next day, Ritzy Periwinkle awakened, and she recorded her first Word to Your Mama podcast with the tagline: The life of a LatinX mama and the lives of her amazing multicultural tribes.
The podcast morphed from its original concept into interviews with award-winners from film, music and art—as well as her brother-in-law, who’d been released after 12 years in prison, and wanted to repair his relationship with his daughter. Together, they wrote a children’s book about wearing masks.
The show, now in its second year, has segments like “Relatives,” a saucy chat she co-hosts with her long-time pal, Nyysha S. Past titles include “Only Whores Wear Short Skirts” and “Your Bladder Is Gangster Leaning.” Discussions run the gamut from Black and Brown unity, to overcoming trauma. A disclaimer: Certain “adult” words are used.
“The Supernatural Bear Corner” is PG and stars her articulate 8-year-old, who has things to say.
The entire Word to Your Mama podcast is smarts, flavor and spice, and although it’s an alias, Estrada’s Ritzy is an authentic voice. The show offers a space for women of color through inspiring stories—and as one of only a handful of women who were part of the salad days of hip hop, this badass mama has stories.