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.
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.”
Djali Brown-Cepeda is accepting submissions – photos and videos taken before the year 2000 – for Nuevayorkinos. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow the Instagram page here.