What does beauty mean to you?
As cliché as it sounds, to me, beauty comes from within. If you don’t feel beautiful, you won’t exude beauty. If you are internally beautiful, then I will only see beauty regardless of what you physically look like. I love beautiful people and surround myself with them. My friends and family are all beautiful, kind, generous, loving, giving people, and I count my blessings that I have them in my life.
What is a misconception about Afro-Latino heritage/identity that you’d like to clarify?
The term Afro-Latinx is a newer one, so a lot of people outside of the Latinx community have no idea what it means. I’ve had people think it meant that one of my parents is African American and one is Latinx, and I even had one person think it was the term used for a Latinx person with an afro. (Ha! Nope.)
But I can’t totally blame them since the history we are taught in this country excludes actual facts around New World colonization and the African diaspora. So I’ll give you a quick history lesson on the matter: White Europeans (Spanish, French, Dutch) colonized islands in the Caribbean (present-day Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, etc.). There were already Native Indians on these lands, and the Europeans brought African slaves with them. Since only European men did the colonizing, they eventually starting raping the African and Native women, which began a lineage of “mixed” people. These people span the spectrum of skin hues and European, Native, and African features, which is why today’s Latinx are so diverse! Lesson over. Both my parents are from the Dominican Republic. I was born here in the states in Brooklyn, so I’m Dominican American. Both my parents are Afro-Latinx, meaning they are Latinx with African features and brown skin, and I look just like them. We are all racially Black and ethnically Latinx, more specifically Dominican.
Sadly, there is still a lot of colorism in the Latinx community, as we’ve been brainwashed to think that whiter is better. For this reason, a lot of Afro-Latinx don’t use the term and denounce their African heritage. It makes me sad, but I think it’s starting to change, and hopefully, articles like these will open more people’s eyes to our beautiful diversity.
How has your individual life experience influenced your beauty philosophy?
My mom has gorgeous skin and does not age, so all my life, I’ve looked up to her beauty and makeup routines. She has always kept it simple, and I do the same. I only wear heavy makeup for auditions, but my daily makeup look consists of mascara, blush, brow powder, and a lip balm—that’s it! For skincare, I’ve stepped it up over the last few years, but my major rule that I also learned from mom is to never go to sleep with makeup on. I’ve been wearing makeup since high school, and I have never once fallen asleep with it on!
What inspires you to share your gifts with the world?
When I think of young Grasie—the painfully insecure little girl that was too shy to look anyone in the eye until her early 20s—that inspires me to get to work. I’m a storyteller, and whether I’m telling stories via acting or writing or directing or blogging or podcasting, I love to tell stories! And I want those stories to be for women, for Black girls, for Latinx girls, for all BIPOCs, for the LGBTQ+ community, and for those who are disabled—for anyone who’s ever felt “other” or “less than.” That’s why I tell stories and do what I do. I want to inspire little girls and boys to embrace their uniqueness and not feel ashamed of it or like they need to change or assimilate to exist. Representation matters, and I aspire to do everything in my power as a storyteller to make sure everyone’s stories are told.
Have you ever felt “othered” or excluded from beauty trends or the beauty industry at large? If so, please describe an instance that you can recall.
Yes, all the time. Especially when I’m on set as an actor and the makeup person has to mix two shades of foundation to match my skin color or when they can’t match it at all because they just don’t have enough experience with brown skin. Or when the hair person takes one look at my curls and is clearly intimidated. The beauty industry needs to diversify its color palettes. And while some companies are doing that, there’s still a ways to go. There are levels to our brown and Blackness with different undertones of yellow or red, and makeup brands need more variety, and makeup artists need to be trained to work with all skin hues. As far as hair, that’s a big topic we can dedicate another whole article to. But I’ll say this: I’ve had so many bad hair experiences on set that now when I book a job, I send the producers images of my hair curly, straight, and wavy and ask them how they would like my hair done so I can show up that way and, hopefully, avoid more nightmare situations. This shouldn’t be the case, but it is for so many Black and Brown actors. It needs to change.
What advice do you have for Afro-Latino humans who may be struggling with the complexities of their identity in the beauty space or the world in general?
Embrace your Blackness and your Latinidad! Don’t shrink to fit into white spaces and know that you are beautiful!