The dynamic Latinos and their unquestinable hold on the culture of New York
The Latinos sustaining New York’s creative spirit
One of the more outrageous promises repeated by Donald Trump during the presidential campaign season was that he would build a wall to keep Mexicans out of America, claiming they were rapists, murderers, and druggies. While he did single out Mexicans, most Americans of Latino origin felt insulted and targeted by association.
With what could only be termed exquisite timing, a friend of mine in New York, Gabriel Rivera-Barraza, launched just before the elections a handsome new book called Nuevo New York, celebrating, quite fittingly, the city’s most influential Latinos in the artistic, fashion, media, and cultural spheres. It’s a 100 percent Latino collaboration. Rivera-Barraza, who conducted the interviews, is a native of Durango, Mexico, who is now living and working in New York as a dynamic PR extraordinaire, while Hans Neumann, the photographer who shot the portraits, hails from Lima, Peru, but has been based in the Big Apple since 2004. The people they chose to include in the book are some of the most exciting and enduring creative talents in New York today, from established designers such as Carolina Herrera, Francisco Costa, and Narciso Rodriguez to current darlings Alejandro Ingelmo and Fernando Garcia. There are artists such as Aldo Chaparro, Jose Parla, Teresita Fernandez, and Alexis Zambrano. And then there are the pillars of New York society like Yaz Hernandez, Emila Fanjul Pfeifler, and Fabiola Beracasa Beckman. There are names that sound more AngloSaxon and Teutonic than Latino, but then anyone who knows a bit of South American history would know about the waves of German and English migration in the continent, particularly after World War II—does the name Gisele Bündchen ring a bell? In fact, when leafing through the book, there are many “aha!” moments when one realizes that someone assumed to be, well, cornbread white is actually from Brazil! Or Uruguay! Or El Salvador! Or Colombia! Or Mexico! And yet with that realization, it all makes perfect sense. “The Latino community is a vibrant culture but it also brings a fun and energetic essence to New Yorkers in every aspect that we can represent, and that makes us strong and unique,” remarks Rivera-Barraza. “And we are known for our cultural artistic background.” Not that it’s all that homogeneous. “There are differences between Latin American countries, of course. But in the end, we unite with very similar language, religion, and social customs, particularly in New York where we have become one community.” And, clearly, a force to reckon with, Trump be damned. The book also very subtly presents a different narrative about the Latino experience in America. These are not your ordinary cleaning ladies, truck drivers, or restaurant workers who have moved to New York in search of a better life. This is, by and large, a comfortable, educated, privileged, and often glamorous group whose reasons for coming to New York have less to do with escaping a life of economic hardship and more with chasing after creative freedom and personal fulfillment; in finding that, they found themselves. “I feel that New York helps you find your identity in many ways,” RiveraBarraza says, “such as having you focus and inspiring you to show your best.” I know exactly what he means. I always feel most “me” when I’m in New York City. I love the energy that swathes the place, where revelry and reclusiveness can be compatible bedfellows, where the excesses of one night at the Boom Boom Room are tempered the next day by meditative contemplation of Rothko at the MoMA, where sleek segues just as seamlessly into seedy, where love and lust thrillingly collide, where the air is intoxicating and possibility is the drug. It’s an addiction I never want to be cured of. Because New York got me like…