Entertainment

4 Afro-Dominican Models Cover Vogue Latin America’s September Issue

Afro, crooked teeth, brown skin, Dominicana — am I looking at myself in the mirror? No, of course not, I am not 10 feet tall and don’t have perfect cheekbones, but still, I feel so seen. There are four black as hell Dominican models on the cover of the 2019 September issue of Vogue Latin America. You will not hear the end of this in my Afro-Latinx household. You didn’t have to go so hard, Vogue. But really you did because this is long overdue. 

The Black Dominican models featured are Licett Morillo, Manuela Sánchez, Annibelis Baez, and Ambar Cristal. Their skin is brown, their hair is natural, and they are no less Latinx than anybody else. This is a moment. We have so few of them, it’s OK to take a beat and savor them. No, racism hasn’t ended. But when the beautiful marriage of your racial heritage and your culture are largely invisible, and even diminished by your community, moments like this are special. So let us Afro-Dominicans have this. Let us indulge in our beauty because it has been forbidden for too long. 

Manuela Sánchez

Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Manuela Sánchez has become something of an It girl. In 2017, Harpers Bazaar alerted the fashion-consuming public to be on the lookout for the then-16-year-old Sánchez. The teenager had been discovered by Luis Menieur Model Management while at school, only a year before. Known for her poise on the catwalk, Sánchez has walked in shows for Fendi, Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior and Versace. Yes, mi gente in the mainstream, baby. 

“I am from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. We have many beautiful beaches, food and so much culture. Punta Cana has one of the most beautiful beaches in my country,” she told Harpers Bazaar. 

Licett Morillo

The 5 foot 10 stunner also hails from Santo Domingo. Licett Morillo has already proved to be a disruptive force when she became the first woman of color to close a Prada show in 2018. Naomi Campbell was the first to open one in 1997 and in 2018, Anok Yai became the second. Yeah, fashion has a diversity issue. After being laid off from her job at a plastic factory, Morillo enrolled in school. It was on her way there one day that she was scouted to become a model. 

“A lady called Nileny Dippton came over to me and asked, ‘Are you a model?’ and of course, I responded ‘no way!’ I was so late for class, I had to rush off, but Nileny gave me her business card and I got in touch,” Morillo told Dazed and Confused. 

After sending in a few polaroids to IMG Models’ associate director of scouting, Luis Domingo, Morillo was on a plane to Milan for her first show. Morillo never dreamed of being a model because she never saw herself in magazines.

Models don’t usually look like us.

“In the Dominican Republic, women who are considered beautiful look very different to me and models I saw in magazines looked very different to me. So honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind,” Morillo said. 

It hurts to hear that anyone this beautiful could think they were not, but that’s colorism for you. It distorts the truth.

Annibelis Baez

Annibelis Baez has walked for some major fashion titans including, Dior Haute Couture, Kenzo, and Lanvin. 

“Fue maravilloso poder formar parte de un trabajo tan maravilloso @voguemexico Muchas Gracias por esta tremenda oportunidad, fue una experiencia increíble, música,baile y risas.  Compartir entre amigas fue lo mas divertido. Como olvidar cada detalle,” she wrote of the photoshoot on Instagram

Ambar Cristal

Cristal expressed deep gratitude for Dominican representation on Instagram. She urged fellow Dominicans that regardless if you come from humble beginnings, dreams can come true. 

“Hoy quiero dar gracias a Dios una vez más, ver mi rostro en la portada de Vogue, es como seguir creyendo en los cuentos de hadas,” Cristal wrote. “Vengo de una familia muy humilde en mi país, mi madre nos educó vendiendo habichuelas blanditas en nuestro barrio de la Toronja, hoy quiero que todos los jóvenes Dominicanos no dejen de soñar y que sepan que todo se puede conseguir con Fe y mucho trabajo.” 

They hate to see it!

While there is much more work to do in terms of Afro-Latinx representation, all I can say is I am so lucky to be alive in a time where I get to see four women who look like my family on the cover of Vogue. There is a younger version of me who was starved for this. There is a younger version of me who is wistfully clinging onto every page. 

Our Tías’ Nacimientos Will Never Be The Same Since Mexico Has Outlawed Buying And Selling The Moss

Culture

Our Tías’ Nacimientos Will Never Be The Same Since Mexico Has Outlawed Buying And Selling The Moss

sony_a6000photos / Instagram / Pinterest

Growing up Mexican I looked forward to the Christmas season yes, tbh mostly because of presents but also because it was the time when mom and I got to go way overboard with our Nativity Scene decorations. If you’re Latino, putting up a nacimiento is just as essential a part of Christmas, as putting up a tree. If there’s one cliche that has proven to be true, time and again, it’s that Latino moms tend to be extra AF in everything they do. The representations of Jesus’s birth vary from minimal, to OTT baroque, to hyper-realistic. There’s one element that remains the most important aspect of the nacimiento across the board, in Mexico at least, the moss and other dense green clumps are usually used to adorn the decoration. So, what if we told you that buying and selling moss is actually illegal in Mexico?

Nacimiento, Pesebre, or Belen, are the names that different Latin American countries give to the traditional Nativity Scene representation under the Christmas tree.

Credit: Pinterest

The representation of Jesus’s birth, known as nacimiento in Mexico, pesebre in Colombia and other South American countries, or Belen in Spain, is a centuries-old tradition in the Catholic world. All you really need to tell the story are three basic figures: Virgin Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. But why limit yourself? 

You could make the case that the three wise men and the star that guided them to the newborn baby are also essential. Jesus was born in a stable because there was no place at the inns in Bethlehem, so naturally, there should be farm animals around, and hay, and moss —and why not a stream made of cellophane, while you’re at it? 

Nativity Scenes are usually elaborate, over the top extravaganzas that families work tirelessly on for the holiday season.

In Mexico and many other countries of Latin America, nacimientos can turn into elaborate extravaganzas, populated by all manner of animals and plants that you would never find side by side in the real world. Some scenes display pump-operated rivers with real water, others feature waterfalls and ponds. Some include whole cities built around the manger where Jesus was born. The creative license extends to the characters, which range from unrelated biblical figures such as Adam and Eve to random shepherds, farmers, and the devil. It’s clearly not an exercise in authenticity, but it’s festive and fun.

Part of the fun is the use of moss and other types of grass to add to the ‘look’. 

Credit: Pinterest

Moss is used to decorate the scene, but it also has a special symbolism. Spanish moss is of particular importance in the catholic representation of baby Jesus’s birth. A little patch of the gray grass is always placed underneath Satan —to highlight his presence and set him apart from the rest of the crowd. According to tradition, Satan should always be present in a nacimiento to remind us that although the birth of Jesus offers love and the possibility of redemption, sin and evil are always present in the world —and moss plays a big part in his representation.

As soon as November starts drawing to an end and December is around the corner, every mercado in Mexico is flooded by vendors who sell the coveted greenery of the season. 

Credit: @jjoel777 / Twitter

Every city and town has a market where, for about a month between the end of November and the first week in January, a large number of vendors offer items, especially for Christmas.  Some larger cities, like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Morelia, and others, offer several tianguis navideños (Christmas markets) where literally hundreds of vendors set up shop, to sell the infamous moss. 

But as it turns out, selling and/or buying moss is illegal.

Credit: losconfites_organicfarm / Instagram

This type of grass is essential for the survival of Mexican forests. The species is protected by the country, which makes its trade ilegal —and you might want to think twice before you buy it. 

Mosses are actually essential for the health and wellbeing of many ecosystems and all the organisms that inhabit them.

Credit: sony_a6000photos / Instagram

The term moss encompasses any of at least 12,000 species of small land plants. Mosses are distributed throughout the world except in saltwater and are commonly found in moist shady locations. They are best known as those species that carpet woodland and forest floors. Ecologically, mosses capture water and filter it to underground streams, or substrata, releasing nutrients for the use of more complex plants that succeed them. They also aid in soil erosion control by providing surface cover and absorbing water, and they are important in the nutrient and water economy of some vegetation types. Essentially, they are the pulse of forests and ecosystems everywhere.

Protection and conservation are relatively novel concepts in Mexican bryology, the branch of botany that studies mosses. 

Credit: @elbigdatamx / Twitter

Mexico is home to more than 900 recorded species of moss —and much of the country’s territory is yet to be explored thoroughly for more flora. However, local mosses face habitat destruction and over-harvesting as their major threat. 

In 1993, a diagnostic study of mosses that required protection Mexico was conducted, and supported by the federal government as well as other international agencies. At the time, six species were recognized as ‘rare’ or ‘endangered’ and were placed under official protection. 

The Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources of Mexico regulates the extraction and trade of moss. 

Credit: @iinfodeac / Twitter

In order to extract moss from its natural habitat, and furthermore, to commercialize it, vendors must follow strict requirements in order to attain a license. According to Mexican Forest Law 001 expedited by SEMARNAT (The Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources of Mexico), the extraction of moss is only permitted when the plant is in a mature state and ready for harvest, other conditions require that moss must be extracted in parcels of no more than 2 meters of width and that only 50 percent of each patch of moss may be extracted, etc. 

During this time of year, Mexican police are on high alert. 

Credit: @mimorelia / Twitter

Around the holiday season, police in Mexico double up on their patrolling. Authorities will be on high alert, inspecting those establishments who are authorized to sell moss and searching for those who aren’t. The Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources and the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection will be watching —so you might want to tell your mom and tias to avoid shopping for moss in Mexico this year.

READ: Check Out Some Of The Most Tiny And Adorable Nacimientos

Mexican Artist Transforms 1,527 Deadly Guns Into Life-Giving Shovels To Plant Trees

Things That Matter

Mexican Artist Transforms 1,527 Deadly Guns Into Life-Giving Shovels To Plant Trees

botanicocln / veri_fp / Instagram

A Mexican artist and activist embarked on a project to gather as many firearms as he could from Culiacán, Mexico, the city with the highest death by gun violence rate in Mexico, and transform them into shovels that would instead plant trees. Artist Pedro Reyes, a Mexico City native, has long been using his art to illustrate how evil can be transformed into good, with the right perspective. While the United States has, by far, the highest number of firearms per capita (120.5 per 100 persons), Mexico ranks 60th in the world. Pedro Reyes wanted to do his part in getting the deadly weapons off the street.

Reyes set out in Culiacán, Mexico, to trade civilian’s weapons for coupons for electronics, and residents traded 1,527 weapons.

Pedro Reyes’s project, known as “Palas por Pistolas” publicized the gun exchange on television ads and through local media.

Credit: bintazd / Instagram

 All of this was made possible by the botanical garden of Culiacán, which has been commissioning artists to perform social impact interventions for years. Reyes made a proposal to the garden to organize a city-wide campaign for a voluntary donation of weapons. The commission was able to pay for television advertisements and liaise with local media to promote the project. Soon, the whole city knew that residents were invited to give up their guns in exchange for a coupon. Those coupons were then traded at a local store in exchange for domestic appliances and electronics.

Of the 1,527 weapons collected, 40 percent were automatic weapons, “exclusively” used for the military.

Credit: molaaart / Instagram

The second phase of the project was put on public display. All 1,527 guns were taken to a military zone and were crushed by a steamroller in a public act. Then, the pieces were taken to a foundry and melted down to its original form. Once again, the same metal that was transformed into guns became a ‘blank page,’ available to transform into absolutely anything. Reyes worked with a major hardware factory to create molds that would create exactly 1,527 shovels. 

Since they’ve been repurposed, 1,527 trees have been planted.

Credit: molaaart / Instagram

The shovels have been on display at a variety of art institutions. Admirers could read an inscription of the shovel’s origin story on the handle. Later, children and adults alike would feel the weight of what was once a gun in their hands as they dug up dirt to plant new life. Trees have been planted at the Vancouver Art Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute, Paris’s Maison Rouge, Lyon Biennial, Marfa, Texas, and Denver, Colorado.

“This ritual has a pedagogical purpose of showing how an agent of death can become an agent of life,” Reyes said of the project. 

Credit: botanicocln / Instagram

Like every other Reyes project to date, the gift is a change in perspective. For whoever might have been injured or died at the hands of those 1,527 guns, as many trees have been planted in their honor. Reyes breaks down the concept of a gun to what it is: human intention and scrap metal. With a simple shift in intention, that metal has created lasting memories for children and created oxygen-giving life on this planet.  

Since “Palas por Pistolas,” Reyes has also installed “Imagine,” a similar concept that instead turns guns into musical instruments.

Credit: Pedro Reyes

In April 2012, Reyes was given the opportunity to transform human intention once again. “I got a call from the government who had learned about Palas por Pistolas,” Reyes said. “They told me a public destruction of weapons was to take place in Ciudad Juarez and asked me if I was interested in keeping the metal, which would otherwise have been buried as usual. I accepted the material but I wanted to do something new this time. 6700 weapons, cut into parts and rendered useless, were given to me and I set out to make them into instruments.”

“A group of 6 musicians worked for 2 weeks shoulder-to-shoulder turning these agents of death into instruments of life.”

Credit: Pedro Reyes

Reyes said it was far more challenging than simply turning the metal into shovels. The metal had to create sounds. “It’s difficult to explain but the transformation was more than physical,” Reyes writes. “It’s important to consider that many lives were taken with these weapons; as if a sort of exorcism was taking place the music expelled the demons they held, as well as being a requiem for lives lost.”

Living in a community free of guns ought to be a human right. Many liberties that we enjoy today were considered utopian, and the first step taken into that direction was to Imagine.” Reyes continues to draw attention not only to where guns are used, but where they are made. It is an industry and one he continues to reclaim for life.

READ: Mexicans Are Questioning Their Government’s Decision To Release El Chapo’s Son After A Massive Gun Battle