“I was always this girl who felt like she had to choose between being black or Dominican,” vlogger MonicaStyle Muse told HuffPost.
Beauty vlogger Monica Veloz became familiar with colorism before she could truly understand the concept. The Afro-Latina told HuffPost she still remembers how kids in her bilingual day care in Brooklyn, New York, would say her skin looked like “charcoal” or “tar.”
“No, your skin is dirty,” Veloz, 26, recalls one girl saying after she asked to use her towel. “I really didn’t understand it. It wasn’t even like I went home and cried, at the time I didn’t really care. But obviously it struck a nerve because… I can even tell you the color of the shirt she was wearing.”
Known on YouTube and Instagram as MonicaStyle Muse, the Dominican social media star says “colorism is the story of my life,” but Veloz has also made a conscious decision to use her platform to create a narrative of inclusion for Afro-Latinos.
“This platform for me has to be more than just me telling you how to beat your face and how to do your hair because there’s girls who are younger than me who might have a girl telling her the same thing,” Veloz said. “And hopefully she can see my video and be like, ‘Well, they used to call Monica ‘charcoal’ and look at her.”
Veloz’s YouTube channel is filled with beauty tips and Dominican-inspired videos ― including bachata dance tutorials, Dominican slang lessons, and a Dominican makeup hack parody video. But the influencer hasn’t always felt comfortable fully embracing who she is on social media.
“I always felt like I had to dim my light to make everyone comfortable,” she said. “I felt like I had to be like the proper black girl. Black girls can’t be too loud, you can’t be too extra. If you have a big booty [you] don’t wear something [that]’s gonna enhance your butt.”
After more than four years of making “it look corporate all the time” with her YouTube videos, Veloz was laid off from her job as an executive assistant for a publishing company at the end of the 2016. The experience pushed her to finally become self-employed and allow her true colors to shine through her MonicaMuse content.
“Now I feel like I’m free, and I don’t have to apologize for the way I am,” Veloz told HuffPost. “When you meet me, you might see me without my wig, you might see me with no makeup. But you’ve seen me like that already. It’s not a facade.”
Veloz’s focus on her Dominican roots is intentional, too. The influencer peppers her tutorials with Spanglish, Latin music and cultural references in hopes that younger fans will feel represented in her story.
“I feel like I was that little girl who felt like she had to hide who she was, and I remember me feeling like I was never Dominican enough,” Veloz said. “I was always this girl who felt like she had to choose between being black or Dominican, especially growing up in Brooklyn. I always had to deal with not feeling complete.”
“It’s important for me to now use my platform to inform other people because when you tell people ‘Afro-Latino,’ they’re like ’no, I’m very proud of who I am. I’m Dominican, I’m Mexican, I’m Colombian,” she added. “It’s okay to be proud of that but also be aware that you’re black”
Earlier this year, Afro-Latino identity became what Veloz called a “trending topic” after “Love & Hip Hop: Miami” aired a confrontation between Dominican singer Amara La Negra and a Puerto Rican music producer (who told Amara to be “a little bit more Beyoncé, a little less Macy Gray.”)
The incident sparked a conversation about internal racism within the Latino community and prompted the vlogger to film a 20-minute “rant video” addressing the struggles of being both black and Latina. Veloz was thankful to have the conversation in the mainstream but also felt frustrated to have people discuss her experiences as something new.
“Being Afro-Latina cannot be a storyline,” Veloz told HuffPost. “I want people to understand that being Afro-Latina isn’t something that’s gonna go away. It’s not something that’s gonna just be trending. My skin is not a trend, my skin isn’t a hashtag, my skin is not something that you can just, you know, use to make views.”
Veloz added it’s also important for people of color to hold brands accountable when companies use diversity as a marketing strategy while not actually being inclusive with their products.
“If a brand is blatantly telling you, ‘we are not carrying your shade because it is not working for us right now, and we’re going to give it to you around the summer,’ you don’t buy their product,” Veloz said. “Because let me tell you, my skin is not seasonal. My skin is not an after thought. My skin should be a part of the conversation.”
“If a brand isn’t inclusive of all shades, we need to start making the decisions whether or not we should support it because they’re here to work for us,” she said. “We have the power, and I hope people understand that.”