Interview with Elizabeth Polanco
How would you describe yourself to the readers?
I’m a fashion student, so I love to exercise my creativity, even if it’s just through a fun Instagram post. I do love creative pursuits but I’ve always felt more comfortable in academics, especially with writing - I’m very left brained. I really love art direction - piecing colours, looks and compositions together. Stalking Solange’s Instagram is a personal hobby of mine. Ultimately, I want to be working in the space between fashion and intersectional feminism, anywhere from styling to writing. I don’t want to have a ~personal brand~ or take myself seriously, I just want to be making cool stuff with other cool girls!
Can you describe what you’re wearing?
I’m wearing a long sleeved printed jumpsuit from Zara and snakeskin printed sandals from H&M.
How would you define your style? Do you have any style inspirations?
I would define my style as pretty unlimited, under the general umbrella of vintage. I love glamour and experimenting with colour - I’ve always been unafraid to try different looks, styles and silhouettes. Jumpsuits, 1940s - 1970s silhouettes and playful prints are my favourites. I never want to take fashion or myself seriously so I always like to have fun and take risks with my looks. I never worry if I can pull off an outfit, I just do it! My style inspirations are Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Lopez, Grace Jones, Rihanna and Solange. I love how these women are fearless, unpredictable and undefined with their fashion.
Where do you usually get your clothes?
The greater part of my wardrobe comes from vintage stores! I’ve worked in vintage stores for a while now and I always find incredible, unique and affordable pieces that really speak to me and what inspires me. And they fit me best. I also love shopping at H&M, Forever 21 and occasionally Zara if there’s something cute in the sale section, because otherwise I find it too expensive. I don’t find it necessary to spend huge amounts of money on clothing, especially if they’re not stand-out wow pieces.
How do you feel about your Latinx identity?
I think for many of people of colour, it takes time to finally reach the point where we feel proud of our culture, our heritage, and even how we look. White supremacy is so pervasive around us, globally, and we really can’t escape its influence. It took a while for me to grow to love my skin and my features that don’t fit with Eurocentric beauty standards - especially when these standards are constantly reflected back at me in all of the media I consume. I’m very proud of my culture and I acknowledge that there are so many intersections and levels within my identity. I’m thankful to my parents for encouraging me to take pride in of both sides of my identity and that neither are limits to what I can do and who I am.
What does Latinidad mean to you?
Within the Latin community there’s definitely a sense of needing to be “Latinx enough”, and unfortunately, much of it seems to rely on stereotypes and boxing ourselves in. It’s what they expect of us. I’ve been eating Colombian food since I was a kid, I love music, films and art from all over the Latin diaspora, I read in Spanish to improve myself and I’m very familiar with la chancla! (This seems to be a pretty universal Latinx experience). I love all aspects of Latin culture and have so much of it naturally ingrained within me from my family and my childhood, yet there is still an undeniable barrier between me and other Latinxs because my lived experience is not fully Latin. I have feelings of inadequacy because I’ve never been to Colombia and my Spanish is not fluent. I feel too white. It’s this push pull between feeling too Latina and not Latina enough.
To me, Latinidad is so open. We come in every shade and shape. Most importantly, Afro Latinx, Asian Latinx and indigenous Latinx desperately need representation! We are not a monolith, one Latinx cannot speak for all, and there is so much beauty in our diaspora. We need to see ourselves represented in ways that give us pride.
What are some issues you face as a Latinx?
Being biracial, there’s always been that disconnect between identities. Biracial or multiracial people face even more scrutiny, a pressure to label, especially from both sides of their identities. Multiracial people struggle with placing ourselves and our identity in the world, especially without representation.
Representation is absolutely a personal issue. Growing up, I rarely saw people who looked like me in the media, unless they were janitors, maids, nannies or criminals with small speaking roles, insignificant. One of the exceptions was Maya and Miguel, a children’s tv show about two Mexican siblings and their close family. My brother and I would watch it and it was exciting to hear words we heard growing up, to see us reflected on the screen in a way that was real and kind. Growing up, I began to realize that Latinas had representation, but in a way that was harmful. We were portrayed as loud, shrill, hot tempered and oversexualized. Perceptions of Latinx in the media need so much work. I think of Gina Rodriguez’s speech at the Emmys - “This award is so much more than myself, it represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes.”
I think intersectional feminism should be paramount to Latinx. It’s so important to acknowledge that not only are women of colour facing the same issues of sexism as white women, but the sexism we’re facing is often racialized. I yell back at catcallers and they laugh and shout back “Caliente mami!” Within that comes fetishization. All of these oppressions, big and small, are invariably tied up together. Sometimes it feels like for every step we take forward, we take a step back - and there’s always someone like Donald Trump anticipating our moves, waiting with bated breath to push us backwards into the dirt. Because of that, I’m so glad we’re making our own spaces.