As a reporter at The New York Times, Sandra E. García has one mission: to tell the stories of women like her. Since 2018, the New York-born Dominican journalist has been publishing stories that relate to the experience of Black, Latinx women, whether it’s an essay on her relationship to hoop earrings or an obituary to the late Cuban painter Belkis Ayón.
Every style choice she makes daily also fulfills that mission. She chooses to highlight her eyes to mirror her mother’s and dons hoop earrings as a way to reclaim her identity. García explains why in her conversation with the Emperifollá team.
The word beauty is such a broad word. I think women are beautiful and I think, you know. I think it’s beautiful of women to continuously go on when they are getting paid less when they are being treated less fairly, they are being harassed. And we still go on. I think that’s beautiful. Not only do we still go on, but we do it with a smile on our face and while looking badass. I think women, period, are my beauty icons.
I grew up in the early 2000s. The eyebrow plucking, waxing, extreme nonsense. The gelled down hair, just like, ya tu sabe. Just gel. I can hear it cracking. I look back at my pictures from high school and I’m like, “Why is my hair so hard?” I think those are my number ones. The eyebrow plucking was intense in like ’02, ’03, ’04. I mean you had to have it. My hair is hard as heck, but also like I’m cool. I’m down.
I think one feature of mine that I pay most attention to is my eyes because they are my mother’s eyes and my brother’s eyes, his kids’ eyes. It’s like the one thing that I can look at my face and see it and then I can look at my mother’s face and see it. I kind of take care of them… A lot of eye cream, a lot of eye masks. They are pretty bulgy on their own so I don’t really do much to them. But it’s the part of my face that I take care of the most.
I really like applying toner. I use a few. Pixie’s Glow Tonic and one from Caudalie, which has a story. I was actually in Mexico City. I forgot my toner and I’m like, “I’m gonna have to Uber to a Sephora. I’m not gonna make it five days.” It’s a Caudalie toner and it moisturizes and makes my skin so soft. But that’s my favorite part because it tingles a little bit. It’s like my waking up moment. So after the shower– a hot shower– I just rub a little cotton pad with it on and it’s just like the little tingle, like, “Okay, now I’m ready to go.”
I grew up in New York. It’s all over, even the way I cuff my jeans maybe or like the shirt I wear. It’s definitely reflective of where I’m from. It doesn’t mean I can’t throw on a cute, little pantsuit and give you some Hillary Clinton, right? But I very much like wearing sneakers, a t-shirt, and some jeans. I live in that in the summer. I feel like the way I dress is an extension of how I express myself and so equally it identifies with my identity.
Because I’m a black woman, my fashion is coveted and considered cultured. But it’s also appropriated a lot. And that’s what happened with hoops, right? I felt like the bigger the hoops at Columbia or at the Times, people would look at me and say, “There’s that ghetto girl.” It was already a lot that I look how I look and I was in the spaces that I was in, but then to have the audacity to be myself. I thought, “I’m not gonna push it. I’ve already gotten lucky.” But then I started seeing white women wearing hoops and being themselves and I thought, “If they can take my stuff and be looked at as fashionable and be looked at as beautiful, elegant, why can’t I wear my stuff and also be considered elegant? Not be considered a loud mouth or the girl with the dangling earrings.” I bought a pair of hoop earrings. They were small. And I felt a little better. You feel like you’ve kind of been allowed to have this little thing that you weren’t supposed to do. It’s kind of reclaiming my time. This is mine. And I’m sorry that I went so many years without it, but that’s all I wear now– my hoops.
Ami V Nails is a goddess. I’ve known her since 2012. Right now, they are like a black girl nude, which is not like ballerina slippers. It’s a black girl nude. It’s chocolate, mauve. And it has a little French tip in neon green because that’s me. I’m giving you nude and elegance and then you get your hip-hop. And they glow in the dark.
I don’t know how Ami puts up with me. I literally show up and I’m like, “I would like the solar system. Give me a different Beyoncé on every nail.” And she’s like, “Sandra!” And I’m like, “Okay, let’s tone it down.” But she’s amazing and always makes my ideas and stuff work on my little nails. She’s bomb period. The craziest thing was Adventure Time nails. I’m obsessed. I love the Adventure Time cartoon and I got one character on each nail. And you know, Ami slayed it.
For The New York Times “Overlooked” project, which is they write obits for women that they hadn’t written before. I wrote the obit for Belkis Ayón, who is a Cuban artist who took her own life. But her work is so captivating and magnetic, even. I did one of her works on every nail. That week I was going to Cuba to deliver the printed paper to her family because, obviously, they don’t get The New York Times there. I really connected with Belkis Ayón’s story. She was a young girl, very talented. She was supported by her family and by the professors and teachers that she met and I really connected with that– the support of my mother and the professors and teachers I had is literally what got me here. No one tells a first-generation immigrant kid, “You can go to Columbia.” Without teachers that had said that to me, I would not have applied.
I thought I liked getting dressed so much that, of course, I wanted to do fashion journalism. ¡Claro, obvio! And then I got an internship at InStyle Magazine and hated it. I was there probably five months, but I just knew. I sent an email to a man I had met who said to me, “Don’t go to grad school. Come work at The New York Times.” And I said, “My deposit is down on my tuition. So goodbye.” But, after I graduated from Columbia University, I called him back. I came in for an interview and I got it. I started as a news assistant. News assistants are incredibly important and keep fires from going off in the newsroom. I was always at the metro desk for four years. I had to work with the night editor, who’s a wonderful person and a great friend, Peter Khoury. But a lot of fires had to be put out. He’s extremely good at what he does. It ranged from everything like asking a reporter to file to writing small things like the weather page. But I knew that’s not what I wanted to do. So I started asking to be allowed to write stories or pitching stories. And then I got them.
And then I got a little bold and I just started telling people, “I’m gonna write it. So if you publish it or not, that’s on you.” And that kept happening. I did quite a lot. Then, this year, I was asked to report for six months straight every day and I did that. They promoted me to a reporter and now that’s all I do, which is lovely. That sounds so easy and smooth and concise. I’m not here to say my life has been so hard, but it was not that smooth. But extremely worth it.
My favorite part is I get to write about things that I think are important like the Black Latinx experience for a publication that is considered the record. That’s my favorite part. I work with a lot of people that do a lot of amazing things. I would never say I’m creating this space, but I definitely pitch and write the stories that I think are important to my community and my culture and try to find space on a page for them.
My mother wasn’t really big on beauty. But fashion… God! She had a wardrobe and a closet. She had these silver, round earrings. They were Givenchy with a blue stone. In the 80s and 90s, costume jewelry was it. If you were Latina, it was shoulder pads, a haircut, and costume jewelry. So my mom, of course, had the trifecta and she had these round, silver earrings and I remember I took them off the little card they come on. And I’m like, “I’m gonna wear these.” She wasn’t home. I wore them around the house and one fell under the fridge. I never told her. I never said anything to her. And she came home, didn’t ask for them. didn’t say anything. It’s so funny, like my biggest memory of fashion is being worried that my mom was going to find out. A day later, I fished the earring out and I wore them around the house and she just let me wear them. She didn’t mention anything. I had to be like maybe 7.
My brother and I… I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, nonetheless in an interview, but he’s actually a pretty handsome gentleman. And he dresses pretty well and we always say, “Of course, we do! Our mother.. like duh!” She definitely taught me how to get excited about getting dressed, taught me how to use an outfit to motivate your day. I definitely saw her doing that. She definitely instilled that in me, how an outfit can lift your spirit a little bit.
The last two years have been extremely transformative for me. Like experiences, work experiences, experiences with people, experiences with myself and sort of growing into the woman who I’ve always wanted to be. And recognizing that I have the power to achieve my goals, my dreams, recognizing my own power. And sort of looking back and seeing the growth and being grateful to Christ for that growth. Thank God. The last few years have been my coming into my 30s, where I’m just like, “I might be a bad bitch.” I may have figured this little life thing a little bit. It’s just realizing that I have power, harnessing that power and loving myself, being nice to myself. Just like, literally like, “Girl, you look so good. You are so smart, girl.”
I work on my inner beauty every day. Go to therapy all the time and try to read a lot of books that help me center my center and all that. And try to stay present and mindful. But that’s definitely something I subscribe to. Putting toner every night and day is the same as like taking 10 minutes to meditate. It’s equal to me.
I think you should always keep things in your house that are living other than you. I cannot take care of a puppy. So, my plants are the living things that I keep around. They bring me joy. They move. This one is sad right now but she better cheer up. Hopefully, tomorrow her leaves will be up. And they mean a lot to me. I bought the one in my bathroom when I had a really bad fever, like just dying. And I got it. I guess it is wellness. Seeing something green and alive and I like the way that they just grow. They don’t look at the plant next to them. They don’t compare each other. They just take in their light and grow. And that’s exactly how I want to be.
– As told to Frances Solá-Santiago. Shot by Maridelis Morales Rosado.