As a sixth-generation member of the famous Bacardi Rum clan, one of the largest family-owned spirit companies in the world, Mari Aixala grew up around success and failure, money and struggle, and strong women who were the backbone of the company.
“As a Cuban exile, traveling around the world with my parents, I grew up listening to the legends and the bigger-than-life personalities of the men and women in my family,” she told us.
One such figure was the woman's great-great grandmother, Elvira Cape Lombard, who helped Cuban rebels (and her husband) fight against Spanish colonization in the late 19th century.
Inspired by these untold stories, Aixala wrote the best-selling book "Bacardi: A Tale of Merchants, Family and Company," and runs Animari Films, a company dedicated to telling the stories of cubanas and other women of color. She has produced documentaries about her home country, partnered with actor Andy Garcia and the writer Juan Carlos Coto to create a TV series based on the Bacardi clan and sponsored the TEDxHavana festival. Now, her love of storytelling led her to work alongside entrepreneur Anasa Troutman to launch SheStories, a platform that produces and aggregrates stories by and about women.
Aixala spoke with us about how she was able to turn her love of story into a business and life that helps inspire and lift other women.
All of your work seems to evolve around history and story. Why are you so inspired?
I was watching the new Dolores Huerta documentary and someone said, “Revolutions begin with self-love.” In Cuba, we’ve had many revolutions, and I believe we are having one right now in the U.S., but we first go inward, and know our story and love our story. When we are grounded in self-love, then we can go out and change the world. But first we must accept and love ourselves.
How did you start your own production company? Many women would love to do what you do, but they don’t know where to begin.
I didn’t start my dream job right away; it took me a while to find my footing and passion. My dad handled marketing for Bacardi, and I myself went into advertising. But I had my oldest daughter, and her birth made me start thinking about my own family and history, and there were so many untold stories. I was tired of using my creativity on brands. I wanted to use my energy on stories and people. Animari, the name of my company, means to enliven. And I gain life by shining a light on others people’s narratives.
Much for your work is focused on women’s stories. Why?
My love of history, which should be called HERstory by the way, has taught me that women have always been in the struggle. The females in my family have worked right alongside the men in creating a dynasty, and working to inspire and empower others. My grandmother opened her own public library in Santiago de Cuba because she knew education could help others rise and succeed. But women’s stories aren’t told in the history books. So I want to right that wrong and honor every woman whose story deserves to be told.
What was your inspiration to work on #SheStories, which hosts storytelling events and podcasts?
My company tagline at Animari Films is “Connect. Create. Change.” Because by connection, we create change. When someone shares a story, it’s magical. Their truth, their experience, resonates with others. A connection is made. Then it inspires the listener to tell their own story. So now creation and change is happening. Connection is a form of alchemy because it brings people together. Even seemingly disparate people. And that’s how real change comes about.
What trait has helped you the most in your life and career?
I am comfortable with change. I have moved 27 times. I have lived in Spain, England, Puerto Rico, Miami, New York and now California. My family history had taught me that life is always changing, for good and bad. You can’t be afraid. You must step forward into your life, propelled by your past.