While social media can amplify a lot of toxic behavior, it can also give us some pretty cool things, ranging from lighthearted memes to a sense of community. For many whose stories are invisible (or nearly invisible) in mainstream media, the popularity of social media has allowed them to find people whose experiences match their own. This, in turn, has allowed many creatives to find a bigger audience, something Irvin Benitez – the founder and event producer behind Brunch Bounce, The Greatest Day Ever! Music Festival & Carnival, and You Had to Be There – has witnessed happening for Dominican creatives.
“Dominican creatives have been around and doing their thing for a long while,” Benitez said. “The rise is only in the discovery of said creatives, due to the reach of social media going further and further. It’s a blessing really not only for existing creatives, but for young kids growing up seeing people that look like them or come from where they come from betting on themselves and living our their dreams.”
As Dominican Heritage Month – which runs between January 21 and February 27 – winds down, we tapped Benitez to help us curate a list of Dominican creatives that you should be following. And while they come from diverse industries and speak to their followers in different ways, they have a few things in common. “I’ve had the pleasure of watching each of them manifest their visions in their respective spaces and actualize them,” Benitez added. “They’ve each remained true to themselves and have represented our culture every step of the way.”
Naiomy Guerrero is an important voice in the art world. The Dominican-American art history scholar and arts equity advocate, whose research has shown up on Teen Vogue, Artsy, and NPR Latino – focuses on contemporary Latinx artists, how the Latinx art market has changed, and the contributions of these communities to US art history.
Ray Polanco is a creative consultant and photographer, who describes himself as a “mentor to creatives & sneaker industry hopefuls.” In this role, he’s worked with many brands, including adidas, Nike, and Puma. Last year, he teamed up with Converse to create a shoe – called Puro Platano – that pays tribute to the island. “I knew this was an opportunity to represent the Dominican Republic in a way that hasn’t been seen in the sneaker industry,” he wrote in a blog post. “No, seriously, Google “Dominican sneakers” and the results are quite redundant. With that said, I was excited to cook something up (literally for the culture.
“I wanted to go deeper than just reinterpreting the flag, I wanted people of other cultural backgrounds to learn something about us and honor my people at the same time. Sneakers are the perfect canvas to communicate a message because of their worldwide appeal.”
Farah Vargas first built a name for herself through her fashion, beauty, and lifestyle content, which allowed her to work with several brands, such as Pantene, Zappos, and American Express. She followed that up by launching Pinkness Co., her own brand, in 2018. Her brand is all about “celebrating magical beings and culture.”
Originally from Corona, Queens, Moonshine is one of the forces behind APT.4B, a concept store and clothing brand that first existed as a visual installation art pop-up shop. Alongside Monique, APT.4B “reflects a ’90s-era New York City hustler’s apartment to better illustrate where the brand’s ideas & inspiration stem from. It was rooms & scenes like this in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s that were the birthplace of street culture,” the site reads. “These were the laboratories where music, fashion, and the lifestyle were discussed & dissected. The APT.4B brand is aimed at paying homage to an era that spoke to US.”
Anhia Zahira Santana – aka Distortedd – is a visual artist, who has gained a following for her interesting work. In 2016, the Fader wrote about her because of her illustrations, which turned “childhood icons into nightmares.” She has drawn since a young age. “When I was a kid, it was something I naturally did,” she told the magazine. “My dad was a big influence on my art. He can draw really good. He got arrested when I was 8 and was in jail for a few years before he got deported to the Dominican Republic. He would write me all the time and always send me art, which really sparked a fuse in my head. We would send art back and forth to each other, and that was basically how we built our relationship from jail.”
Juan Veloz, who splits his time between LA and NY, is a self-taught photographer. He was one of a few NY-based photographer to shoot Nike’s “De lo mío” Air Force 1 campaign. His photos featured his grandmother (and his mom served as the shoot’s creative director). He credits his background as part of his success.
“Being Dominican-American means I’m unstoppable,” he told i-D. “Anything I put my mind to I will achieve it. In my opinion, there’s nothing better than being a Dominican man who speaks fluent English and Spanish.”