A year of cataclysmic events might look like nothing was done for good. Yet, the initial installment of Emperifollá’s year-end list is filled with creatives, activists, politicians, and entrepreneurs that decided to bet on themselves and their communities during one of the most painful, unprecedented years of our lifetimes. This is why we are calling it, The 20 of 2020.
Emperifollá’s 20 of 2020 aims to celebrate and highlight Latinx individuals that are pushing our communities forward in five major categories: culture, politics and activism, fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Our process for selecting these names was basic: we each nominated names that made us smile and believe in a better world amid a pandemic, economic crisis, and– to be honest– personal crises. Honoring up-and-coming, as well as established names, is not about celebrating productivity. But rather an attempt to uplift people whose mere existence in the spaces they navigate makes 2020 worth its while.
Congratulations to our honorees!
- Sabrina Santiago, Photographer
Puerto Rican photographer Sabrina Santiago is not afraid to voice her frustrations against a heavily white media industry. A former photo editor at Man Repeller, she made a splash during the summer of 2020, when she publicly called out founder Leandra Medine for the company’s treatment of POC. Medine has since stepped back from her role, shutting operations of Man Repeller in October 2020. Santiago’s work this year has focused on documenting pandemic times in New York City, as well as shooting figures like Tracee Ellis Ross and Aidy Bryant for The New York Times.
- Ana Macho, Performer and Singer
This year, Ana Macho released two EPs, filled with perrería, sandungueo, and an unfiltered view of life in the oldest colony, Puerto Rico. Hailing from Caguas, they are now based in New York City, where they also co-host the podcast Diasporriqueños and lead Haus of Vanguardia, a collective fighting for the freedom of colonized minds through art and performance.
- Nesi, Singer
Puerto Rican reggaeton artist Nesi became a household name after her infamous vocals in Bad Bunny’s “Yo Perreo Sola.” While Bad Bunny was widely criticized for not giving Nesi a feature credit on the song, the artist later included Nesi in the remix for “Yo Perreo Sola” alongside Ivy Queen. Nesi has since collaborated with El Alfa and is working on new music with former Bad Bunny producer DJ Luian.
- Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Author of The Undocumented Americans
The release of The Undocumented Americans earned Karla Cornejo Villacencio a National Book Award nomination, one of America’s most sought-after prizes. A graduate of Harvard University, Cornejo went viral during her senior year after publishing an essay in The Daily Beast about her experience as an undocumented immigrant. In her book, she puts the spotlight on other undocumented stories, from day laborers in Staten Island to herbalists in Miami. The Undocumented Americans is one of Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2020.
Politics + Activism
- Natalia Barrera Francis, Founder of Una Chica Afro Peruana
Model and activist Natalia Barrera Francis is using her social media platforms to dismantle racism in Perú. Her video series Afroperuanos 4.0 is a “space that advocated for representation.” The series profiles Afro Peruvians in a wide set of professions, deconstructing pervasive stereotypes about Black and Indigenous people in Peru, including Susana Matute, the country’s Director of Policy for the Afro Peruvian Population at the Culture Ministry.
- Ritchie Torres, First Openly Gay Afro Latino Congressman
This Bronxite made history in 2020, becoming the first openly gay Black Congressman in the United States. At 32, Torres is also among the youngest members of Congress, and succeeds 30-year incumbent José Serrano. He is also the youngest member of New York City’s council, where he’s advocated for public housing and programs to address racialized poverty in his Bronx congressional district, which is the poorest in the country.
- Eryn Danielle, Founder of Allies Doing Work
Eryn Danielle’s activism work in 2020 has focused on educating allies to work in favor of racial justice through her project “Allies Doing Work.” The platform has hosted a series of Instagram conversations and events that highlight the importance of decolonization, intersectionality, and accountability to dismantle racism across the globe. Aside from her work as an activist, Eryn Danielle is a movement artist, curator, and creative director, working as a creative strategist at Black Men Build and co-directing her own independence dance film.
- Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, First Openly Gay, Black Legislator in Puerto Rico
After decades of bipartisanship, Puerto Rican voters opened a new door when they elected the ideologically most diverse legislature in the history of the island. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén became part of that cohort, when she was elected senator in November 2020. As a member of the young Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana, Rivera Lassén’s platform focuses on addressing gender violence, colonization, and climate change, as well as the institutionalized racism that has kept Black Puerto Ricans in the margins for centuries.
- Nasheli Juliana, Only Latina Contestant On Netflix’s Next In Fashion
Born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, Nasheli Juliana is a fashion designer and professor at Moore College. In 2020, she became the only Latina contestant in Netflix’s Next In Fashion, hosted by Alexa Chung and Tan France. While she was voted off on the first episode, Nasheli Juliana’s participation in the show was a radical departure from the stereotypical representation of Puerto Rican women in television and fashion.
- Haylee Ahumada, Stylist
Haylee Ahumada’s journey as a stylist is a wild ride. Born in New Jersey, Ahumada started to work as a professional stylist after dropping out of LIM College and working with veteran stylist behind A$AP Rocky’s fits, Matthew Henson. Since then, she’s worked with publications like Complex and PAPER and has styled celebrities like Rico Nasty, Joey Bada$$, Sabrina Claudio, and Jordyn Woods.
- David Rivera, Co-founder and Studio Director of Christopher John Rogers
Christopher John Rogers became an eponymous brand of 2020. After winning 2019’s CFDA/ Vogue Fashion Fund, John Rogers and co-founder David Rivera have catapulted onto the fashion scene, dressing celebrities like Lady Gaga and Zendaya in 2020. As studio director, Rivera is pivotal to CJR’s development, from design to show production.
- Uzumaki Cepeda, Textile Artist
Uzumaki Cepeda’s work is easily identified by her colorful, bold prints and patterns. As an artist and textile maker, Cepeda aims to create a safe space for Black and Brown individuals to express themselves through fashion and art. In 2020, she opened the Uzumaki Gallery in Los Angeles, California, and collaborated with brands like Footaction and artists like Kali Uchis.
- Jessica Monzalvo, Founder of Skin by Jem
Makeup artist Jessica Monzalvo is reinventing skincare with her line Skin by Jem. Launched in May 2020, the line includes the popular Rosa Clay Mask, which has become a staple of IG selfies and medicine cabinets. The products are cruelty-free and made with vega, all-natural ingredients. Monzalvo, who is originally from Pachuca Hidalgo, México, is now based in Los Angeles, and has worked in the beauty industry since she enrolled in cosmetology school at age 16.
- Babba C. Rivera, Founder of Ceremonia
Born in Sweden, Babba C. Rivera is a Chilean serial entrepreneur and owner of Ceremonia, a haircare brand cemented in Latinx traditions and heritage. Rivera’s new venture inside the beauty world comes after stints at Uber, Away, and her former marketing agency by.babba. The launch of Ceremonia signifies another step in the growing market of direct-to-consumer brands that are rooted in the Latinx experience.
- Yasmin Maya, Founder of Birdy Lashes
YouTube vlogger and influencer Yasmin Maya launched her own line of synthetic eyelashes after a decade in the online beauty space. Maya, who is a former undocumented immigrant, started her YouTube channel in Mexico, after she moved back while she waited for her visa to clear. Birdy Lashes is her latest venture into beauty, a line of fake eyelashes that emphasizes the need for natural-looking, fool-proof lashes.
- Juan Felipe, Founder of Shocks of Love
As a certified aromatherapist, Juan Felipe is perfectly positioned to create delicious, calming smells to get us all through 2020 with his line Shocks of Love. The scents are cruelty-free, non-toxic and alcohol-free. But Shocks of Love goes further than fragrances, pledging 5% of all profits to Activation Residency, a Black artist residency fostering Black, Indigenous, Trans, and Queer voices.
- Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, Founder of Hike Clerb
Launched in 2017, Hike Clerb is an intersectional women’s hike club taking action to remedy the lack of representation of people of color in the outdoors communities. Its founder Evelynn Escobar-Thomas is focused on equipping women of color with tools and resources to enjoy and reclaim the outdoors through coordinated hikes and other types of events.
- Karima Primelles and Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey, Owners of Xula Herbs
The lack of representation and power for Black and Latinx communities in the cannabis industry inspired Karima and Mennlay to launch Xula Herbs, rooted in the heritage and richness of Mexican cultures. All products contain organically grown herbs and plants, containing diverse doses of CBD. Xula herbs also focuses on benefiting a wide set of causes through their sales, including Refugio Casa Frida in Mexico City.
- Cindy Rodriguez, Founder of Reclama
Spirituality is at the root of Cindy Rodriguez’s work. A former podcaster, media expert, and writer, Rodriguez is the founder of Reclama, a spiritual hike collective and journaling community for women of color. Reclama hikes are intention-based, fostering a spiritual goal for all attendees. Rodriguez has also launched a Mal de Ojo Protection kit, that includes palo santo, bracelets, and agua de Florida.
- Reyna Noriega, Author, Artist, and Educator
At 27, Noriega is a multifaceted visual artist and educator, whose work exemplifies the beauty and vibrance of women. Through her Instagram account, Noriega is releasing a wide set of illustrations, paintings, and educational gems that focus on self-love. In 2019, she published her book In Bloom, a collection of poems documenting her own journey of self-exploration to “meet our higher self.”