My maternal grandmother passed away last month at 96. She died of old age– de vieja, como dicen– a blessing for a woman born in precarious, marginalized conditions in the rural area of Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico in the early 20th century. Abuela Justina never graduated elementary school, yet she owned a small business and raised almost a dozen kids and over 20 grandchildren in her humble Caguas home.
When I was little, my mom and I would pick her up every Sunday to go to church. She was always ready to go with her cartera y sombrilla in hand, wearing a printed two-piece suit, clip-on earrings, and polvo Maja. Abuela never had a lot of wealth, but she always looked her best– no matter what.
We started Emperifollá in 2019 inspired by women like my abuela Justina. Of course, they are everywhere in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. The women in Oaxaca who make the best mole; the women in Loíza keeping bomba alive; the farm workers in California that work in the most precarious conditions for little pay; the trans activists in New York moving the LGBTQ communities forward. We are all a product of the women who came before us.
From day one, the team has always referenced our abuelas or the elder women in our cultures when brainstorming stories– from Stephanie’s essay about using fashion to connect with her abuela to Maridelis’s photo essay about holiday emperifollaera at her grandmother’s elderly home. Whenever we interview someone, there is always a mention of an abuela or abuelo. Simply put, Emperifollá is a product of the generational teachings about style, culture, and identity that are ingrained in Latinx cultures.
This month, Emperifollá is dedicating its content to our ancestors with a series of stories and videos that celebrate the beauty of our connections to our past and its role in our future. Less than a week after abuela died, I suggested to the team to dedicate this month to our abuelas and the elderly. When COVID-19 keeps endangering Black and Latinx communities, it’s more important than ever to keep digging for answers in the legacy of people that came before us.
I hope you enjoy our package. Abuelita, this is for you.