Model and actress Jillian Mercado is well-known for breaking barriers, and advocating for accessibility. Growing up on 138th Street in Manhattan, in a rich Dominican and Spanish Harlem neighborhood, she quickly learned the importance of community and the act of being there for each other.

The activist has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair to move around. But her physical disability has never held her back from creating opportunities for people that look like her. She founded Black Disabled Creatives, a database of talent in different industries. Mercado has been in fashion campaigns, and even modeled for Queen Bey’s “Formation” era merchandise.

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Creating Nuevo Norte

Working with Meta on an inclusive virtual world, “Nuevo Norte,” gave Mercado the chance to help create a space where differently abled people can feel seen and heard. Puerto Rican artist COVL (D’ana Nunez) designed Nuevo Norte. It’s a vivid world that takes inspiration from Nunez’s “inner child.” 

“I mean it’s beautiful to live in a world — for me, personally — to see things being evolved, and conversations being had of like, ‘This was wrong in the past, we shouldn’t have ignored this huge group of people, and having them silenced by accessibility issues,’” said Mercado in a conversation with mitú.

The tech giant rallied Mercado and four other creators together to contribute to their Metaverse Culture Series: COVL, Costa Rican founder of Population MIC Sara Mora, Puerto Rican track and field sprinter Tori Ortiz, and Dominican photographer Juan Veloz. The five of them took part in a mini documentary called “Tercera Cultura.”

Tercera cultura, or third culture, is a broad term for the generation of people raised with a different way of life from their parents’. Furthermore, they take in the newness of their cultural surroundings while absorbing what they know from their parents.

“Specifically with Tercera Cultura, I think it’s so important to know that the future generations will also know my culture, and implement what’s going on in their real time,” said Mercado. “We’re connecting it with the things that I went through, or what my mom went through, or my grandma went through.”

Becoming part of the Metaverse

Mercado embraces her Metaverse-self. She admits to spending an hour customizing her avatar, impressed at all the detailed options available for her choosing. Knowing all the ways one can create an accurate depiction of themselves makes it a great virtual representation.

With this in mind, there are locations within Nuevo Norte where individuals can meet, like a café, or Mercado’s favorite, the “Discoteca.” The dance hall brings back memories of the music her parents’ would play when she was younger.

That meeting of the two worlds is an intriguing point of this new digital frontier. It’s a game-changer for people that have family in other countries that they don’t get to see often. Accessibility-wise, you do not have to leave your home for casual get-togethers. All you have to do is put your headset on.

“I can sit [in the Metaverse] and talk to my cousin in the Dominican Republic, and sure we can do that on social media, or text message, or whatever, but there’s something about [feeling] like we’re in the same room,” said Mercado. “It makes it so personal, accessible, and inviting as well.”

Maintaining culture, while being inclusive

Mercado is continuing to trailblaze in different arenas, and her personal determination is something she got from her family. It was her mother who always encouraged her to be independent, but to never turn her back on her community. It’s something she takes with her with everything she does, including playing Maribel on Showtime’s “The L Word: Generation Q.”

“[Putting] some sazon into like all the projects that I do just makes it more special,” said Mercado. “I honestly just feel more comfortable. I’m in my own bubble, I’m in my own space. Hopefully we all strive for people to have that same comfortability to be authentically themselves. I live for that, and I’m so thankful that I get to bring some sazon to the Metaverse.”

She emphasizes her pride for her Dominican culture, and the incredible opportunity it is to implement it into the Metaverse. The chance to bring inclusivity to new worlds is an achievement one would never have dreamed of ten years ago. 

Additionally, it’s common for people who are part of the tercera cultura generation to feel like they don’t identify with their heritage. Mercado likens that feeling to a game of survival, because of what previous generations endured to get acclimated somewhere new.

Wise words from Mercado

On that note, the star shared some advice for young BIPOC people that may feel alone: “Know that there’s such a community out there for you, and we’re all here to help, lend a hand, hear you, see you, know that you exist. Everything is gonna work out.

“There’s so many opportunities for us! It’s about knowing your worth, and what makes you you, is beautiful, and you should never change for anyone else. If that person, or that group of people have a problem with that… that’s cool, that’s fine, they’re missing out. Let them eat their bland chicken or whatever, like, it’s fine! Know that you have so much to give, and that’s important. Again, the community is there — don’t ever forget that.”