Zaira Funes has always felt proud of her Salvadoran roots. But in the last three months, her love for El Salvador has blossomed into a celebration of all of Central America. On February 28, she launched @CentAm_Beauty – an account initially intended to showcase art from Panama, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Instead, she’s contributing to the growing space Central Americans have carved out for themselves on Twitter. Along the way, she has gained encyclopedic knowledge of Central America.
Traditional Kuna art from Panama pic.twitter.com/qhHTDObAT4
— Central American Art (@CentAm_Beauty) May 5, 2017
Funes began the Twitter account because she grew tired of the way the media portrayed Central America. While news outlets must report on the gang violence that plagues Central America, their reports look at the area through a myopic lens. They never delve deeper into the beauty and richness of the isthmus, which in turn, skews public perception about Central American culture. “I hadn’t really seen a positive outlook on Central Americans online,” she told me in a phone interview. “And that was really bugging me for a long time. So I just created this kind of like, as sort of a fun hobby. I didn’t think it was really gonna expand this much.”
“I hadn’t really seen a positive outlook on Central Americans online. And that was really bugging me.”
The account has a modest, but very engaged following. From the beginning, @CentAm_Beauty followers have sent Zaira tips and ideas for content. They’ve also messaged her to thank her for starting the account. And if you scroll through this labor of love, it’s obvious why it resonates with so many.
Central Americans (or those of Central American descent) don’t easily find their unique experiences written about – even within Latino media. While posts about Mexican slang and snacks remain prevalent, it’s not as common to see an outlet breaking down whether Nicaraguans prefer being called Nica, Nicoya, or Pinolero. Many outlets also won’t dedicate space to the knickknacks found inside Central American homes, Garifuna musician turned politician Aurelio Martínez, or anything that highlights the often overlooked Belize. But @CentAm_Beauty is doing this, while spotlighting Central American success.
Indigenous Guatemalan women reversing the role of colonial gaze pic.twitter.com/ZW6G4qP8J9
— Central American Art (@CentAm_Beauty) May 2, 2017
Growing up in Southern California, Zaira didn’t have a network of Central American friends. “[Where I grew up] was mostly white, and the Latino kids were usually Mexican,” she said. “There were a lot of things that my Mexican friends said that a lot of times I couldn’t relate to, or the accents and slangs. I couldn’t relate to them, so I often felt excluded from it.”
Both in Latin America and the United States, there’s tension between Mexicans and Central Americans. However, Zaira didn’t feel animosity from her Mexican schoolmates. In fact, her Mexican friends asked her questions about El Salvador. But she still had to change the way she spoke so that her friends could understand her. That meant dropping voseo – the use of vos – in favor of tuteo, the use of tú. She began reclaiming voseo a few years ago, because it’s a part of who she is.
— Central American Art (@CentAm_Beauty) May 24, 2017
But with @Cent_Am Beauty, she’s found her own community.
And in the last few months, @CentAm_Beauty has also become part of her. Just scrolling through her Twitter feed, it’s obvious she spends many hours finding content. This month – to honor Asian Pacific American Heritage Month – she’s highlighted Central Americans of Asian descent, including Myrna Mack Chang and Jorge Cham. On International Women’s Day, with the help of her sister, Zaira spent the entire day tweeting about Central American women. Zaira, who is a full-time student at Long Beach City College, devotes a few hours a day to doing research. Zaira – who recently started an accompanying Instagram page – takes it a bit easier on weekends. Recently, she also started an accompanying Instagram page.
Funes is also vocal about Central America on her personal Twitter account – something that has brought her some critics. Recently, she tweeted, “Local Twitter thinks I post too much on Central America. Not gonna apologize for finally getting recognition when too often we are ignored.” But with @Cent_Am Beauty, she’s found her own community.
Follow @CentAm_Beauty on Twitter.