Raquel Cepeda: A proud Latina with a message of self-identity, hope and resilience.
Author, Hip-hop journalist and social activist, Raquel Cepeda, blessed Lawrence with her presence during the Spring semester to speak about identity and the search to feel comfort within your own skin. A group of more than 20 NECC students took part in the luncheon that included an in-depth discussion about her new book Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina.
NECC students received a copy of the book prior to Raquel’s visit and had the opportunity to read it. Many connected with one or more aspects of Raquel’s life as there were students who grew up in the same New York City neighborhood as Ms. Cepeda, while others grew up in the Dominican Republic neighborhood where Raquel temporary resided. There were others who related to her abusive childhood and to her Latina roots in a male-dominated society. As expected, the conversations were emotionally charged with tears, laughter and a strong bond that Lawrence students rarely feel at an academic institution.
Raquel speaks about the need to find your own identity, especially in a society where you are conditioned to believe what is right and wrong about one’s hair structure, skin tone and sexual orientation. Numerous times, she mentioned how you cannot do your best if you do not like who you see in the mirror. Ms. Cepeda has taken a different route in finding herself which she documents in her book and in ongoing articles.
As a Latina, specifically Dominican, Raquel knows that her identity is entrenched in the ancestral mystery of our African brothers and sisters. The Dominican Republic became the reluctant home to many Africans brought to the Caribbean as slaves by Spanish explorers. As a way to control the slaves, it was common practice to erase any connections to their past. However, Raquel refuses to accept a short-sighted family tree, and through ancestral-DNA testing has been able to trace her ancestors to the Northern and Western parts of Africa where she visited and saw similar physical traits to the African and Arabic descendants of the region. Now, many Hip-hop artists are reaching out to Raquel so they too can connect with a past that has often been ignored in history books. For more on Raquel’s story, get a copy of Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina at the NECC library.