@nuevayorkinos is combating reductive stereotypes and fighting against the cultural erasure of gentrification through user-submitted photos and memories
“Any project, voice, or work out there vowed to telling stories organically are important stepping stones in the fight for the eradication of stereotypical storytelling,” says researcher, producer and model Djali Brown-Cepeda. This is exactly what the New Yorker has done with her project @nuevayorkinos, an Instagram archive of family snapshots from the account’s Latinx followers who were raised – or have lived in – any of the Big Apple’s five boroughs. Each post, be it an old photo of a birthday party, wedding reception or even just kids hanging out in the park, is accompanied by a caption in English, Spanish and Portuguese describing the memories and stories behind the smiles.
Brown-Cepeda’s decision to launch the project came from of a direct recognition of the gaps in representation which she was seeing around her; one night whilst scrolling through her IG feed she noticed that her experiences and history as an Afrolatina New Yorker was largely under-documented. Digital archives dedicated to West Coast Latinx culture, history, and activism are steadily growing across social media platforms but Brown-Cepeda felt that she needed to do something to represent the East Coast perspective. “Those stories are needed and their existence is radical. In the same breath, those stories and images are not the only Latinx experience.”
The archive serves as a love-letter to the city she grew up in, and a recognition of the identities that have been, and continue to be, forged there. NYC has also been at the forefront of the cultural conversation and many of the new art forms that have emerged from the city have come from a place of hybridity. As Brown-Cepeda puts it; “(New York is) where global art forms were created by our people who, through disenfranchisement and destitution, found the will to keep on pushing. It’s the home of salsa, of hip-hop, graffiti.” Whilst its all too frequently that dominant US society seeks to celebrate these art forms whilst simultaneously deriding the groups who created them, @nuevayorkinos celebrates the communities responsible for making New York culture what it is today.
As well as a recognition of New York’s rich cultural fabric, one of the project’s central achievements lies in its radical ability to combat reductive definitions of Latinidad which abound in the media and toxically pervade much of white, western culture. Media depictions of Latinx individuals are often homogenising, focusing on individuals of primarily European descent and failing to recognise the existence of Indigenous and Afrolatinx individuals, making the wealth of stories and backgrounds depicted on @nuevayorkinos particularly vital. As someone who is often overlooked by mainstream narratives herself, undertaking the project has been particularly rewarding for Brown-Cepeda. “For me, as an undeniably, unapologetically proud Afrolatina woman, to be in a position where I am able to facilitate a project of this caliber, whose mission is to protect and document our stories… (that) makes it all the more powerful.”
Encouraging followers to submit their memories as captions to go alongside their images, Brown-Cepeda provides a platform for people to have their voices heard and to tell their own stories from their own perspective – away from stifling assumptions. “Looking at one’s photo, we don’t know the stories behind the smiles or what those eyes have seen. We can’t instantly recognize family dynamics or begin to comprehend what obstacles that person faced when coming to the States. So for me, by allowing people to write their own histories, we get a deeper insight into what we are viewing.” There’s also an element of digital community-building that has stemmed from the project, with individuals sparking conversations in the comments section and hopefully taking these ideas off into the IRL world. “It’s great that people are finding community with one another through the photos and stories. I love watching the interactions in the comment sections between the contributor and the rest of the @nuevayorkinos community.”
As much as it has proved an important resource for her followers, @nuevayorkinos has also been greatly enriching for Brown-Cepeda, putting her in touch with experiences and ideas she never would have had the privilege of connecting to otherwise, and of prompting necessary conversations. Yet it goes beyond affirmation and representation – and sometimes veers into catharsis. The process of recollecting and preparing a memory and an image for submission can help some individuals get in touch with emotions buried in the past.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned thus far has to be the importance of writing as therapy. Upon submitting their photos, people have written to me privately that they hadn’t dealt with a certain family member or thought about certain issues until sending in their submissions.” As she explains, people of colour are subjected to the weight of systemic racism but are often discouraged from speaking out, making the outlet provided by @nuevayorkinos unspeakably important.
Whilst the archive was motivated by a gap in URL representation, it also responds to the IRL disappearance of the New York which many of the @nuevayorkinos contributors grew up with, as neighbourhoods are splintered and torn apart by gentrification. In this way, Brown-Cepeda is not only paying homage to New York’s Latinx cultures, but helping to document and preserve them for generations to come.