Living Latina is a series telling the stories of amazing Latinas that are in our life. They are models for Cadena, friends of Cadena and overall women we greatly admire.
Rosa is bold. She’s the type of woman you’d meet at a coffee shop and she might be intrigued by a book you’re reading and proceed to ask you about it. You’d probably end up feeling like you have a new friend by the time you finish a conversation with her. Her friendly demeanor and curiosity for life have her questioning everything and striking up conversations about the conventional and unconventional! In this Q&A we kept it casual but we talked about beauty standards and a few other personal things. We hope you enjoy it and get to know more about this Dominican beauty.
1. How did your upbringing impact and shape who you are now?
Both of my parents are incredibly strong individuals who have faced so much adversity in their lives - some that they still haven't shared with me and my sisters - and their trauma has definitely made an appearance in raising us, but two lessons have stuck out: try your best and give grace. Growing up, whenever I would get upset at someone my father would always say "Be Kind. You never know what the other person is going through." It definitely used to annoy me when I was younger, but now I understand what he meant by it. It taught me to put myself in others' shoes and imagine the difficulties of their lives and how I would react under the circumstances. It taught me to try and not be a source of pain and negativity for others and while I admit that sometimes I carry this virtue too far and transform it into a vice, the idea of being understanding and loving to others is a core aspect of my philosophy.
Now have I failed at practicing this? Yes. I've unfairly hurt people and those moments stand as testaments in time when I placed my desires above another's wellbeing. There is now nothing but remorse, shame, and a determination to never stumble on those rocks again.
On the other hand, my mom taught me what truly supporting a person looks like. She would call us out when she sensed we were acting out of fear, challenge us when we doubted ourselves, and would never push us to follow a dream we no longer believed in - as long as we were absolutely sure. She never pressured me to get straight A's, but would simply ask if I honestly thought I had tried my best and that was the tone she set for every aspect of our life. She expected us to try our best but never pressured us to be the best, teaching us that our worth was not in our performance but in our intentions. She encouraged us to be our best self, in spite of our imperfections.
I’d like to think both of these lessons are how I try and live my life now.
2. The day before you modeled for us, you shaved your head. Can you tell us why you decided to shave it?
WHEW! That is a long story, but I'll save you the gory details.
I shaved my head because I wanted to ACTUALLY feel ugly. I had already criticized myself for so long and finally just wanted to face what I thought the most undesirable version of myself would be. After years of therapy, building me to unconditionally love myself, I found I was still using external gratification and approval to validate my worth at the expense of my own needs and desires. In short, I wasn't respecting myself. Rather, I was searching for validation through a string of one night stands and unhealthy pseudo-relationships in a desperate desire to prove to myself that I could find someone who "would claim me" and validate my beauty. I would have thoughts like: "I know I'll be upset if I don't get complimented tonight; This outfit doesn't look that good on me already and my hair looks awful" then try to displace my sadness with some form of overindulgence or insobriety.
One day I decided to take the most direct form of therapy and purposefully make myself look the worst I thought I could be. I figured if I just exposed myself to my worst appearance fear, I could finally focus on finding beauty in things I had never noticed before.
3. What did you discover once you shaved your head?
I discovered that my fears were only a reality in my head. People didn't treat me poorly because I felt ugly. In fact, I found people to be even nicer than expected in some instances. When I was walking around Bishop Arts for the Cadena Collective photoshoot the amount of kids that came up to me just to tell me I was beautiful, made my heart melt.
But most importantly, it took away all the places I typically ran to whenever I didn't feel good enough. It helped me concentrate on finding positive aspects on my body. My mind would usually diss my body and then compensate by thinking "at least your hair and face are cute though" so I decided to take that scapegoat away. I wanted to test myself and love my body for things I couldn't change - and not just the socially-encouraged features like my curves or booty. I also wanted to appreciate the lumps of cellulite that riddle my thighs and tummy; I wanted to love the way my arms low-key look like built-in capes (I'm a costume-ready Dracula. Get on my level). I learned how to appreciate me simply for existing. I am enough (and you are too).
"I was so worried about missing the beauty around me that I didn't notice the beauty of me. So my definition of beauty hasn't really changed, I'm just finally including myself."
4. As women most of us have deeply personal experiences with our body and weight. I personally saw you go through a journey of weight loss. What is this journey teaching you?
When I lost weight the first time it was fueled from a severe depression that lasted nine months (which interestingly correlates with how much weight I lost). And while I'm thankful I had a healthy distraction during that rough time, I couldn't stay depressed for the rest of my life. So I've actually struggled with maintaining my weight ever since. I'm the heaviest I've ever been in the past year (prior to COVID before you offer full amnesty) but also don't think I've ever respected myself this much before. I now focus on building a healthy and active lifestyle by understanding my emotional triggers (thank you, therapy) and practicing meditation. Overall, I've learned that focusing on a specific number will make you attempt some unsustainable unhealthy habit, but focusing on health, will lead to a longer, happier outcome.
5. How are you defining beauty now?
On my left upper forearm, I have a tattoo that says "Isn't everything amazing?" It's from one of my favorite movies, in which upon receiving a death diagnosis, the main character 'wakes up' and realizes how beauty is hidden in every little thing - even his bathmats. I got the tattoo years ago to remind me to appreciate everything around me because life is fleeting, but I forgot to include myself in "everything." I was so worried about missing the beauty around me that I didn't notice the beauty of me. So my definition of beauty hasn't really changed, I'm just finally including myself.
6. You are a survivor of sexual assault and recently you publicly spoke out about your experience. What would you tell other women who have or are going through this situation?
"Stuff in your past is like a carving on the bark of a sapling. Over time - the scar - the carving, won't go away. Because of the way trees grow, it won't go up or down much either. It'll just stay right where it began, it might even get darker.
But it won't get bigger.
You, however, can.
You can keep growing, doing more things - more branches - BEING more things.
The wounds won't get smaller, but you can make it a smaller part of who you are."
-Michael "VSauce" Stevens
7. What is next for you and how can we support and champion you?
I'm not completely sure yet. At this very moment my eyes are set on a promotion at work. My apartment complex has seldom used electric car charging spots that are right next to my apartment door, so I would effectively always get great parking without having to pay for a reserved spot. But looking at the electric car market, even pre-owned ones are a bit pricey, so you see my dilemma
Anyway, send ya girl positive vibes - I'm in a field that doesn't see a lot of first generation women of color and I came into it without a lick of knowledge (it's a long story). I'm just trying to climb, so I can lift others along the way.
Rosa, let us know where we can keep up with you.