My aesthetic was inspired by my new favorite artist Princess Nokia in her new video Brujas that pays homage to the goddess Yemaya. I love Princess Nokia because she is the first artist I ever heard to express Taíno native culture which is indigenous Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. I love Princess Nokia because she is unapologetic, embraces her roots and a role model to latinx youth and other youth of color that continue to work hard and rise like roses through concrete. Her music and her message reassures the ancestral power and light I have within myself and always pumps me up to accomplish my goals each day.
Today #BrownInChicago decided to reflect and write about our experience two weeks ago photo shoot that focused on evoking our indigenous ancestry. I am of Puerto Rican descent on my maternal side and wanted to channel a look that resonates with my spiritually. I wanted to pay tribute to Yemaya, who is a diosa from South Western African Yoruba religion. She is called an Orisha and is the mother of all Orishas totaling 14 Yoruba gods and goddesses. Santeria , which translates to way of the saints, originated from West Africa, and more commonly spread during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and was expressed as part of Yorba/Cuban Afro-Caribbean culture. Santeria promises wisdom and power in dealing with life’s hardships through a combination of practical and oral traditions.
My mother prayed to Yemaya as her favored orisha in times of need for strength and need of protection from trauma and misogyny she experienced while ending an abusive relationship with my father and she moved me away from our family to Miami for safety. When he was later arrested and deported we lost almost all our resources and child support and my mother had to start again on her own. Yemaya is a strong source of maternal energy for protection and tenacity young mother have to channel to raise their children with little resources and support. I admired my mother growing up seeing how hard she worked, took pride in her bright blue eyeshadow and grinning smile. Tonight I invited her to teach me how to do my makeup like her signature look to embody the diosa named Yolanda.
For as long as I remember she always wore blue eyeshadow that brings out her big cafe eyes and painted her lips fiery red. Inherit my gift of empathy and healing from diosa because it is the gift my mother bestowed upon me. We are resilient against life’s waves that attempt to drown and stifle our voices and dreams. As my mom painted my face she told me about how much she loves to wear blue because it’s a color so many women shy away from with make up (myself included). To my surprise I looked into the mirror and saw the ferocity and gentleness I see in my own mothers eyes.
We danced to Aguanile by Hector Lavoe y Willie Colon is about highlighting Santeria’s African roots, with a typical folk verse of the Festival of the Cross, the song has a small verse is interpreted by Lavoe in Greek ,”Kyrie eleison”, popular custom among the natives, dating back hundreds of years. She attempted to teach me more moves to dance to the song but laughed and said you can’t teach the dance you just have to feel the music and let the dancing come naturally within you. I closed my eyes and imagined myself on a warm days in Miami as a kid dancing in the living room with my mom. I may not have the best rhythm but I like to feel music and let go. Tonight daughters of Yemaya we thank you diosa for your strength to keep me afloat, and your currents to guide my path.
Throughout this project I have been able to center my identity to my brownness and connect with my native and African roots more. As a social work graduate student I’m seeking to be a healer and help provide therapeutic services to alleviate generational trauma and build self awareness. I owe my skills of empathy as a gift Yemaya has shared for me to heal others and to proudly serve as a bold Latina among a field that is dominated by white women. In a discussion with #BrownInChicago students many of the young women discussed how hard it was growing up to find positive Latinx role models to celebrate against the saturation of sexist, patriarchal and Eurocentric values. We shared stories of burning and bleaching the kinks in our hair to appease desires of straight blonde compliance. Shielding our skin that from the sun that illuminates the richness in our melanin, but we were socialized to see ourselves as shadows. The gift of this project is that I am feeling more beautiful and grounded each day with other youth as we journey together to de-center whiteness and grow together.