Black and Latinx New Yorkers reframe their experiences through archival photos
As a Black Indigenous Latina, Djali Brown-Cepeda, a filmmaker, archivist and founder of NuevaYorkinos and BLK THEN, never saw herself represented in media. She remembers watching TV shows and not seeing anyone who looked like her. Growing up, the intersection of Djali's identities was never portrayed in mainstream media; since then, she's recognized the need to amplify the experiences of Afro-Latinxs in New York City. One day, scrolling through Instagram, she found Guadalupe Rosales' archival project, Veteranas and Rucas, dedicated for women in Southern California to document their experiences as Latinas on the West Coast.
Inspired by Veteranas and Rucas, Djali created these archival projects to showcase the experiences of people like herself in New York City — that's how Nueva Yorkinos was born, to reframe the past and the narratives of Latinxs across the spectrum and the diasporic blackness in New York City. While BLK THEN was created to show the intersections of being Black in the city.
"Regardless of whether your roots are Caribbean, Latin American or from the South," Brown-Cepeda said of her archival projects, "coming from a Dominican mother and Black Indigenous father from the South by way of the Bronx, it was my way of artistically expressing myself in the most holistic way possible."
Brown-Cepeda said the projects serve as a venue to reflect on a rapidly changing city. "How much it hurts to no longer feel safe speaking your language in your neighborhood," she said. "How hard it is, seeing an influx of highly exclusionary people and their unaffordable businesses on your street, since you know you may not be able to stay in your apartment of 20+ years much longer."
Here are some of the entries native New Yorkers sent to Nueva Yorkinos and BLK THEN:
"In 1998, I began understanding what it meant to be a Black girl and how magical and radiant we are. This picture symbolizes preservation of my roots, culture and most of all, the respect I have for Mother Africa. I thank my mother for enrolling me and keeping me grounded in reclaiming my blackness. Growing up a young Afro-Panameña / Afro-American from el Bronx means everything to me. I too will instill the same lessons into my children and am so blessed that my beautiful Black queen raised me to love all of me."
– Jenay Wright
"On my father's side, I grew up with my grandma Santa. She moved back and forth from the island sometimes without much notice but ultimately made her final resting stop for many years in Brooklyn, New York. I spent much of my teenage years at her house watching Telemundo and learning Spanish. A spiritist, when I saw her wear a red pañuelo and red sweater, I knew she meant business. My mother's side, I didn't know at all, but I sensed they knew me. They were African women living on the island of Puerto Rico. My great-great-great grandmother, a feminist for her time, would chew tobacco, drink rum and chase men with machetes who would abuse their wives — Guillermina, she lived to be well over 100. The ancestral heritage and history I learned from them would lead me to my ancestral ways."
HAITI & PUERTO RICO
"I was 5 years old at Brooklyn's West Indian Day Parade. My mom dressed me up in layers of white and gold to hit the Parkway in style and take part in the intoxicating rhythms around me. I remember marveling at the colorful arrangements of Caribbean flags fluttering to the beat in the air. And I was convinced that the Haitian flag she proudly held danced with the most joy. Though years pass, our relationship suffered moments of episodic turmoil, distance, and healing, it is this foundation she laid to remain close to my roots, close to the island and close to family."
– Raia Garvin
"My father, Joel Perez, was born and raised in the Bronx. The youngest of five children, his mother, Estrella, was a seamstress from Arecibo, Puerto Rico. My father's sister Luzcelenia later introduced him to my mother and got her involved with the Lucumi religion. My father never was able to make Ocha due to having on and off drug use. My mother, daughter of Yemaya, was able to, and had two children of Shango. I was crowned in Sonia Olo Obatala's basement in NYC in August 1993. Through my aunt Luz Oloshunde (Ibae) and our lineage from Andrea Trujillo (ewin yimi), my family was able to birth five generations of Lucumi priests all over the globe."
– Natalie Pagán Oba Yomi
"My parents both migrated from Dominican Republic at separate times. My dad arrived as a teenager, and my mom arrived in her late 20s while stuck in an abusive marriage and with three kids still on the island. After a few months in NYC, my mom's ex-husband was deported on drug charges and she found herself free for the first time. My mom and dad met and fell in love in Harlem. My brother and I were born shortly after. It's not a happily ever after kind of love story, but it was real love. I think about the power of love very often — how nothing else could have held our families and spirits together in the face of an overwhelmingly brutal empire that denies our value and yet extracts our labor. It hasn't been easy, but here we are ... learning to love and connect in new ways in this new world."
– Catherine Feliz
"We grew up in East New York, a few houses away from each other, until Mami moved my sister and me to New Jersey for a better life. In 1995, a few years after returning back to Brooklyn, we had a chance encounter under the L train on New Lots Avenue and began dating. We've seen the best and worst of each other throughout the 20+ years of being together, but there is no one else I'd rather grow through life with — from raising four boys and now loving up on our two granddaughters; from two Brooklyn kids in hardscrabble East New York to homeowners."
"She's from Moca, Dominican Republic, and was born in 1896. She owned property in Puerto Rico and was very pro-black — a unique worldview for a dark-skin Afro-Latina in the early 1900s. She had tea remedies for all kinds of conditions. She took in her three great-granddaughters (ages 3-7) when their parents abandoned them in order to keep them together when she was already in her 70s — one of which was my mother, pictured on the right. She passed away in 1987."
– Nilsa Salgado
"I don't have many photos of my parents together — they divorced when I was about 8 or 9 — but I love this photo. It's the afros and the smiles for me. I imagine they must have been the last two at the house party. Afro-Latinos. I guess I get it from my Momma and my Daddy."
– Suley Cruz
"My mother and father migrated in 1988 from a small town called Bonao in the Dominican Republic. They had three children but raised four here. My father was a cab driver and my mother was a caretaker of the elderly. She forcefully had given up her identity to serve those around her because it's what she was taught. She is the kind of woman I aspire to be. When I was a child, I used to think she was a superhero, but now I know she is one."
– Lizbel Ortiz
"This is me and my best friend, Conguero. Our families arrived in New York at the same time, during the 1960s. Mine are Black Americans who escaped from the murderous turmoil in the backwoods of South and North Carolina during Jim Crow, and his are Black Americans who escaped from the deadly swamps of Louisiana and Puerto Ricans who fled the poverty of Bayamon ... Our people eventually met in Southside Jamaica, Queens. His older family members had country accents like my family, and I was able to speak Spanish like his. He teaches me how to play congas while I teach him about old Black music. We joke a lot, we hurt, we laugh, we argue, but in the end, we family."
"This is my father, Joaquin Figueroa Jr. (also known as Figgy). One of six children whose family migrated from Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, in the 1960s and resided in the Bedford-Stuyvesant ('Bed-Stuy, Do-Or-Die') area of Brooklyn, New York. You saw him tearing up the Salsa dance floors seven days a week at clubs like The Corso, Marion Manor, Casino 14-La Mancha, Roseland and many more. ¡Vaya Boricua!"
– Figgy Jr.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC & PUERTO RICO
"Here is a picture of my mother and father. She is Puerto Rican; he is Dominican. They were 16 when they met in the boogie down Bronx, a time when drugs and gangs were at an all-time high. The second picture is on their wedding day, Feb. 14. They got married at 18, had three daughters together. They are still friends to this day. They'll reminisce a lot on the times they were young, reckless and in love; the Bronx had its ugly, but it had some beauty, as well."
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