Culture and Latinidad

Source: iOne Creative / iOne Creative

My name is Wander Acosta and I’m 27 years old. I grew up in Washington Heights, and in terms of ethnicity, I’m Dominican or Afro-Latino.

Growing up in a Dominican household was interesting because a lot of the things I thought I would never like, I started to enjoy as I got older and as I started to understand. My mom would play artists like El General and Sandy y Papo, teach me how to cook dishes like platano maduro and pink potato salad, in order to keep us connected to the culture. I was born in a small rural area in the Dominican Republic called Cotuí, but came here with my mom and my siblings when I was three. 

But even though I lived in a predominantly Dominican community, for a while I felt like I was being pushed away from it. Coming from the Dominican Republic my mom was worried about us getting caught up in the streets. I was sheltered from a very young age, so I didn’t really interact with other Dominicans my age to the extent I probably could have. As a result, my siblings and I didn’t really embrace our culture.  When I was in middle school, I was made fun of for not being involved in certain circles in my neighborhood. This is what lead me into my punk rock phase.

Even though I lived in a predominantly Dominican community, for a while I felt like I was being pushed away from it.

I just wanted to get away from all of the things society was trying to place on me and take a look at society from a different perspective. I felt like punk rock was my escape to do so. I used to go to this event in the Bronx called FLC (or First Lutheran Church) where they used to host events every month with local bands. You’d see a diverse crowd, with Puerto Rican, white, and Black people just rocking out to hardcore music. It was one of the craziest, but also wildest learning experiences. Through these concerts I was able to see how much aggression was inside of myself. As I got older I started leaning towards hip hop in terms of just my development as a man. I felt like I wasn’t getting what I needed anymore in terms of my soul from punk rock. But that lead me to want to find out more about myself, my roots, and just everything else that unites us as a people rather than find an escape. I became part of a group called Lower Class Collective with my friends from high school. Today we’re all artists in our own right, but through our work we band together to spread positive messages as people of color.

I always thought I would leave the Washington Heights area, but today I live in Inwood not too far away. I love that feeling of going outside, heading to the bodega, hearing the music and then hearing a domino slam — it feels like home. I love cooking my own maduros and other Dominican dishes that my mom taught me to make. But I’m also able to challenge negative notions in our community such as anti-Blackness. Most importantly, I have a 7-month-old son now. I want to show him things that at one point I didn’t gravitate towards, but now my soul yearns for them. Even if that’s not what he’s interested in, he can always go back to that in his memory and say that’s something that his dad taught him.