The first words of the love letter were written on Valentine’s Day, 2019.

Bushwick-based uptown native Djali Brown-Cepeda” Djali Brown-Cepeda was in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, visiting family on her mother’s side. That night, she says she watched a show that was meant to be “groundbreaking” in its Afro-Latina representation, but fell wildly short.

Brown-Cepeda said she was heartbroken. While scrolling on Instagram that night trying to change her mood, the idea came to her: What if she started an Instagram account dedicated to archiving New York City’s Latinx culture and history through family photographs?

She started with a photo of her mom. “She was and still is very badass, I loved all of her teenage photos I came across,” Brown-Cepeda tells BK Reader.

Then, she started reaching out to friends in the Dominican and Puerto Rican communities she grew up with to send in their family photos and stories.

“From there, honestly it just started to grow by word of mouth,” Brown-Cepeda said. Today, the Instagram account, @nuevayorkinos, has more than 40,000 followers and 850 posts of New York City family history. Its official tag line is: “A Love Letter to OG ÑYC.”

Brown-Cepeda said she treats the account like a full-time job, giving each person’s family story the care it deserves.

“I did not foresee where we are today and cannot see where it will grow,” she said. “It’s a living, breathing thing with its own personality, because NYC is its own living thing.”

What is @nuevayorkinos?

Nuevayorkinos is a digital archive dedicated to documenting and preserving old school New York City Latinx culture and history through family photographs and stories, and by sharing histories of important Latino places and events.

NuevaYorkinos founder Djali Alessandra Brown-Cepeda. Photo: Elissa Salas

By sharing stories of the immigrant community in a rapidly-gentrifying city, Nuevayorkinos intends to remind all who come across it that Latinx people are part of the fabric of the city and always will be, Brown-Cepeda said.

“Our legacy in this city cannot be erased by rising rent or forced displacement,” she said.

Brown-Cepeda said running the project had turned her into a “cultural historian” of Latinx culture in New York City.

While she herself had grown up in Dominican and Puerto Rican enclaves, @nuevayorkinos had taught her about the histories and experiences of other Spanish-speaking groups, such as the Paraguayan diaspora in Queens and the Garifuna community of the Bronx.

Brooklyn Ties

One of the most personally-influential people Brown-Cepeda had met through the project was Jackie Acosta, a woman who grew up in Los Sures, now mostly only known as south Williamsburg.

“Los Sures used to be one of the most important strongholds of Domincan-Puerto Rican New York City,” Brown-Cepeda said.

“The fact that [people] don’t know that, but have occupied this place, is why we say gentrification is neocolonialism — because they see, they come and they conquer.”

Acosta shared with @nuevayorkinos the story of her grandmother, Josefa Cruz, being crowned “Madre de la Quadra de Sur 2” — matriarch of their block — in July 1979 in Los Sures.

She remembered her grandmother being carefully prepared and made-up for the day, a satin cape draped around her shoulders and a sparkling crown on her head. That day, a procession was held down the street for Sra. Cruz.

Brown-Cepeda said she loved sharing these sorts of stories, because they revealed a neighborhood’s rich history to those who may not know it.

“I personally feel that if you move to a neighborhood you have a responsibility to learn about that neighborhood as deeply as you can,” she said, adding that she hopes people can turn to @nuevayorkinos and learn the histories of the neighborhoods they live in.

Brown-Cepeda estimated she had about 300 to 400 posts about the history of Latinx Brooklyn.

Looking forward

Bushwick, where Brown-Cepeda now lives, is another Brooklyn neighborhood with Latinx roots that is rapidly gentrifying, as well as Flatbush and Sunset Park.

“Every time I walk into a space where I’m the only non-white woman my stomach turns, it’s cultural genocide,” she said.

She said she makes it a practice to partner with Black and Brown people when working on the project and events surrounding it.

“Growing up going to public schools, we were taught the only people who can help save you are white people. It’s one of the most insidious forms of white supremacy kids are indoctrinated by.”

In future, Brown-Cepeda said she hopes to develop @nuevayorkinos into a physical space that anyone can visit to learn about and experience the archive, even if they do not have internet access.

She also plans to hold workshops for those interested in learning more in the new year, as well as continuing a backpack drive that has seen her and others give away more than 1,500 backpacks to kids in Black and Brown communities over the past two years.

Click here for more on how to submit your family photos to @nuevayorkinos.

Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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    1. Hi Jackie, thanks so much for sharing your story! Loved seeing the photo of your grand-momma and hearing about that day, such an incredible, rich history. – Jessy

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