Name: Djali Brown-Cepeda
Occupation: Filmmaker and archivist
Motivator: The City, really. To me, New York is a character and not just a place.
NYC neighborhood: Dyckman, Manhattan, and Soundview, The Bronx
Tu país: The Caribbean
Raised in Manhattan and the Bronx, Djali Brown-Cepeda considers herself privileged to have grown up in a household that celebrated creativity and encouraged her to carve out her own path. She was in about 20 plays from ages 7 to 15. Brown-Cepeda attended school in El Barrio, where she was the only Dominican and became engrossed with Caribbean culture, saying, “All my friends were Caribbean, African, Black American and Puerto Rican.”
About her own Latinidad, Brown-Cepeda says, “It is very rooted in Afro-Latindad, it is very rooted in Indigenous Latinidad. And when I say I’m proud to be Latina, I’m not talking about Spain. Telenovelas are not part of that conversation. The stereotypes that we perpetuate are not part of that conversation.” Her work centers on conversations about the shift in Latino identity and the groups within this population that have gone underserved. She says, “I always use the term Latina or Latinx; I also acknowledge that it is not everything. There are multiple groups within it. Just like Blackness isn’t monolithic, Latinidad is not monolithic.”
This exploration inspired her to create Nuevayorkinos, a digital archive of the Latino experience in New York City. Its goal is to document and preserve culture and history through photographs and stories. “I felt the need to create something for la gente (the people) that I felt were just not being represented.” She‘s expanding her preservation work to a new archive, @blkthen, meant as an homage to Black New York. Read on for more of Brown-Cepeda’s passions.
What makes NYC home? The train. A turkey bacon, egg and cheese with salt, pepper and ketchup. Door knockers. A tight subway car. Knowing everybody on the block. Family on every corner.
Favorite spot in NYC for inspiration: The train. Everyone has something to say, but it’s like we don’t support or stick up for the people who literally keep the City going. I don’t have problems with MTA workers. I absolutely love the MTA.
Go-to Latino-owned spot: Mama Sushi on Dyckman. It’s Latino fusion and represents the brilliance of what we do with all these ingredients from all over.
Describe Latino culture in NYC: Because of the landscape of this city, we are so close to one another. And while we do honor our differences—in terms of having Dominican neighborhoods, Colombian neighborhoods, Mexican neighborhoods—we also come together. We have a camaraderie between us that does not exist from what I’ve seen elsewhere in my short time on this earth. We coexist beautifully.
Favorite saying: “Ni de aqui, ni de allá” (Neither from here nor there). That saying is so integral to my work and who I am. When I was a little girl, and sometimes still, I’d be preoccupied with the anxieties that come along with being ni de aqui, ni de allá. I’ve been told I’m too Dominican or too Caribbean for Americans and too American for Caribbeans. But the more we embrace that, the more we can uplift and amplify that experience.
What’s next: We’re going to do back-to-school drives and more community efforts.