Redefining “Closeness” While Quarantining With Mami

When it comes to closeness, by definition, you can refer to distance and you can refer to intimacy. You can be close while being apart and you can be apart while being close. Stating a definition is always easier than defining relationships themselves. Now throw a global pandemic into the mix and we all find ourselves discovering that defining and redefining everything we thought we knew about the world, its systems, and most importantly ourselves, isn’t an easy feat. 


Intellectually, ‘to go back’  might mean to face ourselves in ways we would usually avoid but at the beginning of March, when states and countries around the world were enforcing stay-at-home orders, for some, “to go back” meant going to the home that saw them grow up, which also meant sharing closed spaces with their family, especially their matriarchs

And that’s exactly what happened to Gilluis Pérez, Shanelle Lopez, and Alyson Mia Arrieta. 

We caught up with them while they are quarantining with their mamis to talk about how they are redefining closeness and shoot them in the homes that are seeing them grow up, once more, under much different circumstances.

Gilluis with his mother (right) and grandmother (left).

Gilluis Pérez, Ponce, Puerto Rico

While Gilluis’s job allowed him the flexibility to come visit his mom and grandma a lot in Ponce, Puerto, pre-quarantine their closeness, literally and figuratively, hasn’t seen a major transformation but their bonds have gotten stronger. So much that his style has evolved, like Pokémons. Yes, Pokémons.

“I usually don’t get my nails done because of work but since I’ve been in quarantine at home I decided to give them a go”, Gilluis shows Emperifollá his mani via Zoom. It’s a clear base coat with the words “Stay Home” designed across his fingernails. However, in the pinky of his right hand, he has a Poké ball painted on his nail.

They have a story and it goes like this: The nail technician simply said, “Nosotros [humanos] estamos evolucionando.” To what Gilluis responded, “Es verdad, somos como Pokémones”. 

A friendly reminder that we’re simply in one stage in life, and at any moment, we can evolve and the simplest of things can be gateways to that evolution.

For Gilluis, it’s the influence his mom and grandma have had in his style. “Even though now we just get dressed up [to go outside] for quick moments, since the lockdown in Puerto Rico is still ongoing, my mom and grandma influenced my way of dressing,” he says. “In my job, clothing gives a language that isn’t vocal; it’s something that I use daily.”

Shanelle Lopez, Staten Island, New York

Shanelle wearing her mother’s jewelry.

Quarantine caught Shanelle between Purchase College in Westchester County in early March and then in May in Staten Island, New York with her mom, who she also calls her best friend.

While they are used to swapping clothes and shoes, their relationship with style, clothing, and themselves has changed during quarantine — for the better.

“I love her outfits. She’s always top notch, especially when she goes on vacation. I think it’s so much so [how] I see the way she holds herself to a standard with her clothes,” she says. “My ideas of what looks good on me has changed from when I went away to college. I’ve developed as my own person. So, sometimes we look alike, sometimes we don’t; sometimes she likes my style, sometimes she doesn’t, but she has inspired it.”

Now, their time together is coming to an end, since Shanelle is going back to campus, but not without acknowledging what having her best friend for a long period of time did to their existing connection.

“That’s [closeness] something we didn’t have before, I feel like. At least, it wasn’t as noticeable that we were missing out on [closeness], now that we have it. I think it was a positive thing, quarantining with each other and spending so much time [together].”

Alyson Mia Arrieta, Dumont, New Jersey

Alyson with her mother.

Alyson Mia Arrieta grew up in Dumont, New Jersey, where her mom would always stand out from all the other moms thanks to her great sense of style, according to Arrieta herself.

“My mom is very stylish and has always been stylish, ever since I could remember. First of all, she was different from all the other moms,” Arrieta says. She goes on to note that her mom was: older than them, Puerto Rican in a white Italian/Irish kind of town, and actually had a good sense of style “while the rest of them were wearing like LL Bean catalog.”

Before quarantine, they were just “living their lives”, they would commute together to the city, her mom would go on shopping sprees and buy Arrieta clothes that she would actually wear because they’re just that close.

Of course, she has her own sense of style, telling Emperifollá that she tends to gravitate towards more comfy and casual clothing compared to her mom or even her grandma. Still, she recognizes the influence her mom has had on her and will still have as she gets older.

So, while COVID-19 might have delayed Arrieta’s plans to move out and redefined her closeness with her mother by switching up their daily lifestyles, she’s seen firsthand how important it is to foster her relationship with her mom, no matter if they do manage to get on each others nerves.

“We were very close to begin with so this is just a continuation of our closeness,” she says. “We just hang heavy all the time. I’m waiting for quarantine to be over so I can move, but I’m also like enjoying the time that I have.”

Bianca Nieves

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