How Monica Style Muse Is Putting Afro-Latina Beauty on the Map
Monica isn’t your typical beauty vlogger, though. She has videos that cover her experience as an Afro-Latina, how to style a weave, and makeup looks for dark-skinned women. She is a proud bilingual and frequently begins her videos with the invitation to “vamos a comenzar” which means, “Lets get started.” Her channel is a celebration of beauty and Afro-Latina culture.
Despite this, she is constantly being criticized by people who think she doesn’t count as Latina. There are so many women who are both racially Black and ethnically Latina, and Monica is passionate about using her platform to bring them visibility. She wants to end the stereotype that says that only light-skinned women can be Dominican.
Growing up what did you aspire to be?
Growing up, I wanted to be a dancer. I was pretty involved in dancing, I went to a performing arts school, so I was doing ballet and modern for four years and I wanted to really go on tour. Anyone who knew me knew I was going to be a dancer and then everything changed once I went to College. I love dancing and it’s one of those things where it’s like muscle memory, you’ll always have it in your heart, but it’s not something, unfortunately, that I’m extremely passionate about like I was before.
How does it feel being a L’Oreal Brand Ambassador?
It sometimes feels surreal to me because being with L’Oreal has been such an honor. You can go anywhere in the world, everyone knows who L’Oreal is. For me, every time I’m with them is like a pinch me moment because I cannot believe I’m a part of such a massive establishment. They’re just so good to me and they help me represent my Afro-Latinas. They’re like my family at this point.
What has been your favorite aspect of being a public figure?
I would say just changing people’s lives. I never really thought I was [a public figure] because you go into this industry and there’s so many other people who have such a big platform but for me, it’s always touching for me to know I’m changing someone’s life.
How do you come up with creative new content for your YouTube?
I force myself to go out and go to museums. I talk to my brother, who’s my photographer, and I just try to really get out of my comfort zone. I will say I even look at Tumblr. I feel like Tumblr is so raw and uncut as opposed to other platforms and I love it so I definitely go there for a lot of my inspiration.
What is your secret to attaining Instagram fame?
I don’t consider myself famous at all. I do have a platform and I’m grateful to be able to work with it and have a strong following of people who appreciate what I can offer them. I would say my secret is just being consistent. I don’t really care for being famous, or Instagram fame, or all of that stuff, because at the end of the day, if you don’t have substance, fame can vanish. There are so many beautiful people, so the thing is, how do you differentiate yourself from everyone else? Really it’s about having substance and having something to offer to your audience that is beyond your exterior.
How do you differentiate yourself?
When I started YouTube, I was like, “Okay, Monica, how do you separate yourself from every other beautiful person on this platform?” And then I started noticing I had never really embraced my heritage. I am Dominican, my mom and dad are both from the Dominican Republic, I’m an Afro-Latina, and I was like, “Hm, I don’t really think I’ve seen many Afro-Latinas on this platform or on Instagram or social media at all.” It wasn’t something that was really embraced. So I figured, listen, I need to embrace who I am.
The second I put out “Too Black to Be Dominican” and “Latina Tag,” I got so many emails and responses from people who were actually relieved that I did those videos because they’d been so nervous and opposed to embracing their heritage because they were afraid that people would make them choose between being Black and Latina. It was kind of like an eye opener for me and I was like wow, I didn’t even know this was a gap that needed to be filled.
What are your favorite hair and skin products?
You’re talking to a girl who has a gazillion hair products, it’s the worst thing ever. I’m a hoarder. Skin — I love Belif, they have this aqua bomb solution moisturizer. That is amazing. It just makes my skin feel so radiant. For Hair, I’m not really a crazy hair product girl. I love dry shampoo.
What has been the biggest inspiration to you?
My mom. I know that’s such a cliché thing to say but for me, it was always me, my mom, and my brother, and we always had to have each other’s back. My mom had breast cancer until five years ago and when I was in high school, I had to put my big girl pants on and take care of my mom and my family. And I think at that moment, I left my childhood behind, I really felt like I had to make something of myself. I remember when I was in the process of getting ready for prom stuff and I thought oh my god, what if my mom doesn’t see me walk for graduation. Thankfully, god willing, she’s been cancer-free for five years now, but I’ve just always kept that experience in my mind.
She’s always been my why, my why for everything I do, my why for what me and my brother do. She’s definitely one of the strongest people I know and she’s my biggest inspiration. She lets me express myself however I’ve ever wanted, she’s never told me I look crazy. She’s always like “girl, if you have the body, rock it.” I’ve always lived by that. You have boyfriends, you always have people in your life like, “you shouldn’t wear that.” I’m like, listen, my mother said I could wear it, therefore it’s okay. My mom has always been my number one fan.
How has being Afro-Latina shaped your experience?
Growing up, I never considered myself Afro-Latina. When you’re growing up in Bushwick, it’s like you’re either Black or Dominican, so I was always like, “I’m Dominican.” But knowing who you are is pretty amazing. I’m a Black woman who speaks Spanish and there’s no one on TV who looks like me. I even spoke to my family, I was like, “Mom we’re watching all these Telenovelas, and there’s not one leading actress on any of these shows since I’ve been a child, living in this household, who’s ever been the color of our skin.”
I went to the Latin Grammy’s and I was like wow, I don’t think I’ve seen another dark-skinned girl on the red carpet, but here I am. And to be able to do that with a company like L’Oreal is just so humbling because you have girls who are looking at me like “Oh my goodness, that can totally happen for me.”
I think people were watching as I was talking about my upbringing and not loving the color of my skin and now that I have a platform and I’m able to talk about these insecurities that I grew up with, it’s so amazing. It’s beyond just being Monica Style Muse. I am a voice for people who can’t speak up or feel like they have to change how they dress. I’m here to say: do not apologize for the way you look, do not apologize for the color of your skin, do not apologize for the way that you present. There are so many Afro-Latinas but we’re in this day and age where people make you choose between being Black and being a Latina, and you shouldn’t have to. You can be both. We are both. To be Black and to be a Latino is such a powerful combination.
Why do you think there’s a hesitancy to claim Blackness as a Latina?
For me, nobody ever told me I was Black. I mean, it was obvious, I’m a dark skinned woman, but I was never told I was Black. I was told I was Dominican. So when I grew up in Bushwick, people would make fun of me and be like, “You are not Dominican, you look like Charcoal,” because to them Dominicans have a lighter skin.
I think there’s a lack of education in regards to where we come from. Especially in school, I don’t think that that’s something that’s being taught. We read about all types of cultures and all races but we never really get to the nitty gritty of who we are individually. I think it’s important because you have people like me who want to open up and make this more visible to the public but sometimes society gives us a hard time because they’re like, “what are you talking about?”
If you go on my video, you see people calling me all kinds of names to the point where I’m like, if I was a soft person, this would kill me. But I’m completely, 100% confident in who I am and what I believe in, and I know that people aren’t going to agree with me being who I am. I’m a Black woman who speaks Spanish and I love saying that because people are like, “Wait what?” That’s who I am. I’m Dominican, that’s one thing. I’m Black, that’s another thing. Two completely different things. I think it’s important for people to just educate themselves.
What’s next for you?
I would love to have a sit-down show and be able to talk to influencers, and I don’t care about a following, but just people with voices and people who want to be heard. I’ve always wanted to have that on my channel where I can just bring people in and kind of just have a panel discussion about current events so I’m definitely thinking about making that move for 2017. I love fashion, I love makeup, I love hair, but I want to get deep, I want to get really deep, and I want to make people uncomfortable. Not in a sense where I’m not gonna make people watch but I want to be the person who says the things people are thinking but are afraid to say. We’re so comfortable making everyone happy and I’m so done making people happy.
I want to start up conversations and I want to do it on a digital scale because I enjoy television but I think we turn on our phones quicker than we turn on our televisions, so hopefully a talk show on my channel. We can talk about pop culture all the way to current events or politics. I feel like 2016 was all about me finding myself and now I’m like, I wanna start talking to people. That’s the only way I’m going to grow as an entrepreneur and a person.