DEL BARRIO PART 2
Meet Amelia Capaz — whose talents are now an addition to Vice — an artist, a Cuban firecracker, the queen of memes and one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter. I was lucky enough to meet her through my friend Audubon when she directed his music video for ‘Daydrunk’, a song featuring my other dope friend, Lucia Hierro, — a Dominican artist from my own hood, Washington Heights. Amelia is one of those people who leave a long lasting and very clear impression on you — and in her writing, this effervescence is captured deftly and doesn’t miss a beat. Her work has also been published on the Huffington Post and is exactly what you need when the weight of adulthood and responsibilities crush the air from your lungs — @Th0tcouture
Laura Ciriaco — otra Dominicana whose work speaks for itself. Laura is 1/2 of the genius behind MoreMulher, an all-female photography collective, the other half being her friend Cherry. Their hauntingly beautiful and stunningly fresh portrayals of women are like something out of a different universe. Every inch of their work is full of effortless grace. They use real women, their family and friends, their contemporaries and promote body-positivity in the most genuine way possible. Laura’s work is such a breath of fresh air during a time when photographs of women are hyper-sexualized and many images of Latina’s in the media are quite one dimensional. Their most well known work is their calendar series ‘The Datebook Calendar” that grabbed the attention of Univision ,Vice’s ‘The Creators Project’ and Allure Magazine — the ladies of MoreMulher are currently in production for their third calendar and Laura is working on some personal projects rooted in styling and beauty shoots.
Where does your family come from?
Amelia: My father is Cuban, and my mother is adopted. We just found out via genetic testing that she’s actually half eastern European and half Middle-Eastern. She, too, though grew up in a primarily Cuban neighborhood, allowing her to learn Spanish and traditional Cuban cooking. As far as cultural practices though, Cuban-American is all I can rightfully claim.
Laura: My family is originally from Constanza, Dominican Republic. My grandma moved down to Santo Domingo and there she established future generations before bringing them to NYC in the late 90s for better and safer opportunities.
What neighborhood did you grow up in? What was it like?
Amelia: My family collectively hails from Union City, New Jersey, but I spent most of my childhood in lower Bergen County. Despite upper Bergen County’s reputation for wealth and stank, the county’s lower portion (specifically, Ridgefield Park) was small, diverse, and pretty humble. Many families from uptown — i.e. The Heights and/or the Bx — moved to RP to raise their kids, since it was so close to the bridge. Because of this, I always had a lot of close Dominican and Puerto Rican friends growing up — you know I was eating good.
Laura: I grew up partially in one of Santo Domingo’s most dangerous and populated barrios and then moved to Dyckman, NYC at the age of 8. A few years later, we moved to the Bronx and have been here for over 13 years. So all of that moving kinda makes it difficult to decide which neighborhood really raised me. But because the Bronx exposed me to the real hardships of being challenged by my socioeconomic status (in every way), I like to say the Bronx raised me. My mom knew I loved art from a very young age so she made sure I attended a school that had an emphasis on art programs. With that, I was somewhat protected from the dangers of attending school in the Bronx but I was still dealing with a lot of fights and incompetent teachers who released their anger with the Board of Ed on their students. I remember one night coming out of dance class and literally opening the door to witness an intense ass knife fight that was over a phone. We had to just wait it out because there was no other way home. I don’t want to say violence is what defines my experience with growing up in the Bronx, but because of those experiences I am definitely more aware of my surroundings and acknowledge that the worst can always happen. I use that to counter balance my motivation and focus on making a positive impact on everyone I meet.
Three facts about yourself that derive from your culture
Amelia: My culture definitely influenced my love for traditions, like food and dance. It influenced how cariñosa I am with the people I care about, both verbally and physically. Lastly, it influenced my frankness and honesty, because I was always taught to speak my mind — and I do it loudly.
Laura: I never let anyone finesse me — Dominicans are very good at getting what they want so it’s easy for us to know when someone’s trying to finesse us. My femininity definitely comes from growing up with Dominican women who always make sure they look presentable. How hospitable I am with everyone, disregarding who they might be or where they come from. If you enter my home or space, you will be treated with the utmost respect until you lose that because of your actions.
What was it like growing up within hip-hop culture while growing up [Dominican/Cuban/Puerto Rican/etc]?
Laura: I actually learned English through the hip-hop culture so I appreciate it so fucking much. It was a challenge trying to convince my family that it wasn’t as detrimental as it might have seemed. It was difficult to balance my love for hip-hop and all Hispanic genres I was “suppose to be” listening to but I think that helped me be as open minded as I am now.
What is your favorite Spanish saying?
Amelia: “Dime con quién andas, y te dire quién tú eres.” (Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are)
Laura: “No te dejes llevar por la corriente.” (Do not get carried away by the current) I love it because I always think about that when I feel like other people are trying hard to influence my personal decisions. It reminds me to always choose my own path and avoid feeling like I’m being dragged by other forces.
What’s your favorite mami/abuela dish?
Amelia: Homemade ropa vieja (stewed beef + veggies), definitely.
Laura: Ugh it’s so hard to choose! But I think the ultimate mouth watering dish is when my grandma makes moro de guandules con costillas (ribs) al horno, but then fries the ribs after they’ve been baked. Can’t forget the ensalada de papa (potato salad)! Too delicious!
Is your neighborhood changing as gentrification floods NYC? In what ways?
Amelia: I’m not originally from the city, so I can’t say for sure. My hometown in Jersey, though, has actually experienced the reverse aspect of this. With many New York natives being displaced by (typically, white) transplants, it’s caused an influx of more and more New Yorkers to move out of the city and into towns in Jersey like mine. A word of advice for out of towners: I’ve lived in and out of the city for about 6 years now, and I try to make it a point to shop within my neighborhood. It seems gentrification is a runaway train, but it can be hindered a bit by giving back to the communities that you decide to move to. Oh, and stop trying to change a neighborhood that existed perfectly fine on its own before you moved there
Laura: It’s been happening very slowly to my neighborhood but to the surrounding ones it’s been an overnight kind of change. There are new shopping centers and the restaurants are leaning towards fine dining and high end decor. It’s very strange to see it happening. I’m internally torn because I am frustrated that it’s meant to attract gentrifiers who will cause the price of anything and everything to rise. But on the other hand, good things are coming to our neighborhoods. The areas are cleaner and the city planning is actually beneficial to our safety. So it’s like I’m angry but I understand that I should be happy because those changes wouldn’t have happened on our own terms.
Do you think that there is an accurate representation of women like you in the media? (If so, who? If not — who would you want to see blow up?)
Amelia: Yes, and no. While there are many Latinxs in Hollywood, you wouldn’t know it, because not many speak out on relative issues or show much pride. I wanna see more chicks like Cardi B & Kali Uchis & Princess Nokia in media — women who stick to their own individual narratives while staying true to the culture. I’d love even more so to see a diverse spectrum of Latinxs blow up, who are conscious and aware of social issues at hand — it’s too tense of a time in our country for you to have a platform and not use it for the greater good.
Laura: There isn’t. I used to think Jennifer Lopez and Shakira were very great representations but there’s a clear divide between them and the everyday Latina. Both are very westernized. I would like to see more of what the writers from ‘Orange is the New Black’ did with the Dominican characters. That was very raw and not insulting to our story as a community — but instead it was very informative.
How did you feel when ‘baby-hairs’ and doorknockers were appropriated by the fashion world?
Amelia: How does the saying go? “Disappointed but not surprised?” Honestly, fashion is anything but original these days. I majored in fashion in college, and I went to school with a lot of people who perpetuated this trend in appropriation, yet were quick to make comments about POC (it’s okay because you love Rihanna though, right?). I just find it interesting that the same Mumfords-&-Sons-looking-asses who slighted my intelligence in school by calling me “ratchet” and asked me to explain what “dead ass” meant are now the same people doing prayer-hand-rap-squat poses in all their photos and preaching wokeness to their colleagues. Sure, Jan.
Laura: It was stupid. First of all, not everyone has baby hairs. I saw some runway shows where they REACHED and tried to do baby hairs on white models who did not have any whatsoever. You can definitely see how they tried to commodify something that’s so dear to our culture and failed at it. They can try, but they can never be us.
What advice do you have for young Latinx who are affected by the White House’s attempt to end DACA/Dreamer’s Act?
Amelia: Know your rights. Protect yourself. Don’t give up hope. Always be aware of who you can and cannot trust. Get others involved.
Laura: Stay aware of all political decisions and information released by the media. Although sometimes it can be false or altered, it’s very important to know exactly what’s going on — good or bad. You wanna know each stance so you are prepared for all conversations. During times like these, it’s important to educate rather than to argue. A lot of the reasoning behind this problematic decision is because Trump’s administration is very ignorant and they don’t really understand DACA’s intentions. People who agree with the administration are just as uneducated and close minded so we can’t waste our time hating them. They must be educated. I also want to emphasize strength. Focus and stay strong. You’ve made it this far — past all the times you felt defeated and beyond all of the hardships your family has dealt and still deals with, you’ve made it this far. So keep that in mind at all times, please.
What do you do to keep yourself sane during the Orange One’s administration?
Laura: I try to read up on everything but keep my emotions under control. I’m a very anxious person and all of this is actually super detrimental to my mental health — but my purpose on this earth is to help everyone I can. I can’t help if I don’t know what’s happening. So I stay educated on as much as I can but avoid reflecting on social media platforms. I have daily conversations with my peers, close friends and family members on all of the unconstitutional things his administration is doing. I just can’t deal with arguing with Trump supporters on Twitter. I’d rather eat glass.
Do you see yourself protected by policies passed by our gov? Have you or someone you know been affected by the the current administration?
Amelia: My best friend is also Latinx, but one who identifies as trans, and if this administration gets its way, it could mean a lot of trouble for them. As far as myself no, I don’t feel protected either. While it’s obvious that this administration has done nothing but potentially harm and distress women/POC/the LGTBQ community, it also alarms me that 53% of white women voted for Trump, because I don’t believe any woman — regardless of race — is safe in his hands. Jokes on them, I guess.
If you can pick one, what is your favorite part of your culture/experience? Feel free to list more.
Laura: The brutal honesty. You can visit any Dominican household and within the first 10–15mins you will know if they like you or not because they are very honest and very good at reading intentions. Experiencing honesty so raw, whether it was kind or not, has been a very important tool in my life. But the FOOD, the music, the women, oh the women. All favorites.
Any stories of being at work + dealing w racism/sexism or plain stereotypes by coworkers?
Amelia: At work, not so much. I think in the workplace, being the only Hispanic on my team, my perspective is appreciated more than stereotyped. I would say it happens more so in personal (often intimate) relationships. It’s very easy to be fetishized by non-Latinx lovers, and it’s often hard for people to separate your individuality from your ethnicity once they learn it. It’s like automatically you are grouped within a stereotype. Yeah, I identify as Latina, yeah it’s a big part of who I am, but I also want to be seen as my own person, too. Get me?
Laura: I usually have to deal with the strange looks and questions when it comes to my food. I try to eat as many home cooked meals as possible before I lose that luxury. So when I bring in my own food and decide to add a banana to my moro (rice and beans) ` or something they’re like, “omg what!? Everyone come look at this! She’s such an island girl for that! What other weird stuff do you eat??” It kills me. People that ignorant have no filter and I really wish they had no ability to speak instead. I also get a surprised reaction when they hear me say I’m Dominican after I’ve been speaking proper English. Because you know, I should’ve been rowdy and yelled every word instead. My favorite is, “you’re too soft spoken to be Dominican, you’re probably half white.” Sigh.
Who is your favorite Latinx person?
Amelia: If we’re talking celebrities, I’m always going to go with Celia Cruz. She’s idolized by Cubans everywhere, so it’s an obvious answer, but an honest one, too. If we’re speaking across all boards, though, I’d say my Abuelo is my favorite Latinx person. He passed away recently, and I wish I had spent more time with him. I miss him and his stories very much
Laura: My grandmother.
Name your biggest fashion influencers.
Amelia: Sita Abellan. Solange. Old school J Lo. Any reggaeton video extra between 2001–2007. Oh, and my all-time favorite: Coco Pink Princess.
Laura: Solange, Zendaya, Yeha Leung, and Karla Deras — just to name the ones I drool over every day.
Do you channel your Hispanic heritage in your work?
Laura: I’ve had people say that I do even though it’s not intentional. I don’t want to narrow my work to only cater Hispanic/Latina women but I can’t deny that they are my inspiration. I take the feminine aspects that I’ve acquired through my upbringings and share them with everyone I meet in hopes that they might learn something they weren’t previously aware of.
Cardi B sits next to you on the train- what do you tell her?
Amelia: It will be hard to tell her anything through my tears, because I will be joyously and hysterically crying. I guess if I could tell her anything, it would be that I’m rooting for her, and I want to see more artists like her winning.
Laura: First, I would die. I’ve actually written to her so many times. I don’t care if she reads it and doesn’t reply. I will continue to let her know how fucking HAPPY and PROUD I am of her. She deserves this forreal. For the Bronx, for her family, for her growth. She earned this and I’m happy she’s displaying how someone can still reach that level of fame and STAY HUMBLE. I would definitely take her portrait if I’m blessed enough to have her sit next to me.
Name a song played at home while your parents cleaned
Amelia: We’re not Puerto Rican, but growing up my parents were hella into the Boriqua Anthem by C + C Music Factory con El General (it’s a bop, I’m not sorry). If we dial it back a generation, my grandparents always had Celia on. Specifically “Cuba Que Lindos Son Tus Paisajes” with Willy Chirino. Another song that comes to mind is “Esquina Habanera” by Hansel Y Raul…I don’t think they ever stopped missing Cuba, and these songs reflect that.
Spanish trap — yay or nay?
Amelia: Hell yeah. I love Bad Bunny.
Laura: Whatever, let them experiment. But you won’t catch me pumping that.
Dating: Latinx men/women vs any other — pros/cons.
Amelia: I think the obvious pros would be the cultural similarities, i.e. food, language, and dance, that would make things comfortable. It’s hard to talk about cons without generalizing. However, I don’t exclusively date Latino men. Limiting myself like that would just be inhibiting potential romances.
Do you feel you have a seat at the table when topics on black culture come up?
Amelia: It’s not my place to speak on. I think my job in this situation is to keep my eyes and ears open, listen to my friends, hear their concerns, and do whatever I can to ensure that they feel safe and acknowledged.
Laura: I do, even if it’s just to be the person throwing in random but very important statistics regarding the effects of socioeconomic status on black culture that are often ignored. I majored in Sociology concentrating in urban communities so through my studies and personal experiences as a POC I’ve learned a lot I’d love to share with others and vice versa.
One thing you’d like to see our communities do better at:
Amelia: Own up to colorism. Stop glorifying Eurocentric/Spaniard beauty. Acknowledge our roots. For white/white-passing Latinx people (like myself) use that privilege to give back and uplift others who need it.
Laura: Educating our parents and old folks. I feel like because of their age we want to believe they know it all. But they don’t. They know only what has been taught or what they’ve personally experienced yet want to act like that’s the only way to live life. I want us to understand that it’s never too late to learn new skills, new information on all educational topics, technology, etc.
We want our Girl Mob to grow — who are some of your favorite women of color on social media?
Amelia: On both Twitter and Instagram, @yung_nihilist. She’s a comedic genius as well as an extremely insightful friend and activist. On IG, I also love the work of @johannareign, aka @theunapologeticallybrownseries, una Salvadoreña activist who puts up posters and artwork representing the beauty of brown and black women all over NYC.
Laura: @marzyjane, @palomija, @EboneeDavis, @rociomarie__, @leahabbott_, Cassey Chanel, @aliyah.monet, @fatherlyjals — I can go on forever but I’ll stop here
Stay tuned for part 3 of this series — I hope you enjoyed picking their brains as much as I did. It’s a blessing to be the bridge, I hope you found new girls to support!
Amelia was photographed by: Alyza Enriquez and Chris Alfonso
Laura was photographed by herself!