Celia Cruz was an incredible performer mostly known for breaking ethnic barriers, her electric, unique and vibrant style, and lastly her infectious music. Usually identified by her beautiful laugh, love for life and favorite saying “Azúcar”! I wanted to do a project to honor her memory while paying tribute to a woman who was inspiring as a person, fashion icon, and as a beautiful woman of color.


Growing up as a first generation Dominican-American I have a particular perspective that sits right between the two worlds. I remember the way Celia’s energy transcended through the television and through the speakers at all the family parties. Her sound had the ability to make people feel good, specifically women. We felt bold and powerful. her voice leading and amplifying our femininity.

Celia Cruz came up as a dominant & well respected artist in an industry dominated by men. And despite being clearly a superstar, a powerful talent— she was told that she was “too ugly” to make it because her skin was dark, her nose very Afrocentric, and her hair coarse. Could you imagine if she had let that stop her from pursuing her career? Thank God she didn’t!

Understanding that she got as far as she did with the attitude she displayed was touching and made her extra special to me. When I was young, I lived in the Dominican Republic and my grandmother used to tell me that I had bad hair. Anytime I went to Dominican salons they acted as if my hair was too tough for them to straighten. To have a Black Latina woman showing me how beautiful she was is a part of her legacy that should be highlighted so that young Black Latinas know that Celia was always holding us down, and showing the world we are a force to be reckoned with.

Doing this photoshoot, made me realize that directing is something I should do more often. I love modeling and creating. As a person who has been in front of, as well as behind the camera, that knowledge gave me the creative freedom and confidence to bring this project to life. I hope to encourage other women to take the lead on their own creativity and not hesitate to be assertive in their vision.

I found so much joy in playing stylist and having my mother be a part of the project because she genuinely enjoyed herself. Practically all of the jewelry used was sourced from her fire jewelry collection! A reminder to use your resources.


I hope that when people see these photos they feel the diversity and essence of Celia’s spirit. It’s a wide spectrum of color, beauty, hair textures, and style. There’s so much beauty in womanhood, and in being a Black Latina, and I have immense pride in being an example of both.

Photographer: Cesar Mateo @iamcesarin
Models: (in order including ig) 
Khadijat Oseni @jetsetterproblems
Bárbara Polanco @thebazness
Haydeé Rosario @hayrosario
Natacha Martinez @stolennight 

Creative Direction: Bárbara Polanco 
Bill Tice Metallic Ensemble on Khadijat & ostrich feather boa: New York Vintage inc.,nyc 


Bárbara Polanco

is a Black Latina living in NYC & creating art.