How Maria Estrela’s Passion for Arts and Travel Shapes RBNY Homegrown Player, Bento Estrela

There are days when Bento Estrela is super tired after training at Red Bulls Training Facility, but his mother Maria Estrela convinces him to attend an art event going on in New Jersey. Estrela tries to find different ways to inculcate her passion for art into her son.   

“I bring him to many events, like art events just for kids, we go to festivals, exhibits. After soccer, we will go to those events even though he’s super tired, but I’m always like we need to go and see this because this is important,” said Estrela. “And I think going there and being exposed to those things got him a little bit more creative with soccer and what he does because he's been exposed to so many different things in his life.   

“Also we travel a lot during the summer, I’m a travel photographer, so we go into different countries as well. I think seeing different things, being with different people, connecting with different cultures, I think gets him to play the soccer style he plays and be creative.” 

In December 2019, Bento Estrela played with the U-14s in the ICC Futures Tournament, where they defeated Tottenham Hotspur Academy, 2-0, and Bento provided an assist in the match. The Red Bulls U-14s were the only MLS side to advance to the Round of 16 in the ICC Futures tournament. Estrela went on to start and play in all four matches of the tournament.  

Maria was born in Portugal, and her family is from Cape Verde Islands. She’s lived in the United States for 18 years now, and made the decision to come to this country because she felt she would have more career opportunities. 

“As a Black woman, I probably would have a little bit more opportunities here because we can see Black women work in higher positions,” she said. “In Portugal we don't see that, we don't see Black people in the higher positions, so I felt like moving here I probably could have a better chance to succeed professionally, I came and I studied and all that.” 

In the last months, Estrela has focused on collage work and has created works of art honoring Nina Simone and Harriet Tubman, whom she sees as examples of strong women in our history. 

“Nina Simone, she was an activist and through her music, she raised awareness about what was happening in America against Black people. So she was a very powerful woman, she used her music to say what was happening in America,” said Estrela. “So that inspired me to create first because she was a great musician and artist, and second because she was an activist, and she was fighting for equality and justice.  

“For Harriet Tubman, what she did in her time, she was also an activist and she fought to end slavery, she fought for justice and equality and she was a woman that was able to save so many slaves, so that’s very powerful. I think that's also a way for inspiring me too because I feel as a woman sometimes we have to do so much so people can notice us, but I feel like sometimes it's those small steps I think we should appreciate women that are doing big things, but they’re silenced. The Harriet Tubman one I created with a little bit of African prints, I don't know if you noticed because that's where her ancestors are from.” 

unenslaved yourself, 2020

unenslaved yourself, 2020

Estrela is very involved in the Newark arts scene and has been able to connect her life to other artists’ and although she was born in Portugal, they all share similarities.  

“I started getting very involved in the arts in Newark, and I really enjoy the arts scene in Newark, and how it was happening and how much artists were there, and the connection and how they are so involved in activism and raising awareness about Black Lives Matter. So I feel a little bit of a connection with that part of the arts scenes because I felt like during my time in Portugal there were periods I faced discrimination, so I was feeling what the artists in Newark are feeling,” said Estrela. “When I started doing my photography, it was a little bit more about landscaping, and then recently I started doing more collage work. I started taking collage workshops, and I started doing more collage work and mixed media. 

“As the years kept passing and more arts I started seeing, and more artists I started knowing, I thought that I should start getting my arts in a different path, so I started creating art that’s more related with the Black women, but all communities of colors in general to empower women. 

"I feel like women aren't recognized for the work they do, so I started creating more art related to that, and in the form of empowering women and Black women because from my experience it’s a way for me to express what I was feeling and feel about what Black women are going through.” 

Untitled, 2020

Untitled, 2020

 Last year, Ron Powell, an artist also involved in activism, asked Maria if he could do a portrait of Bento to put up in Montclair, titled "The Change". 

“When Ron Powell contacted me and was like, ‘I want to do a portrait of your son,’” Estrela asked, “Why my son?”   

"I am so impressed by the unity, solidarity and passion of this generation. I want to use models that reflect it.” Powell told Estrela.  

“He wanted to attract the younger generation, so my son's age,” noted Estrela. “Because he knows a little bit of the story of  Bento, he wanted to bring a little bit of awareness to Black Lives Matter. My son is going to be part of the generation that will probably bring a change to America. 

“I think I have to have a voice, and being a mother of a Black child, I have to stand up for him. Even right now he still doesn't understand that part, but I feel like because what I went through, I need to stand up, I want to bring him awareness, I want to show through arts, we can educate people, we can show people and say this was made because of what we were feeling in that moment of Black Lives Matter movement,” said Estrela. “The death of George Floyd really touched me so much and really put me, emotionally, I was really depressed, I couldn't believe this was happening.  

“I know so many things happened, but it was so cruel, so I felt like I cannot just stay home and just not do anything. I started creating art related to Black Lives Matter, I organized an event in my town (Bloomfield) as well, I want to bring a little bit more awareness also in my town about the matter. And also see, through that, we could connect with other communities for connection and work toward bringing awareness and having uncomfortable conversations.” 

Maria and Bento’s travels have allowed them to visit many countries. “We learn from the past, if you know the past of the city, you can understand how the city rolls,” says Estrela. 

One of her favorite cities has been Istanbul, where the people have been very kind and welcoming to her. They’re curious to know about her photography and passion for arts. Through her, Bento has been able to see the world and learn many things about life. Maria says that he’s “very passionate about life.” 

On September 15, 2020, Estrela made his first appearance for the U-19s in a 6-0 defeat against Cedar Stars Monmouth, and a month later on November 7, 2020, Estrela scored his first goal for the U-19s in a friendly match against Philadelphia Union II.   

“Bento’s very passionate about soccer. He's very focused, and I think that's what I really push him to do. I feel like if you want to do something, do it right, the right way, do it good,” she said. “Bento is very passionate about life in general. He's passionate about being with people and he feels comfortable having a connection with different cultures.  

“With Bento, we go to different countries, and he sees someone playing soccer even if he doesn't speak the language, he goes and says something, and they play. Bento’s not afraid of that, he connects with people very easily because of what I show him, what I expose him to life.” 

Queen Of Wakanda, 2019

Queen Of Wakanda, 2019