One photograph shows two Dominican women at a Brooklyn grocery store – where several Power Rangers balloons float over their heads – buying a cake for a relative’s graduation. Another highlights a Salvadoran couple – the woman tending to their baby, while the man holds a plate of food and a can – on graffiti-accented train. Or there’s the one where a well-accessorized Cuban woman – whose hair is styled to perfection in a high bun topped with pearls – holds a possibly sleepy baby on a couch. Apart, these images capture different aspects and milestones of these people’s lives. Together, though, they form a portrait of Latino New York. All of these snapshots are featured on Nuevayorkinos, a new Instagram account that aims document the diverse experiences of Latinxs who grew up in New York City.
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“ These are my parents. My father is from Colombia; he left to America because he was a gold miner and Colombia was corrupt during the drug wars with Pablo Escobar. My mother is from Peru because there weren’t many opportunities for women, even though she had a whole nursing degree there. This picture is a day before my parents wedding. A lot of people don’t understand how hard the decision is whether to have kids or not while being illegal, let alone get married. I am so grateful for what opportunities my parents have given me and have worked so hard to become self sufficient in the US.” – @ibbinibia Isabel and Luis Sierra, a day before their wedding. December 18th, 1998. White Plains, NY. Submitted by @ibbinibia —— “ Estos son mis padres. Mi padre es colombiano; se fue a los EEUU porque era un minero de oro y Colombia fue corrupta durante las guerras de las drogas con Pablo Escobar. Mi madre es peruana. No había muchas oportunidades para las mujeres, a pesar de que tenía un título completo de enfermería allí. Esta foto es un día antes de la boda de mis padres. Mucha gente no entiende cuán difícil es la decisión de tener hijos o no mientras es ilegal, y mucho menos casarse. Estoy muy agradecido por las oportunidades que mis padres me han brindado y por haber trabajado tan duro para ser autosuficientes en los Estados Unidos ". – @ibbinibia Isabel y Luis Sierra, un día antes de su boda. 18 de diciembre de 1998. White Plains, NY. —— “ Esses são meus pais. Meu pai é colombiano; ele partiu para a América porque era mineiro de ouro e a Colômbia foi corrupta durante as guerras de drogas com Pablo Escobar. Minha mãe é peruana. Não havia muitas oportunidades para as mulheres, embora ela tivesse uma graduação completa de enfermagem lá. Esta foto é um dia antes dos meus pais se casarem. Muitas pessoas não entendem o quanto a decisão é ter filhos ou não, sendo ilegal, muito menos se casar. Sou muito grato pelas oportunidades que meus pais me deram e trabalhei tanto para me tornar auto-suficiente nos EUA. ”- @ibbinibia Isabel e Luis Sierra, um dia antes do casamento. 18 de dezembro de 1998. White Plains, NY. #nuevayorkinos
Behind the nostalgia-driven Instagram is Djali Brown-Cepeda, a second-generation Dominican-American who grew up in NYC with a passion for history.
“My family is very big on documenting and learning about history and genealogy; my mother [Raquel Cepeda] wrote a book, Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina, which was part memoir about growing up in DR, California (briefly), and 1980s New York City, and part ancestral DNA journey,” Brown-Cepeda tells me in an email. “My paternal grandmother, who I affectionally call Mima, has also been extremely influential in my love for and interest in history, particularly in the Indigenous history of the Americas. So I was born into a lineage of historians, so to speak.”
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“ That was one of my safe spaces. Lisa’s parents will never know how grateful I am to the for being so welcoming to me in their home. My real home, several blocks away, was hell.” – Raquel Cepeda 16-year-old Raquel Cepeda sitting on her best friend’s steps on Broadway & 213th St in Inwood, New York, 1989. Submitted by @raquelcepeda —— “ Ese era uno de mis espacios seguros. Los padres de Lisa nunca sabrán cuán agradecidos estoy con el hecho de ser tan acogedores conmigo en su hogar. Mi verdadera casa, que estaba a unas pocas blockes de distancia, era el infierno.”- Raquel Cepeda Raquel Cepeda, quien tenía 16 años, sentada en los pasos de su mejor amiga en Broadway y Calle 213 en Inwood, Nueva York, 1989. —— “ Esse era um dos meus espaços seguros. Os pais de Lisa nunca saberão o quanto sou grato ao fato de serem tão receptivos a mim em sua casa. Minhacasa real, que ficava a alguns quarteirões dali, era o inferno. ”- Raquel Cepeda Raquel Cepeda, de 16 anos, sentada nos degraus de seu melhor amigo na Broadway & 213th St, em Inwood, Nova York, 1989. #raquelcepeda #nuevayorkinos
Naturally, this meant she was drawn to other archival accounts, such as Veteranas and Rucas, Blvck Vrchives, SUNU Journal, and more, but she felt something was missing. So on Valentine’s Day she launched with an image of her mom, at age 16, sitting on the steps of a friend’s home in Inwood. The accompanying caption – written in English, Spanish, and Portuguese (Djali translates them herself) – provides some context.
At a time when there’s such animus against communities of color and our president actively speaks down on immigrants, Djali feels it’s important to tell this history, in our own words. “There is such a strong, toxic, white supremacist, nationalist, xenophobic, anti-immigration sentiment throughout the United States that I felt compelled to document us from our perspective – sharing our imagery and accompanying stories of drive, perseverance, resilience,” Djali adds.
And it seems people agree. In the two weeks since she posted her first photo, she’s gone on to post 34 more, gained nearly 500 followers in the process, and already received about 200 photos in her inbox. She’s also gotten overwhelmingly positive responses.
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Tisa & @hoodrichj’s sister, @bbygalish. Parkchester, Bronx, New York by way of Cuba. 1996. Submitted by @hoodrichj ——— Tisa y la hermana de @hoodrichj, @bbygalish. Parkchester, Bronx, Nueva York. Son de Cuba. 1996. —— Tisa e a irmã de @hoodrichj, @bbygalish. Parkchester, Bronx, Nova Iorque. Eles são da Cuba. #nuevayorkinos
“So many people comment on how necessary this is – a project centered on us, by us, in a time where we are on the receiving end of widespread anti-Latinx [and] xenophobic rhetoric,” she says. “Since all of the photos are from 2000 and before, I receive messages saying that the project brings them back to a time of their innocence and childhood. Something that’s truly heartwarming is that upon coming across this project, people have visited their families’ houses in search for photos.”
With the Instagram account – which includes people from Central America, South America, and the Caribbean – Djali is already showing the varied Latinx immigrant experience, but she hopes to push it further. While some people don’t categorize those from Haiti or Belize as Latinxs, others do. Though she cannot translate the captions into French and Kreyol, she can include the stories of groups who have a shared history with the rest of Latin America but are often excluded from the Latinx narrative.
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“ My sisters and I lived with our single mother in a two bedroom apartment on Maujer Street & Union Ave in Williamsburg throughout my childhood and adolecence. Every Christmas, my mom would take us to my Tio Antonio’s house on Linden Street in Bushwick to spend Noche Buena with my cousins and Tias, comiendo y hablando de tan fulano from down the block. I don’t remember the last Christmas we spent there but I remember this specific Noche Buena. Mami bought me a brand new Leopard pant suit with a matching vest and headband from Happy Days on Grand Street and I was determined to stunt on my cousin Stephanie.” – Katherine Mendoza Katherine G. Mendoza (8), Michelle A Arizmendi (11) & Josephine K Acosta (13). Sisters. Bushwick, Brooklyn. Noche Buena. 1996. Submitted by @katherineg.mendoza —— “ Mis hermanas y yo vivíamos con nuestra mami, quien era soltera, en un apartamento de dos habitaciones en la calle Maujer y avenida Union en Williamsburg durante mi infancia y mi adolecencia. Cada Navidad, mi mamá nos llevaba a la casa de mi Tio Antonio en Calle Linden en Bushwick para pasar Noche Buena con mis primos y tías, comiendo y hablando de tan fulano de la cuadra. No recuerdo la última Navidad que pasamos allí, pero recuerdo esta Noche Buena específica. Mami me compró un nuevo pantalón leopardo con un chaleco y una diadema a juego de Happy Days en Calle Grand y estaba decidida a atrofiar a mi prima Stephanie ". – Katherine Mendoza Katherine G. Mendoza (8), Michelle A Arizmendi (11) y Josephine K Acosta (13). Hermanas Bushwick, Brooklyn. Noche Buena. 1996. #nuevayorkinos
“This is a Latinx project – not a Hispanic project – and as such, all Latin American folk are to be represented in this, including French/Kreyol- and Portuguese-speaking populations,” she adds. “So I’ve accepted submissions from Haitian families, Brazilian families, and even some Martinican families. Latinx and Hispanic are not synonymous terms, and I hope to highlight that in this project.”