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Interview with Jessi Flores. Flores is a Nicaraguan born, American raised graffiti and tattoo artist. Together with Jonathan Drew from Drew Estate he changed the use of art in the cigar industry. Graffiti, rodents, large murals. Things new to the cigar industry. A fresh breeze in a conservative environment. The creativity of Jessi opened the cigar world to a whole new world of creativity. Ministry of Cigars did an interview with Jessi Flores.

The interview

Welcome, Jessi. Thank you for making time for this interview. Timing is difficult as we’re 14 hours apart. I’m going to light a cigar that you gave me. And it’s a Liga Privada. It is a No.9, but it has a very pale wrapper. Do you know what this is? 

Jessi Flores: I don’t remember. 

You gave it to me at one of the intertabac trade shows. The one where you won the award for outstanding art. That was your last trade show with Drew estate, right?

Jessi Flores: Yep. That was the last trade show. I think it was 2018.

Ministry of Cigars - Interview with Jessi Flores
Jessi Flores and Ministry of Cigars – Intertabac 2018

Yeah. Because a few months later, you left drew estate after 20 years. Why did you decide to leave?

Jessi Flores: I wanted to do my own thing for some time. I probably had about a year to think about it. The trips that I took into the EU, really broadened out my aspect and my vision as artists. It convinced me that I could go international. And broaden my design. I know that a lot of people were kind of shocked by the news. I left a legacy at the company. But at the same time, I wanted to do something experimental for myself as an artist. Because being an executive isn’t me. I mean, I love the company and I love Jonathan. But it was time to move on and be an independent artist.

A lot of people looked up to me. I gave a lot of opportunities and job opportunities. And I got a lot of kids out of the streets, which gave me a lot of humbleness. But to me, I was thinking more about my kids. I want to spend more time with my kids. I have always dedicated my time to the work, the job. Be there early, be the last one believe and you know. Climbing the ladder of success a long path because it took 20 years to get there. But at the same time, I was missing something. Spending time with my kids.

I have an 18-year-old girl that got into university. When she was going to high school and middle school I didn’t see her much. I missed out. And then I have these two little boys, and I have another daughter Stephanie. My two boys, I live with them. And I want to spend more time with them. The only way that I’m going to do this is if I build my own business.

But I have to take the first leap. Usually, when you’re mentality of mind, you’re thinking, okay, I need to make a decision. And I need a plan. But within that plan, I wanted to see what else is out there in the world as far as an artist. So I started traveling. After leaving Drew Estate, my first place to go visit was back to the Netherlands. I love the Dutch. The culture. The food. I love the canals. The city of Amsterdam I love. The ambiance is great.

Ministry of Cigars - Interview with Jessi Flores
Jessi in Amsterdam with Sam Morales and 3 locals

I love the freedom, their cigar lounges, and I have a lot of cigar friends over there too. And the whole experience of going to the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. Seeing all the different architectures and the freedom of mind. It’s not like where I grew up. The streets were my gallery. And but it was a different gallery of an aspect of where I wanted to be as an artist.

And I leaped. I stayed out in 2019. About eight months out of the year, I spent in the Netherlands which is totally awesome. I got to see Dordrecht, The Hague, Utrecht. I have seen a bunch of murals, graffitis, and at least 10 to 15 different cigar shops around the country. Van Dalen Cigars in Rotterdam I visited often. I hung out a lot with Rod, a cigar-smoking friend. De Oude Tijd in Utrecht, Tabakado in Eindhoven. I got the chance to see a whole different vibe of the smoking ambiance. Very different from the United States and my Nicaraguan culture. So it took a big step. I need to do this, I need to do that. 

Ministry of Cigars - Interview with Jessi Flores
Jessi with Gorda from De Oude Tijd in Utrecht

And once I decided what I wanted to do, I took my wife there. We had our anniversary in the Netherlands. I asked her “Hey babe, you know you want to see other parts?”. So we took a trip, we went sightseeing all over Europe. Then we headed back into Amsterdam. She said “there’s no other place that I would rather live and have my kids grew up than in the Netherlands.” I was like, oh, this is awesome.

I love the city and its culture. I love their education, their safety, and love how harmonious traffic. Here, in a third world country, if I stop for somebody, I get honked and shouted at. In the Netherlands, you stop because it’s the etiquette, it’s the law. It’s the way how to do things properly. And here is like a bam bam bam, move out of the way. You know, here, it’s different. 

And I like the safety feature of the EU, you know, you get to travel within the countries. And there’s a safety net around there. It’s not like living where I’m living at and you don’t know what the standards of living and safety could be that day. So there is a lot of dangers to living in where I’m at right now. And you know, what I wanted to do was take the leap. The only way that I’m going to do this is by forming a business. And convince my wife that I want to do business but at the same time, move out of Nicaragua. That’s my main focus. Starting up a business, which I did.

I started victms1975, which is a cigar apparel company that caters and tailors to cigar smokers. We do a variety of designs, all of them cigar-related and beer-related. And I’m going to start getting into scotch. Designing t-shirts and different stuff. Backpacks, sweaters, canvasses for you to decorate your lounges. So there’s a lot of stuff that I’m doing that’s to cater to the cigar smoker. Typical day to day things.

Once I got that going, I went to my wife. This is the business that we want to establish. At the same time, with the technical difficulties that are presuming in Nicaragua with bankings and the sanctions against the government. I decided that we have to go somewhere else because it’s very difficult here to work as an eCommerce entrepreneur and the style of marketing that I’m doing. Literally, you can’t sell anything here in Nicaragua unless it’s used or been imported from the States or Europe.

In my case, I’m trying to cater to the people back home and in Europe, and of course, the Asian market. But that’s the reality of what came to mind of how to start up a business and move my family out of Nicaragua. That’s one of the main reasons that I got to stay focused on the path of still being in the industry. Catering to the cigar industry, but doing it on my own.

The US vs the EU

You grew up in the United States, right?

Jessi Flores: Yeah, Miami, I grew up in Miami and South Florida. I got to the states in 1980. I was born here in Nicaragua, but it was taken as a child to Miami. At first, we went to Los Angeles. We were migrating because of the Nicaraguan war. That was the Civil War of 1979. We actually left in 79. But it took us a whole year to get to California. We were moving from Honduras to Mexico. And then we finally landed in America after, I think was like six months or eight months. But when we finally got there, we were detained by immigration. And then we were given Amnesty to stay inside the United States because we couldn’t be returned to a country of origin that was in a civil war.

So isn’t it easier for you with that background to move to the US because, you know, getting into the EU is quite difficult?

Jessi Flores: Yeah, I’ve heard but you know, the US is very chaotic right now. Very, very, it looks really scary. But I have few friends in the Netherlands that are going to vouch for me. Once I make my decision to move, and then I’ll be making travel arrangements for my family to move over there. Not to seek asylum, but to work with a company under them and then start a new life. It’s getting kind of dangerous here.

Yeah, well, maybe if it gets more dangerous, you can seek asylum. But let’s hope it doesn’t get that far.

Jessi Flores: Yeah, let’s hope not. I love this country. Nicaragua is rich, not only because of rum, cigars, and food. But also there’s a big portion of tourism. Nicaragua is very lush in green. We export cattle, tobacco, sugar, rice. There’s so much agriculture, but at the same time, because of the hard times that Nicaragua is experiencing, it’s become very hard to live here. To conduct businesses online. That’s the most outspoken way that I can say it. But the good thing is that our cigars are still being made. That is everybody’s main concern.

And the quality hasn’t changed. I think Nicaragua is exporting more cigars than the other cigar producing countries. I believe in the higher ratings. In the rating game of Cigar aficionado, cigar snob, and other magazines. And can tell that more variety and more artisan cigars are coming out of Nicaragua than the other countries.

Drew Estate

How did you end up with Drew Estate anyway?

Jessi Flores: I met Jon Drew. Everybody knows Jon Drew. I think it was 1998. And we just became friends. I met him at a gas station and we just became really good friends. At the gas station, he was with another individual. That was his first operations manager, Mario Torres. So I met Mario in the States. His dad worked with my dad. And Mario came over. We had a big dinner and he says “hey, when are you coming to Nicaragua?”. I was so Americanized, I didn’t even know where Nicaragua was. I wasn’t even thinking about visiting Nicaragua. But I did visit. And then I met Mario. I bumped into him. And Mario was like, hey, there’s my business partner, Jon Drew. Back then, for any American to have a business, you needed a Nicaraguan business partner to have a bank account to move funds over. So Mario was the guy that was doing all the legal work and stuff like that for him.

When I met Jon, we just became good friends. And we, we talked mostly about music. We like the same type of music. And we started hanging out. Then my dad came in the summer of 99. Jon was always coming over to the house. And I went out with Jon and my dad’s like “Hey, why don’t you tell the gringo to give you a job?” I was like, I don’t know. He looks too crazy. I don’t think he’ll give me a job. We were just friends, I had no intention to go into cigars. I always tell everybody, I thought all cigars in the world were blunts and machine-made. I didn’t know that there was an artisan side behind it, you know? And I was very ignorant of the industry. Until later when I caught on. I started hanging out with Jon at the factory. He had a small acid house factory, which had like, five or six employees. And my dad started getting sick. I told my dad was like, yeah, I’m gonna get a job. “Like, well, who’s like the crazy gringo you said not to, that you wanted to work with?” he asked.

I started working with Jon before my dad passed away. I was translating and driving Jon around. Back then I was probably the only person that spoke English in Esteli. You could count the fingers of people that could. I was the one that was the communications officer and was going to all the meetings with Jon. I met all the players in the cigar biz, you know, Padron and Kiki Berger. The Oliva’s and the farmer families. It just became a growth experience because I had no idea how lucrative and intense the cigar industry. As for referring to farming, drying, aging, the other processes I had no idea how it was done.

Jon was coming in and out of Nicaragua to New York. He had asked me to stay as a manager for like a month. I was not even working for him. I was hanging out with him at the time. During that time, he was like “Hey, I’m gonna pay you to be at the factory.” Yeah, sure. Cool. Why not? So my daily job was to be at the factory and just answer calls and fax machines. I was like an office guy. And I would never imagine that. I’m like street art or a graffiti artist, tattoo artist. Jon set me up to be in a spot that would change the life of everybody around him. And at that time, I think there were probably about 20 to 30 employees. And then an interesting thing happened. 

He found out that I knew how to draw. Because I was always doodling, just like some American presidents. I think it was Hoover, Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln. They were doodling every time there was a meeting. Doodlings ships and hats, and different things. And I was always doing letters and cool, different stuff. So he got my design. And he was like, ‘yo, can I have this?’ And I was sure, have it. I didn’t know where it was gonna go. It’s a cool story because it’s very humbling, like how things explode like an atom bomb. Next thing, I see my design on 500 shirts at a trade show. I was like, yo, those t-shirts now are black. And they just had a hand. it was my daughter’s hand that I sketched out. It said ‘natural’ in oriental letters. It was something different that I don’t think the industry had ever seen before. 

And with the names of the cigars, it took a boom. Then things twisted when he found out that I know how to do graffiti. It was like, ‘dude, hook up the factory’. I said, listen I need materials. I need this. How much are you going to pay me? Jon said, “I’ll pay you, now you’re painting every wall”. I got a promotion from being the communications officer to being on the factory graffiti artist. Something which had never existed before in the cigar industry. Him being from New York, it took a good spell on both of our lives. We were constantly babbling about different ideas. Different concepts, different designs, and different names. And it just blew up in our face. And it became a marketing agenda for the company trade. 

Ministry of Cigars - Interview with Jessi Flores

Victms1975

That’s a cool story. Now, back to your website, victms1975.com. How’s the website doing?

Jessi Flores: It’s doing good. We’ve had some orders come in also from the Netherlands. Yeah. The Netherlands is showing some good love. I hang out a lot with the Netherland people. Enough for people to recognize my name. I just hang out at shops and smoke cigars. I smoked a lot of Cubans at La Casa del Habano Almere, I love that place. Shout out to Yuri What’s up buddy?. And I also liked hanging out at a Cigaragua. Hanging out with Cigaragua, I would see a different type of people that would come in. So I catered inside the mindset of my business plan like how do I want to present a different format to the different types of smokers. Smokers that are coming into shops. That really enlightened my design aspect.

I started contacting other artists for collaborations. I did one collaboration with Jimmy Rodriguez. He’s a Latin designer but he also smoked cigars. There’s another guy Neal Wollenberg. We just did a collaboration with him on that’s also on the site. Everything’s beer-related and cigar related. I started innovating different things that could go on to the site. From Cigarart to have an area from different collections. I got the phuck cancer, cigar art. The other one is a victim’s heritage, which is something old school to me. Different things in design for cigar smokers. And then there’s the Neal Wollenberg collaboration project. Both Jimmy and Neal are brothers of the leaf. I want to show that there are artists that are cigar smokers.

So the site has been redesigned from the first launch that we did on Super Bowl Sunday back in February. But I wanted to do so much intense work on it. I still launched. A lot of people in my family were like, yo, we’d launch too early. I was like, now let’s play with people’s emotions and pockets. See how they feel about what I’m presenting to them. I want to see if they like it. So kudos, they liked it. And I think back in August, I shut down the site, so I could rebuild it and restructure administration. Francis Mariella, she did communications, stepped out. She helped me to build the website. She built all the programming and all the mockups. And I was just feeding the designs. And now, part two of what I’m doing right now, is I’m managing the whole concept of the site. That includes which is design, mock-ups, photography, and video editing, I’m doing that all myself.

I brought in Chris Duque. He is a cigar aficionado. He loves cigars, and he has a passion for what we’re doing. I felt he’s the right person to bring in. So he is the customer relations and operations manager. I consider him to be a great friend. My kids consider him as an uncle. He is from Hawaii, and Hawaii is a very pro-smoking state in the United States. He always followed what I was doing when I was at DE. Can I get involved, he asked. So I said, “I’m gonna start doing this” and he wanted in.

It served very well because he just retired from his police job at Honolulu police. So this is perfect. He gets to work with me full time. He’s a cybernetics police officer. So he knows a lot about the internet and programming. So he’s been a cool asset to the company right now. Because while we’re four hours apart by the time I go to sleep, he keeps going. When he goes asleep, I wake up. So we’re always online, and we’re always checking up on our main priority.

Right now is customer service is our main priority. Because even though I could make the most fashionable artwork for people to wear, I think the most important thing is that people know that they’re being served. That they’re being attended to when there’s probably a problem or a delay. When they need a refund or whatever whatnot problems come along with a business. Chris Duque and myself, we’re making things more accurate to what people need are instead of “this guy is bugging me and boom: delete.” Treating everyone the proper way is the way to perform an online business. It’s been a dream to be known around the world. What I want to do.

DE is one thing, but what I want to do personally, is another. Because I want to spend time with my family. It is very difficult working at being an executive. You work so hard that nobody sees that you’re spending time with your family. But you’re so dedicated to your work that everybody’s like, hey, you’re the DE guy, you work at DE, you’re the art guy. They only see you like that. =I wanted people to see me as a father. As a father figure and a husband. I want to spend more time with my wife and children. I was leaving at the end of the morning and coming back at 11 at night. Literally, I just came home just to sleep

What are the most popular items on the site? Is it mugs? Or is it shirts?

Jessi Flores: stickers. Unbelievably, a lot of people are buying stickers and shirts. Sweaters right now cuz it’s fall. I made a lot of designs for sweaters, which is cool. And beanies. Which is something that you got to be very careful with when you’re designing. Is it a stitch or silk screening? It’s two different formats of the design. I took a lot of time to make cool things that other people won’t be able to see or purchase in at the store. You can only buy it online on Victms1975.com. I want to do this, to promote cigar smoking. I want people to know that, hey, this is a cigar guy. And this is my cigar wife. Or this is a cigar sister shirt, you know, as as an identity instead of profiling. I want people to see the smoking culture as an experience. I want people to feel comfortable wearing the designs that I’m making.

With the family aspect that you just said, maybe you should design some rompers or child things with ‘Hey, my daddy smoke cigars’ or something like that.

Jessi Flores: Yeah, I made onesies for babies. And there was a tobacco plant in black and white. Different things. I love cigars, I made a few things that are available for children and toddlers. And for five-year-olds and 10-year-olds. A buddy of mine bought t-shirts for him, a backpack for his kids. So there’s a variety of in nature of purchasing on my site. So I wonder “Why do you buy small sizes?” And then I find out they are for their children so they could all be wearing the same. Or just for the photo op, but later on, when they go out. It’s like, oh, Dad smoking. I’m wearing my dad’s shirt.

Commission work

And stuff like this behind me. This behind me. That’s one of your drawings. Is that something you might do? One-offs? unique items?

Jessi Flores: No, because it’s like, It all belongs to DE. So a lot of the stuff that I made in the past, I can’t use.

But something new yet exclusive? because you can print 1000 shirts, but one of a kind items?

Jessi Flores: yeah, somebody wants something unique, I can make it up. And you know, there was one guy that asked for a black t-shirt of a design that I have on a white t-shirt. He was like, yo, can I have this? I’m like, Sure, why not? I mock it up for you. I’ll make it. I put it up on the site. And even though there was only like two or three sales of it, I know that that group of guys are the ones that have it.

And I also interviewed Jose Blanco recently for Ministry of Cigars. Behind him was this huge painting you made. If somebody says, “Hey, I want an original piece by Jessi Flores” Are you open to doing stuff like that?

Jessi Flores: Yeah, man I do a lot of commission work. Right now I’m doing four different commission works for two companies that I’m not allowed to say. They made me sign contracts of silence. But it’s cool. You know, once it comes out, you’re like, Damn, I remember what he was talking about. And then there are other tools for small companies. I was doing a few logos for a farm. Then I started doing work for a dude in Europe. I did a few paintings for a girl in Chicago. So there’s commission work. It is available for anybody that wants to do some personalized artwork for their home or their lounges. For over the sofa or for a hotel. Or for your lavish mansion

At Drew Estate, you also made up doors and ashtrays like pewter strays and stuff like that. Maybe you want to do for victims 1975 as well.

Jessi Flores: Yeah, in the future I want to do my own. I was thinking about doing a phuck cancer ashtray that would be for people that have had cancer. Or have somebody with cancer in their life and just want to have it. But I’m open right now for anybody that wants to do some cool designs. Cigar bands or cigar brands. I’m currently working on making three ashtray designs for Deadwood tobacco. That is in South Dakota, it’s where the bike rally is. Because it’s stuff like that’s which is cool. People come my way and say “Hey, we want you to make it instead of anybody else because you’re the guy that makes it cooler.” I’m sure Yeah, why not? I’ve also done a few travel humidor along the way since I left. I’m open to what people want as personalized artwork and commissioned artwork.

Yeah, that travel humidor. You made them and sold them through with a leather company called Ortez?

Jessi Flores: Yeah, cigar cases are making them with Ortez store. She’s a good friend of mine. I’ve known her for years. Before I left Drew Estate I had her make made a purse, sandals, and makeup kit for my wife. She did a beautiful job. So I asked what else can you do? And she says, whatever you want. I want to get into cigar accessories. And she’s like, yeah me too. I reached out to her after I left Drew Estate. She asked, “Alright, what do you want”. I want to make something that I can paint on. And people can put their cutters and lighters and their cigars inside. So we got on the drawing board, we made some cool designs. In our first month, we didn’t like the samples. And then the second month, we hit it with the design. So let’s paint a few of them and put them out. Everything that we put out has been sold. 

Recently, this lady from a Havana Smokes in Canada, ordered about eight to 10 pieces of cigar cases. She’s going to be distributing them in her store. It took us a while because, during the pandemic, we couldn’t ship out. So recently we were able to go to DHL and ship them out. She received them and she’s already promoting them in Canada. We’re hoping to have a good distribution for more of them. But all in all, I think we’ve done properly. We made about 150 cigar cases. They’re online. If somebody wants to order them, they can go to Ortez store.com.

Ministry of Cigars - Interview with Jessi Flores

On Tattooing

And you also mentioned that you’re used to tattoo. And I know you tattooed a lot of people on the cigar safaris. Is that something you still do?

Jessi Flores: Um, I didn’t want to do it anymore. Because of two different reasons. Firstly, I didn’t have a location to continue doing tattoos after I left DE. Secondly, I don’t want to get clientele from Nicaragua. Nicaraguan people are more worried about what they’re gonna eat, and about education. It’s more of a luxury over here to get tattoos. So what I did was I started selling my designs online for people to get their tattoos in the States or Europe. I can design something for anybody. And a local tattoo artist can tattoo it for you.

Because that might be a way to get residency in Europe. I know that in the tattoo scene, a lot of people move from country to country. And they get permission. Like that Japanese guy from Miami Inc. He ended up in Amsterdam. He passed away like last year, but he ended up in Amsterdam. His tattoo store was in Amsterdam. So that’s something to look into.

Jessi Flores: I didn’t know that. Thank you for that

Subculture Studios

So maybe that’s a way to get a ticket into the EU. Then again, I’m not an immigration lawyer, so I don’t know the exact rules. I know how hard it was to get permission for my wife to come to the EU. And once we had that, we made it you know, we made a decision that I would move to Asia. That’s got a whole different reason and it’s not important for this interview nor the readers because it’s about you. Since you left, drew Estate. Did you see a difference in creativity?

Jessi Flores: I loved working for Drew Estate and with Subculture Studios. But different artists have different styles. Different creativity. So yea, there is a difference. But as long as it lifts a brand up, that’s cool. I see a lot of cool stuff coming out. I got much love and respect for everybody whom I worked with. Wheter it was above me, below me, next to me. I wish them all the best and I hope to see them at trade shows in the future.

Like the dirty rat, you know, it’s an emblem that’s going to be embedded for DE for life. And I started that just because it just felt right. People love the comic side of rats and what it stands for. It’s the rat that adapts to survive. And that’s, you know, one of the main reasons that I made the rat. It wasn’t intended for cigars. My intention for the dirty rat was to make a clothing brand. I had a whole album. Different designs like rats on bikes, rats driving, trucks. Rats riding offroad and walking the dog. So it was a whole different agenda from my state of mind to a college graduate mind. A lot of people study to do marketing. And the way that I was doing it was more guerrilla warfare. Buy my shit, take my shit, take your shit home, you know, that type. It wasn’t like, I’m gonna give you three things so you can buy my product? Like, no, there’s a difference. You want people off the bat to buy your product without even analyzing how much money they’re gonna spend on. So my thing was more for fun.

And are you still in touch with people of subculture? Because that’s, you know, that subculture is your baby?

Jessi Flores: Yeah, um, I still get in contact with the managers. But not like it used to be because it’s time consuming what I’m doing now. It’s a little bit off for me to get in contact with people that I used to work with. I’ve been more focused on what I need to do and where I need to be in five years or six years. Once you leave somewhere, you’re always like, I wonder if they missed me. But in reality, I miss them, but I need to move on.

Murals and street-art

And you used to do a lot of murals in Esteli. I remember when I was in Esteli did one right around the corner from Hotel Los Arcos. I watched you do murals. Do you still do murals in Esteli?.

Jessi Flores: Esteli is known as the city of murals, I would say because there is a wide variety of graffiti artists that were coming down here. And we did so many murals. Some related to DE, some non-DE. We covered the city so much that Esteli is known for tobacco and murals. We probably did about 30 different murals around the city. Right now, because of the covid, I’m not doing any graffiti. As you know, I do have a sick daughter. She has tumors cancers, and she has other illnesses. Stephanie Nicole, so next weekend I’m going to be doing a live graffiti from Esteli. I spoke with another muralist, another Grafitti artist, and we’re going to be doing a tribute to her. Hopefully, our graffiti will give her enough hope and strength to last another few more years of life with us.

Ministry of Cigars - Mural in Esteli

Stephanie Nicole

Yeah, talk about that was something that I want to touch later. But now you mentioned Stephanie Nicole. She’s pretty sick, right? Like a hole in her heart. And now she has cancer and she needs treatment. Some of your friends started a GoFundMe page. All the proceeds of the Phuck cancer campaign go to her. What’s the situation now? Do you still need more funding? Can people still donate? You are doing a collaboration with a coffee manufacturer to raise money as well. Can you tell us a little something about that?

Jessi Flores: Sure, sure. Stephanie was born 21 years ago. But she has had a very difficult life. Unfortunately. She was born with two holes in her heart. On her left side artery and the other one on her right side of her artery. She didn’t go to school and didn’t have a normal life. She was homeschooled, She was very slow. And because of her heart problem, she couldn’t walk long distances. Her fingernails, her lips, her chest, or her eyes would get purple because of the lack of oxygen.

Around when she was three or four years old we talked to the Nicaraguan government. The local government, they know me very well. We spoke with them as we wanted a second opinion. They didn’t want to touch her here in Nicaragua. So we sent her to Cuba, with a Cuban doctor. I got the call about two weeks later. After doing running exams, they said that her heart is very delicate. They could operate on her. But it’s a high-risk operation. So I was like, I thought about it for two days. I told them no.

I think I made the right decision because she came back and she’s lived 21 years. They diagnosed her to live to five or seven years old. And now she’s 21. Last year when she was 20, we discovered that she had three tumorous cancers growing out of her liver. All of our lives changed as a family. Because we’ve never dealt with this. We wanted her to live a happy life. Never get operated on, and just pass away from natural causes. She does have other illnesses. I was telling a friend of mine today about all her illnesses. Besides the heart problem, one of her lungs is collapsed. So she needs a lot of oxygen. She walks around with a portable oxygen tank. And she needs to have a full-time nurse with her. 

Which with the GoFundMe money, I’ve been able to use that money for her. She’s totally disabled. She can’t walk. Well, she can walk but short distances. She can’t work. She can’t go to school. And besides that, she also has arthritis in her bones, in her back. Her joints are splitting. She has a weird disease that her bones instead of being together they’re being pulled apart. So she’s going through a bit of pain there. She also has kidney stones also so she’s pretty messed up.

We started with the GoFundMe campaign. As soon as we heard, I spoke with my family there. My niece, Francis Mariela, said let’s start a GoFundMe. I tried to do it from here from Nicaragua, but due to the sanctions, GoFundMe contacted me. They were sorry. They said “we understand it. It’s for your daughter. But we are not allowed to open a GoFundMe for Nicaragua. If you find somebody in the States that can do the fundraising it’s fine.” I’m like, oh, man, why not? I got tons of friends. And I asked a few friends. But nobody was able to because of traveling. Then Francis said, “Uncle, Let me do this right now. Give me 72 hours, and I’ll do the GoFundMe campaign.”.

So we launched it on football Sunday in February. And it was very successful. We were able to raise $6,000. That helped with her medical furniture. We bought her a bed, we bought her in a wheelchair. We bought her oxygen tanks and a lot of stuff that she needed to have on a day to day basis. She’s a young lady. So we bought boxes of Kotex for her because she would bleed a little bit more than a regular human girl. So we took extra steps to watch over her health. And then we did another GoFundMe campaign from the EU. And we raised about three $3,000. With that, we were able to buy linen pillows and stuff like that. For her to be more comfortable. 

And then when we were doing the exams, MRIs and CAT scans and everything. We were ready to go. I was having conversations with up to 15 different doctors or specialists. No interns, so it was a very serious operation that they were going do on my daughter. Then COVID-19 hit Nicaragua. We were ready. I think we were a week away from operating. Then the first cases came out, I was like, Hell No, she’s not going near the hospital. The doctors were trying to convince me that they could still operate. I was like, No, I don’t think so. She’s very delicate. And she’s like a flower. If you don’t take care of her, she’ll pass away. And I’m trying to have my daughter here for as long as possible.

So there we go again, on lockdown. I used all the money from the GoFundMe, that was for surgery to take care of her needs to stay home. I stocked up on a lot of medicine, a lot of water, a lot of gloves. Gloves were the first thing that was scarce here, and masks. I ordered a lot of stuff for her. For her nutrition. I set up a bank account for her. So from that account, I order pharmacy, I order farmers market, I order meats, I order, poultry, I order everything to be delivered to her house. So her family, her mom and her and her sister have no need to go out.

And those, those GoFundMe, still active so people can still donate?

Jessi Flores: Yeah, they’re still active. And we did another one with Chris Duque. With Chris, we were able to reach our goal. At first, we were aiming for $6000 again. He said that that’s gonna last only a few months. She consumed so much medical and these special protein milkshakes that she drinks. Chris suggested going for $10k. And we reached our goal within two months. I think we got to like $11,700, something like that. 

And then we started, you know, letting people know that there is a little girl in Nicaragua that needs a lot of attention and health care. And next thing you know, I got an interview with Lou and Michael from Miami. They have their cigar show, their cigar podcast. And some dude came on. He said he wanted to raffle a few cigars to bring awareness to Stephanie. And they were three very rare cigars. I freaked out, I freaked out. It was like $700 in three cigars. That’s amazing. And, you know, as a father, I felt very honored that somebody took the time to giveaway cigars. I told Chris “this is what brothers Of the leaf really stand for.” Be with a community that really supports you.

Over the years, I did so much for so many people here in Nicaragua, I really didn’t realize that I impacted so many people. I helped build houses here in Nicaragua for a lot of people that didn’t have homes. I donated a lot of artwork back then to raise up fundraising for people’s homes. And then how things turn out to be, very cool that in a time of need, that so many people would reach out ask “what does your daughter need?”. One guy in California wrote “Hey, you don’t know me, but I smoked DE for a long time. And I’m a big fan. I want to send masks and tubes for your daughter for her oxygen tank.” Thank you.

Our outreach is really a blessing. If I didn’t tell anybody about her illnesses, nobody would know about her. Over the 20 years that I worked at DE, I took care of her. I don’t have that salary that I used to have. So, a friend of mine from Hawaii told me to reach out to people. Be humble, be yourself, and let people know that you need help. I really didn’t want to ask for people for help. I was going to work hard. Try to do as much as possible. Do tattoos and paint cars and do as much. It’s overwhelming. So I’m like, I’m going to do the GoFundMe. Seeing that people really reached out to me and showed some love to my daughter. It’s been very successful. She’s been able to control her breathing with her oxygen tank. Her blood pressure is normal. We’re holding her stable right now. So we go back into surgery mode, and she’s able to go into surgery.

Back to the murals

And I will post the GoFundMe links below this video so people can still donate and help. Stephanie Nicole in this situation. back to the murals. Is that any building in Esteli, that you would love to get your hands on?

Jessi Flores: city hall?

I don’t think they’ll allow that.

Jessi Flores: Nah, I don’t think so. I would like to paint the municipal football stadium. I know the owner. But during the covid, I’m kind of scared to go out because, you know, a lot of people don’t take care of themselves. Since they’ve remodeled the stadium, I really want todo graffiti that will represent Esteli to the fullest. Because it’s beautiful. It’s red and white. Real Esteli. And it’s a really lit up nice stadium. It’s really nice. But I will since they have a very wide-open area. I want to do graffiti and let people know that it’s a cultural thing. I want to leave my mark everywhere I go.

Ministry of Cigars - Mural in Esteli

When I was in Nicaragua in 2014 and 2015 Juan Martinez mentioned something. Drew Estate is doing a lot with Joya de Nicaragua. Juan Martinez told me that you wanted to get your hands on the building.

Jessi Flores: Yeah, it’s one of the most antique factories in Nicaragua. I think it’s one of the first and it survived during the war. So it’s a very masculine building. And they just remodeled it a few years ago. So it’s a good thing that Juan Martinez came in because they needed a remodel. And I went in there with his team, which is Madre Consulting. That is a design firm. They said ‘we need your skills with our designs.’ Cool, let’s do this. So we went in there and we did some cool walls. I think overall about six walls we were able to tag up.

Joya is more conservative, they don’t want to do all this graffiti stuff that I’m doing. They want to do the artwork but want to be able to have control of their ambiance. I could do that. That’s something I’m eligible to do. And then I took in the guys from Subculture Studios. I think we took two walls every two weeks. So we were able to go in and out within a month and a half.

Ministry of Cigars - Dirty Rat Mural

Support the community

Yeah, I’ve been there. It’s a beautiful building. Those are those were my questions. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers of Ministry of Cigars?

Jessi Flores: I’m doing as much as possible for the cigar industry. Support your local shops. Invest in your communities, not as in money-wise, but intellectual wise. Support. When somebody posts something like, share, and comment. It means a lot to the people that are creating the content and creating the branding of the cigar brands. Not only for sale and resale. But you also think about the regions where this company is coming from. Where they’re helping out the community. And anything to bring awareness to the cigar community is welcome. I made a special design t-shirt on my side that says, invest in your community, support your local shops. So there is a variety of stuff that you could do. 

As a final consumer or retail, when you see somebody posting on Facebook, on Instagram, like share and comment. Help out, people reach out more, because the algorithm of all the social media has. There are more people at home. So the more shares, you’re able to be seen and shown through different channels and on people’s Facebook and Instagram. And I want to take the time also to let people know that I’ll be also be doing collaborations in the future with other cigar artists and non-cigar artists. So be prepared to see some cool stuff. And the website is www.victms1975.com.

I’ll post the link below as well and in the interview. All right, I would like to thank you for taking the time for us. And it’s probably bedtime for you now almost in Nicaragua.

Jessi Flores: It’s 10:35 pm right now, but I bet I go to sleep like two in the morning because I’d like to be up. Drawing at this time. There’s more silence. I put some music on, go outside smoke a cigar, and come back in and you know, do some artwork

I’ll be checking the site for new designs every week.

Jessi Flores: Yeah, man. And for people that have been first responders, which are police officers, EMT drivers. If you’re a veteran. If you’re military personnel, there is a discount code right now. And it’s all over the side. You get 20% off. The discount code is heroes20. And I highly recommend everybody that is a cigar smoker and is a first responder veteran or military active or non-active. The discount code is out there for people to use.

Thank you and have a good night, and I’ll talk to you later.

Jessi Flores: All right, man. Have a great one. Thank you.

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