Jailene Marie Moore Tejeda, 24, remembers when she used to attend a salsa dance school in the Bronx as a little girl. Every year she participated in dance recitals at South Street Seaport, the same place where her grandparents used to go dancing back in the day.
She never thought that in this same space, she would be able to honor her grandfather’s legacy.
“To see my name on a building, my family photo, a picture of my mom, my grandfather, my uncle, on a building in New York City in South Street Seaport, nonetheless is insane,” Tejeda said.
Tejeda’s family photo was selected as part of Nuevayorkinos’ latest exhibition, El Camino: Stories of Migration. On opening night, Tejeda surprised her grandmother by showing her the picture.
“She had no idea what she was going to see. It was a really heartfelt moment for her. She immediately started crying and started looking at it. She just felt so proud,” Tejada said. “One thing about both of my grandparents, they were very proud to be each other’s spouses.”
For the Tejeda family, being Dominican American in New York is a very specific experience—and one that Nuevayorkinos has taken the initiative to document. Since February 2019, the multimedia archival project has worked to preserve the city’s diverse Latino and Caribbean cultures through photographs, videos, and personal stories.
Nuevayorkinos’ latest exhibit, part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) River to River Festival, seeks to reframe the conversation around immigration with empathy and nuance, honoring the journey of families to New York with over 10 different diasporas represented.
A Love Letter to OG Latino and Caribbean ÑYC
Djali Brown-Cepeda understood that the Latino experience on the East Coast was completely different from the Latino experience in Miami. Though she recognized the distinction of her own Afro-Indigenous Dominican identity, she did not see its representation in the media. She often saw how Latinos were only perceived as a monolith, paired with degrading rhetoric that grew most hostile and divisive during the Trump era.
“We all don’t come from the same country. We all have different experiences, related experiences of course, and shared histories,” Brown-Cepeda explained. “But there are differences and there’s beauty in those differences.”
Along with her partner, Ricardo Castañeda, who is of Colombian descent, Brown-Cepeda decided to create a platform that would allow people to write their own stories. The work of archival Instagram pages like the Southern California Veteranas y Rucas was a big inspiration for Brown-Cepeda’s approach to Nuevayorkinos’ community-driven compilation. She also noted the archival work of Sunu Journal, The Gordon Parks Photography Archive and Black Archives.
“All you gotta be is a New Yorker, who’s Latino and, or, Caribbean. It’s like a small corner of the online world, but being able to take up this space in that way is super important,” she said. “Taking up space physically is also super important to our mission.”
After tremendous online growth (82.7k and counting), Nuevayorkinos continued to expand its footprint through exhibits and community-driven parties—from one spotlighting essential workers at their MoMA PS1 show to partnering with the Salsa Project with an all-vinyl celebration. The initiative has become a community space for Latino and Caribbean New Yorkers.
Shaping New Immigrant Narratives
As a Latina in New York City, Tejeda was already familiar with Nuevayorkinos’ work. When her grandfather passed away last November, she wanted to do a tribute to him and the life he built.
“My grandfather would record and photograph everything. I chose certain photos of him in different areas in New York, and especially in the times of the seventies because that was his favorite era,” she said.
Her grandfather arrived in 1967 from the Dominican Republic and eventually settled in Corona, Queens. In the submission, Tejeda describes how her grandfather set out to achieve his American dream, eventually gaining citizenship and motivating his children and grandchildren to achieve any goal they set in life. “I want everyone to see what us Tejedas can do” is what the submission shares about Manuel’s outlook.
With Nuevayorkinos, the digital archive created an opportunity to reframe immigrant narratives. Shortly after the submission of her grandfather became a part of the project, the response was immediate.
“Being from New York and also being like Latino, everyone knows each other somehow in some way, or your parents knew one another,” said Tejeda, “from us posting them, my mom reconnected with so many people she hadn’t talked to in years.”
From URL to IRL
Mahicantuck, or “the river that flows both ways,” was the Native American name for what is known today as the Hudson River.
When setting up the current exhibit, Brown-Cepeda recognized that the river was symbolic of the families that formed the project.
“To us it’s symbolic of our experiences as people who have one foot here, one foot back home,” she explained, “so many people who have roots in New York have roots in so many other places and the river really symbolizes that.”
South Street Seaport also plays an important role in the exhibit’s representation, as the pier was a point of arrival for immigrants as early as 1625.
Marquita Flowers, the public engagement manager at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, saw the value in bringing Nuevayorkinos into the festival, driven by a personal desire to show how immigration should be displayed.
She said looking at Nuevayorkinos’ archives reminded her of her own father and her childhood in the Bronx, where her family settled after immigrating from Belize.
“I was just always really impressed with how they were working, operating, and building community,” Flowers said. “Once I heard about the opportunity at the Seaport, I was like, they would be perfect.”
As Nuevayorkinos continues to amplify these stories submission by submission, their latest exhibit gives families like the Tejeda’s the opportunity to share their narrative with those beyond their immediate community. Brown-Cepeda also hopes newly arrived immigrants can identify themselves in these images.
“I think it’s just a way to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are coming here and find themselves in this particular moment of migration,” she said.
Mariana Martínez Barba is a summer correspondent at Futuro Media and is currently studying at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. Twitter: @marianamtzbarba