Latinx AF Interview: Raquel Reichard of Vintage Latinas
Vintage Latinas is a growing archive of diverse latinas representing different races, nationalities, and talents. Here Raquel Reichard collects not only stunning headshots and videos of iconic latina beauties, but seamlessly celebrates the wide range of what it means to be latina spanning back to almost a century of powerful, beautiful, and talented latinas in media popular throughout Latin America, Spain, the Caribbean, and los estados unidos. Included in each post is a biography of each mujer- so that followers can resonate even further beyond the stunning imagery.The power of our culture is that- despite what American media has us believe- there is no one way to be beautifully and powerfully latina.
R.A.: First of all, I need to tell you the joy that your page brings me, and as it grows I imagine many others!!! What compelled you to start this project?
Thank you so much. Seriously, this means so, so much to me. Like many, this year I found myself anxious and exhausted amid the uncertainty and violence of our world and country. In these moments, I often turn to historical texts to gain strength from women of color revolutionaries. This time, while reading books about Puerto Rican liberation movements in the early twentieth century and conversing with former Black Panthers and Young Lords, I began to imagine these rebellious women beyond the political and social struggles they were a part of and considered how culture, like the birth of salsa music for instance, was an outlet for expression, joy and even community at a time of upheaval. With this, I became curious about early Latinx entertainers and cultural producers. I began listening to guarachas and boleros, watching films and documentaries of these early performers, researching about these women and obsessing over their fashion. I started collecting photos and videos and wished there was a site where all of these items could exist. After realizing there wasn’t anything like this already, I decided to create the account on Instagram. Honestly, it started as a hobby. I didn’t plan or imagine the reception it received. After a week, I knew there was an opportunity here to do something important and good.
R.A.: Growing up, were you exposed to a lot of classic films and media? If so- what were some of your fondest memories- watching an old movie with a family member? Seeing yourself represented on screen? and if not- what drew you to classic films, television, art, and music?
Growing up, my father and I always bonded around oldies music, in Spanish and English. I was in middle school and high school telling everyone my favorite bands were the Stylistics and the Delfonics. I also grew up in East Orlando, where there’s a massive Puerto Rican population (many of us also from New York), so most parties, cars, homes and events blasted ‘80s freestyle music as well as ‘70s-’80s salsa and merengue classics. I’ve always been surrounded by and celebrated the musical stars of these eras. However, I wasn’t as familiar with Latinxs in classic films and television. Like many ‘90s kids, I did watch Nick At Nite and always enjoyed Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, The Facts of Life and others, but I didn’t actually even learn about icons like María Félix or Lupe Vélez until I started my career in Latinx journalism about five years ago.
"You can laugh during a pandemic. You can love in a society that hates. You can sing and dance during the revolution. You can make something beautiful and important from despair and suffering. Our foremothers, in entertainment and en la lucha, did, so that full and complex reality is available to us as well."
R.A.: Your page showcases an extremely racially and nationally diverse selection of badass latinas throughout history. So many of us can find someone who represents us and our experience on your page- and I'm sure more latinas will be able to find themselves in someone as you continue to post. Is this beautifully executed inclusion on Vintage Latinas intentional?
Absolutely! I’ve worked in Latinx media for the past five years and have seen news outlets and cultural platforms get it so wrong too many times. I had dreamed about starting my own outlet because, aside from the financial barriers, I never felt like it was as difficult as these larger platforms claimed it was to accurately and comprehensively represent the diversity and complexity of Latinidad. We see the same type of Latina -- white or mestizo; from Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Chicago or Texas; Mexican, Cuban or Puerto Rican; able-bodied; and straight -- everywhere, even on the outlets that exist to allegedly widen representation and shatter stereotypes. And we see this not because these are the only Latinas that exist but rather because the cultural gatekeepers -- the editors, the writers, the publishers, the photographers, the execs, etc. -- are lazy or simply don’t care as much as they let on. While Vintage Latinas certainly isn’t the editorial outlet I had envisioned, it’s still a platform where I have the opportunity to reflect the multiplicity of our community, past and present.
R.A.: Your wealth of knowledge is incredibly impressive!! Surely you do your research- but you also must have a strong familiarity with vintage (from the early 20th century- to the 90s and 00s) latinx art and media. Who are some of your personal favorites and why?
Thank you so much! I think I’m most comfortable when I’m talking about musical icons, because I’ve always listened to artists from the early, mid and obviously late twentieth century, as well as activists from these eras because I have written about many of them. While I’m of course still learning about so many amazing singers and revolutionaries from the past, those topics tend to be a little easier for me. Honestly speaking, most of the actresses I highlight are brand new to me, so that takes a lot more work and time.
But, to answer your question about my favorites, I love Rita Moreno (my current wallpaper); Bianca Jagger, Raquel Welch, Lola Falana and Chelo Alonso (my fashion role models); Maria Montez (the person who I learned about through this project who I’m most astonished by); Lolita Lebrón and Julia de Burgos (a couple of my favorite freedom fighters); and Mariah and Selena (all the obvious reasons, haha).
R.A.: What are your top 3 favorite classic latinx films?
Hmm. Again, my knowledge of Old Hollywood actresses and films are at an introductory level. To be honest, I haven’t seen classics like Citizen Kane, Singing in the Rain, Psycho or even like Back to the Future, Jurassic Park or Dirty Dancing, haha. I’m really behind on films overall, so I won’t fake the funk and name titles with Latinas that I know about but haven’t watched. Instead, I’m going to go with three that aren’t very old and that I think most people have seen: Selena, I Like It Like That and, ummm, does The Pest or Do The Right Thing count? Haha.
R.A.: Your friends wanna be exposed to some chingona as fuck classic latinx female musicians- maybe their family is more assimilated in America and they didn't grow up with it- or maybe they just want to expand on their collection. Any recommendations?
Yes! I’m always excited to talk about music. Again, I’m Puerto Rican, so my taste definitely leans more Caribbean, but my faves are Sylvia Rexach, Carmen Delia Dipini, Myrta Silva, Lucecita Benitez, Ruth Fernandez, La Lupe, Celia Cruz, Elsa Baeza, Angela Carrasco, Olga Guillot, Rita Montaner, Cassandra Damiron and, outside of the Caribbean, I think folks like Nancy Ames, Daniela Romo and of course Lupta D’Alessio are fantastic. There are honestly so, so many. I’m leaving a ton of folks out.
R.A.: We see sooo many of the same faces- although obviously beautiful and powerful faces- repeated over and over in our U.S. latinx pop culture. Selena, Frida, Celia, Selena, Frida, Celia... Who in your opinion is an (are some) under-represented latina icon(s) you wished more people knew about? (can definitely be more than one!!)
I honestly don’t know how the late Dominican actress Maria Montez isn’t more known than she is. Throughout the 1940s, she was in more than 20 films and was literally called “The Queen of Technicolor” -- a Latina. She’s a total icon. Cuban-American Lola Falana is another underappreciated powerhouse. She’s definitely celebrated in non-Latinx Black communities but not nearly as much as she should be in Latinx culture, and she was a leading performer in mainstream entertainment throughout the ‘70s.
R.A.: You give so much loving attention to each mujer you post. You really want her talent and beauty to be known and celebrated. Was it a difficult decision who to post first? (Rita was a FANTASTIC choice BTW!)
I always knew Rita Moreno would be first. She’s iconic, legendary, barrier-breaking, talented, hysterical, beautiful, joyous, just all things that are radiant, haha. She’s also a Latina icon who has been impactful in my life personally. I met her when I was in high school. I used to sing in an honors choir, and we’d perform at Disney World every holiday season while a celebrity would narrate the biblical Christmas story. My senior year, Moreno was one of the narrators. I actually didn’t know who she was at the time. Then, in the middle of the show, I passed out, as I did quite a bit as a teen. Moreno, and everyone there, was so gracious, and while I was obviously embarrassed, I felt mostly OK. I think I was just moved by how helpful and amazing everyone was. Afterwards, my dad told me all about who Moreno is, her astronomical career and significance to Latinxs and Puerto Ricans. Later on in life, I actually got to interview her. During that conversation, she told me she remembered that day many years ago -- and then went on to give me amazing advice about financial independence and never depending on a man, haha. So, in short, I love her, haha. Actually, when I first started the page, it was called Latinas de Ayer. But after making the first post and thinking about the incredible career that she -- like others -- continues to have, I changed it to Vintage Latinas, which I’m still not set on but it works for now.
R.A.: In all of your research of these icons- What can we as latinas learn from these mujeres who have come before us?
This is going to sound a little somber, but as I’ve been working on the project, one of the first things I noticed is that there are literally more than a million ways to die. Despite the extraordinary lives these women and femmes lived, many have already passed on or will in the not-so-distant future. But while they were on this earth, they lived full, complex, joyous lives, despite colonialism, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism and other forms of oppression. For me, it’s really been a reminder that life is fleeting, and that while I personally do work that challenges and resists oppressive systems and imagines a different reality, I must also find joy, create art, form community, love and do things I’m passionate about. You can laugh during a pandemic. You can love in a society that hates. You can sing and dance during the revolution. You can make something beautiful and important from despair and suffering. Our foremothers, in entertainment and en la lucha, did, so that full and complex reality is available to us as well.
R.A.: Thank you so much for your time Raquel, and thank you so much for sharing your passion for nuestra cultura with Vintage Latinas. Where else can people find your work?
Thank you! These questions were all so great and thoughtful. I appreciate you so much. I can be reached at @raquelreichard across social media platforms, where I also sometimes share my journalistic work.