Monica Veloz On Her Afro-Latinidad: “I Felt Like I Had To Prove That I Was Dominican”

Photo: Courtesy of Juan Veloz.

“We been poppin’,” Monica Veloz (known as @monicastylemuse on social media) says while pointing to her brown skin halfway through a Get Ready With Me video. “Y’all just found out — but we been poppin'.” Those sentiments were part of a candid conversation the 27-year-old beauty influencer had with her followers in a video titled "I Chose My Career Over My Family." In it, Veloz opens up about coming of age in her Dominican household and growing to be confident in her skin.

Her honesty, mixed with a magnetic and down-to-earth energy, is what draws in over 300 thousand people to join Veloz's #MuseFamilia on YouTube. Since joining the platform in 2011, the Brooklyn native has grown to be one of the most popular Afro-Latina influencers, and she puts her identity at the forefront of her online persona. "People ask me why I always declare that I am Afro-Latina," she tells Refinery29. "'Oh, why do you always say that? You're either Dominican, or you're Black.'"
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But in the YouTube creator’s case, both are an integral part of her identity. “I am a Black woman first,” she says. “When I move through the world, society doesn’t see a Dominican girl or whatever [the media] has made Latinas look like. They see a Black woman.” It’s why Veloz finds the term Afro-Latina a fitting representation of who she is. 
"Growing up, it wasn't common to see people who looked like me. I’ve always felt like I had to prove that I was Dominican," she says. "I've had people tell me that I am way too dark-skinned to be Dominican. It's still mind-blowing that some people don't know that you can be Black and speak Spanish, or be Black and Dominican, or Honduran, or Mexican."
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When you see Veloz on YouTube these days, she's often speaking Spanish and sharing candid glimpses into her life and family. However, in the early days of her YouTube channel, Veloz recorded her videos, exclusively, in English. "When I first started my channel, I tried to be very prim and proper. I didn't want to be too loud, too extra, too outspoken," she says. "I feel like that goes back to the idea of Black people feeling like they have to suppress themselves to fit in." But when Veloz realized that there was a glaring lack of knowledge and representation from the Afro-Latina community on YouTube, she began to show more of my unfiltered self and used it as an opportunity to educate her followers on her culture. Now, all of her content is bilingual. 
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"When I move through the world, society doesn’t see a Dominican girl or whatever [the media] has made Latinas look like. They see a Black woman."

Monica Veloz
The transition wasn’t seamless, though, and Veloz faced plenty of unsolicited opinions. “I've had people say they would check my DNA, and I've had people call me Haitian as an insult, which is the farthest thing from insulting to me.” Veloz also adds that she was ridiculed by other Latinx viewers for her Spanish skills. “I’ve been told that I speak, what is considered, slang or street Spanish,” she explains. “But why does that make me less of who I am?”
Although Veloz is proudly Afro-Latinx, there is often this idea that she has to prove her Dominican bloodline. "Unfortunately, colorism is still very prevalent in the Dominican culture, and I still encounter it," she says, referencing an event she attended for Latinx influencers a few years ago. "When I walked in, it was like the people there saw a unicorn," she says. "It put into perspective that — even today — in our community if you have a specific complexion you're still considered an outcast by many, and it's like no, mi amor, I can sing Marc Anthony just like you."
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The impact of colorism in Dominican culture influenced the way Veloz approached beauty as a Black woman, creating the underlying pressure to always look polished and fit into European beauty standards. “In my culture, we're not taught to embrace our natural hair,” she says. “We're taught to manage it, cut it, and straighten it. So growing up, I didn't think my hair was pretty enough or long enough.” This resulted in Veloz regularly straightening her hair at the Dominican salon. “I got a desrizado [relaxer] every six weeks, a wash-and-set every Saturday,” she says. “I only stopped getting perms about five years ago. Now I've gotten to a place where I am happy with who I am — whether my natural hair is out or I have a 30-inch wig on.” 
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"It's never too late to embrace who you are."

Monica Veloz
Those same standards are what ended up sparking Veloz’s relationship with makeup. “As a Black woman, I feel like you always have to be on top of your game,” she says. “It’s, honestly, how I got into makeup, by trying to hide the rashes on my skin,” Veloz says, referring to her struggle with eczema and acne. “We have to be exceptional at all times, and society leaves little room for mediocrity. I felt conditioned to believe that isn’t wasn’t appropriate to show my bare skin.” But now Veloz often starts her videos smiling with a makeup-free face and a towel wrapped around her head. 
PHoto: Courtesy of Juan Veloz.
Veloz acknowledges that the pressure to prove herself exists, but she’s not buying into it. Instead, she’s using the platform she’s built to create a safe space for fellow Afro-Latinx people to live their truth. "I am a proud Afro-Latina and that is enough for me. I am part of a shifting narrative.” That shift, Veloz hopes, will end in a place where Afro-Latinx people feel empowered to embrace their Afro-roots and their Latin culture. "I know that in today's climate, it can be scary, but it's never too late to embrace who you are. It's up to our generation to continue to change these cultural stigmas so that our kids aren't ashamed of their natural hair or afraid to sit in the sun in fear of getting dark. We are beautiful, and we should be proud of who we are."
Being Latinx in America is no easy thing. Fighting pressures to abandon our culture, traditions, and heritage, we’re carving out a unique identity in America that’s all our own. In a series of essays, reported articles, and stories for Refinery29's #SomosLatinx, we’ll explore the unique issues that affect the community during Latinx Heritage Month from September 15-October 15.
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