Fifty-two million—that's the number of Latinx people currently living in the United States. We're the largest ethnic minority in America, yet we are consistently lumped together into a misrepresented and two-dimensional subset of people. Latinx acts as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina, and includes people from the 33 countries that make up Latin America and the Caribbean. For the most part, the diversity of the Latinx community is egregiously disregarded. (Anyone remember that time a few months back when Fox News referred to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as "three Mexican countries"?) We are beyond the point of want—we need more representation in America that highlights the vast cultural, racial, and social diversity that's woven into the threads of the Latinx community.
The arts, in particular, make this discrepancy clear. While many American museums are slowly beginning to diversify their permanent collections in an attempt to rectify the underrepresentation of the Latinx community, there's still a long way to go. In Hollywood, a recent study found that from the top 1,200 films released between 2007 and 2018, just 4.5% speaking or named roles went to Latinx actors, and only 3% were lead or co-leads.
Here at Clever, we're all about uplifting and inspiring conversations that make us question societal norms and biases, so in honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we tapped five Latinx creatives for their perspectives on living and working in the U.S., and how their Latinidad has impacted their craft. We talked everything from the double-edged sword that is being a token diversity hire to inclusion in creative industries. Read on to hear five uniquely empowered voices who are killing it in their respective fields.
Who: Uzumaki Cepeda, visual artist
Where: Born in New York City. Currently lives in Los Angeles.
On how being Latinx has impacted her work: “[Being Latinx] influences all of my work. The reason I even use the color palette that I do is because when I was in living in the Dominican Republic, after my dad got deported, I saw the way that they used to paint the cement with very bright colors. Everything, I feel like, was colorful, the trees, the fruit on it. That inspired me to always use bright colors."
On her Latinidad: “It’s everything. My existence is me playing this role. Especially being from the Dominican Republic, it’s like a melting pot. There are so many spectrums: white-passing Dominicans, black-passing Dominicans, and the people in between. Being Latinx has influenced my entire life because of how how confused I was about my lineage. Even the word Latinx has helped me identify. It made me have to figure myself out and where I come from and really educate myself too. Being Dominican, there was a part of me growing up that was super ignorant to acknowledging my blackness and how much anti-blackness was incorporated into our culture, and it made no sense because of the lineage and where we come from. It’s been a journey.”
On being a Latinx creative in the United States: "It’s a double-edged sword. [Society] uses us as this coin, like a token, like, ‘Look, we’re not racist we used this Latinx girl in our campaign.’ I feel like we’re in a great space because there are a lot of cool [Latinx] people who are getting the shine they deserve now, but they are also being used in the wrong way too.”
Who: Natalia Juncadella, graphic designer and painter
Where: Born in Miami. Currently lives in San Francisco.
On how being Latinx has impacted her work: “Through my mother, who came from a poor economic background in Colombia, I learned to appreciate and be in awe of even the most mundane things, like the pattern inside a cut orange. Growing up in Miami, I was surrounded by family, various mother figures (my abuela and tias included), fresh fruit tress, and a lot of plants. While I didn’t paint these subjects when I lived in Miami, I’ve found myself increasingly trying to capture these familiar objects since moving to San Francisco. My grandparents and parents immigrated to Miami from Colombia and Cuba, and they have shown me by example that it takes hard work and unwavering perseverance to achieve your goals and succeed, no matter what you choose to work in. They’ve all taught me that even if you fail once, or many times, you pick yourself back up and continue to push forward.”
On her Latinidad: "Being Latina has always had a strong presence on my relationships, friendships, and the way I approach my work, life, and family. Latinx communities tend to be very supportive of each other, and I feel lucky to have grown up in Miami, where I was surrounded by a large Latinx community and continuously felt supported as a Hispanic woman. These experiences have also reminded me to be supportive of other Latinx people, and any person, really, in whatever they want to achieve.
On being a Latinx creative in the United States: “Although Latinx art has been underrepresented in art museums and exhibitions in the past, I feel encouraged about the present and future, seeing major efforts being taken by institutions and local galleries to be more inclusive and make Latin American art a part of the art history dialogue. In addition, creative Latinx communities and all creatives in general are being more supported than ever through the variety of social media platforms we have at our disposal. Through my own social media experiences, I’ve had the opportunity to meet strangers who have become friends and continuously support me with their kind messages and even acquiring my artwork.”
Where: Born in Puerto Rico. Currently lives in New York City.
On how being Latinx has impacted her work: “My gateway into photography was my affinity to fashion, clothing, and how people express themselves through personal style. Puerto Rican women, and Latinxs in general, hold their appearance as a top priority, since it is our armor to face every day. Capturing that was something that I always wanted to do, and photography became the best medium to do that. My proudest and most recent example of this is Emperifollá, an online platform that showcases the Latinx community through a fashion and beauty lens. I cofounded it with four other friends from Puerto Rico because we felt there was a lack of representation of Latinxs in the fashion industry. So we took it upon ourselves to create a space for it.”
On her Latinidad: “Leaving Puerto Rico was what concretized my Latinx identity, because I always look for ways to make myself feel at home. Mainly I practice this by surrounding myself with friends who share my background and speak my language. Being away from Puerto Rico for the first time, my actions began representing not only myself but my heritage as well. It inflicts a certain pressure to always act as an example, but also to bring light to our community through our work and position in media.”
On being a Latinx creative in the United States: “I definitely believe that society is failing at being inclusive of the Latinx community, which is why it’s so important for us to be in those spaces. There has been a drastic improvement in the visual representation of minorities in general, but there is still a long way to go. Whenever a mistake is made, it is probable that it was due to lack of representation behind the scenes.”
Maria Elena Pombo
Where: Born in Caracas, Venezuela. Currently lives in Brooklyn.
On how being Latinx has impacted her work: “There are many ways in which being Latin American influences my work: from the materials I use, the processes I use, and the people I work with. I tried to have a short answer during the first years Fragmentario existed, but my mission is to start conversations about time, culture, and collective consciousness. I'm super inspired by Daniela Blanco, a Venezuelan Ph.D candidate in Chemistry Engineering at NYU researching areas of electrochemistry and clean energy. Her drive motivates me a lot."
On her Latinidad: "On a personal level, I think Latin American's are somewhat comfortable with disagreement. I was very shocked when I moved to the U.S. and, for example, speaking about politics was really avoided as it could cause disagreements. If I disagree with someone, I will talk to them and try to understand them and help them understand me. From people who I disagree with politically to people who I disagree with because they are manspreading on the subway, I will always engage with them, especially if they are doing something unequivocally bad; otherwise how are we going to improve the world?"
On being a Latinx creative in the United States: "I think being Latin American, I sometimes feel like an underdog in the creative world. I say this without any resentment. I like underdogs in life. This pushes me to work very hard, and hard work tends to pay off. Do I feel like I need to work harder than others? Yes. Not just because I am Latin American but because I am an immigrant. My existence in the United States has depended on me proving my worth to officials behind a glass window. The Latin American experience is harder to pinpoint because it's more abstract and subtle. I once had a boss who wanted to compliment my hard work and said my parents must have been very strict and that's why I was not like 'the rest.' I asked what he meant and he realized what he had done. He tried to apologize and made it even worse, saying Venezuelans must be different than Mexicans. I had a good relationship with him, so I asked why he had to insult a whole continent and then a whole country instead of just saying 'good job.' It sparked some conversations in the office that had never happened before, because I was the first Latin American person to work there. I am often in spaces in which I am the only Latin American, so I feel a big responsibility to do the best work I can to properly represent us, and to speak up when those biases appear.”
Who: Mariana Gatti, sustainability brand development consultant for brands in the fashion, home and lifestyle industries. Works in collaboration with artisans, designers, scientists and material experts.
Where: Born in São Paulo. Currently lives between New York City and London.
On how being Latinx has impacted her work: "Growing up and starting my career in Brazil made me work more creatively and use (many times scarce) resources smartly and find ingenious solutions for problems."
On her Latinidad: "Brazilians tend to take things more personally, to be more emotional and fearful of delivering information without disappointing others. So I learned empathy and thoughtfulness from a young age. I am reminded of of my upbringing every time I connect with people—from the wide rage of the people I connect with to the more open and generous exchanges I try to create. After moving to New York, I learned a different set of skills related to clarity, objectivity, and productivity. My feeling is that in Brazil, there is a bigger sense of genuine interest in others. New York's competitiveness, together with an obsession with efficiency, can make relationships more transactional."
On being a Latinx creative in the United States: "I used to have the impression that old-school corporate recruiters, especially in the fashion and luxury industries, selected candidates under the prejudice that Latin America wasn't the place where the best professionals would come from. This probably came from it not being part of the Eurocentric aesthetic standards and luxury tradition (which made fashion and beauty boring for so many years)."
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest