For the launch of our Seen, Supported, Celebrated capsule collection, we had the opportunity to partner with Imxn Abdul and Katherine Vargas, two visionary young changemakers in NYC who are dedicating their lives to empowering and championing their respective communities.
Imxn and Kat both embody everything this collection stands for: community power, resilience and the multiplicity of Latinidad. As artists, community organizers, students and activists — they move through the world driven by a deep passion for bettering their communities through creative storytelling, education-building and leading with love.
We’re so honored to have had Imxn and Kat as our models for our first-ever SLX photoshoot. We had the chance to hear more about their individual stories and their powerful community work in the Q&A below.
Katherine Vargas Poet, Storyteller and Community Organizer
Katherine Vargas is a 21-year-old Dominicana-Americana, first-generation Latina from Uptown NYC dedicated to emphasizing the beauty and excellence within her communities through creative storytelling and intentional community organizing.
What does it mean to feel seen, supported and celebrated?
It means to be included. It means to know that you are here to be heard; that your words, your position, and your whole existence matter. Most importantly, you matter. It means that you are seen as human and appreciated for your existence in this world, I feel like with so many injustices being brought to light right now, our humanity has been stripped away from us due to our differences, due to the way the system has been built, and due to the racist standards that are being upheld. Especially when it comes to how marginalized communities are treated, we forget that we are humans with feelings. When we can bring that humanity back, we are letting each other know that we are being appreciated solely for existing, and that is exactly what feeling seen, supported and celebrated is all about: appreciating who you are, and everything about you solely because you exist and you matter just as much.
Who was the first person or thing that made you feel seen, supported and celebrated in your identity?
For me it was finding bonds with my community through hair. I feel like that was one thing growing up that I was kind of in denial that I hated about myself. One of my closest friends now, she’s a Black dark-skinned woman, she was the one who encouraged me to finally start my natural hair process and helped me with all the tips — like how to do protective styles and how to oil your scalp and all of that. So with that I slowly started to let go of all these Eurocentric standards that have been instilled into our minds.
I feel like that’s when I most found liberation with myself and my identity, and I felt most connected to my culture. So for me it was less about actual representation of people and more about finding my own people that I felt connected to. Once I found that, I flourished with my own identity and seeing myself as a beautiful person, not someone who had to hide part of myself to fit in. Just having that support from my inner circle and my community and finally being seen and being heard for me and who I am, and not having to diminish that or simmer that down — once I started that process, I felt like I was just being fully myself, and even in spaces that I was ignored, I was honoring my ancestors and my culture and being like, “I don’t care what you think of me. You’re going to hear me out, you’re going to see who I am, no matter.” And I feel like that all started with just my appearance and my hair.
What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear ‘community’?
Oh my god, that’s so hard. Community means so much. But I would say love, unconditional love. What is a community without love? The things that we do for each other, it all stems from love. Even in my type of neighborhood where we’re demonized and we’re criminalized — we may be strangers, but we come from the same place, so there’s already this love that exists there without even fully knowing them. You could be strangers and still have love and still protect each other. The work that people do for community organizing, that involves so much love for strangers. I feel like that’s a very big thing when it comes to community — pure love, plain and simple.
What does your community organizing look like?
I organize the community by doing events in so many different ways that are all political, but don’t necessarily have to be. For example, a few months ago in the summer I curated and organized an art show in Harlem that was meant to be an ode and a love letter to all the Uptown creatives. And to show how beautiful and how much talent exists within this neighborhood. That was one way of showing our people that there’s power within us and beauty within us, even if you don’t realize it, we are capable of so much. We just need to find our own power within. A lot of the community events that I like to do are all centered in love.
What makes you most proud about your Latinidad?
I would say how multifaceted we are. We can’t be restricted nor limited to just one label or one category. We’re so many things. That’s something that I really love about us. While at times it can be confusing because we do face a lot of identity crises, not knowing where exactly we come from and how to label ourselves, but it’s also beautiful at the same time because you learn so much just from your culture and where you come from and your ancestors. It’s beautiful to know that so many of our families are continuously in the spectrum of identity, where you may have a tia that may look white-passing while still having an abuela that’s fully black and Afro-Latinx.
It’s so beautiful how different each one of us is, specifically in our own identity. It’s very beautiful to see how many perspectives exist within our own culture and how many types of people exist within our own community. That’s something that I really appreciate as a community organizer and community lover because in order to learn from people, you need to learn from people with different perspectives, and that’s where multifaceted identities come from. If we want to change things and highlight the most impacted communities and people, we need to open our eyes to all those that exist and be inclusive of all of them.
What’s something family has instilled in you?
Ok so I’m really close with my extended family and a lot of my family is a matriarchal family. I have a lot of aunts, but there’s barely any men in my family apart from my cousins, I have only one uncle, and my grandfather. Even many of my cousins identify as women. It’s something that I always bring up because being in a society that upholds the patriarchy, it’s delightful to have a family that dismantles it just through the structure of our family. I’ve learned so much from them. The idea that women are so powerful in so many ways. There’s not one thing specifically, because I’ve learned so much from having a family that is mostly women.
But something that I always think about when I talk about this is the fact that as women, we really hold so much power and intelligence and so much resilience, and we do it all with grace. Most of my aunts and my mother had to be both the mother and the father for their children. And they did all of that with grace, we all turned out to be beautiful children because of it. I thank my mother and my aunts for that. It all comes from the fact that they can take on so many roles, they can take on so many positions and handle it so gracefully and so beautifully. I find that so powerful. That’s also why I strongly believe that God is definitely a woman because everything revolves around the position of women and femmes — from birth to parenting to nurturing.
What’s something you recently did that made you proud?
As a first generation student, something that I struggle a lot with is imposter syndrome and feeling like my accomplishments are not enough or just feeling fraudulent with myself. So I decided to switch my degree to study for my Bachelor’s and my Master’s at the same time. To others this may not seem like a big deal, but as someone who is first generational, and not having the older generations in my family go to college, to me it’s a big deal because I’m making space for the generations that come after me. It’s all worth it because I really feel like I’m opening doors and setting an example for my little sister. And that really makes me so happy.
I will also be having my first book published, Hues of Magic, that celebrates and centers black womxn/femmes and their stories. I made this book in mind with the fact that not enough representation of black women doing their thing out here is highlighted in the media, and when they are, it’s about black women with extraordinary stories that not everyone may relate to. So I decided to have a collection of stories that highlight black excellence with stories we can relate to.
Extraordinary womxn with ordinary stories. I want to show that women like me, and little girls like my sister, that the ordinary is just as powerful and matters too. Hues of Magic is reclamation of the identities of black womxn through our own eyes, purely raw and real with all sides of our stories. I can wait to have this expanded version of my book published with Flower Press, through this, I am taking up space for myself, and representing for my little sister to show her the beauty that exists within our kind all while centering the powerhouse that are black womxn/femmes.
Last, but not least: what do you listen to when you need motivation?
Bad Bunny. Like anytime I need to prepare myself, I’m gonna put “Yo Perreo Sola.” Sometimes you just need that reminder que eres poderosa, and he’s always the go-to for that!
Imxn Abdul Activist, Creative and Storyteller
Imxn Abdul is a queer 23-year-old activist, creative and storyteller from Brooklyn, NY born to Puerto Rican and Lebanese immigrant parents. She’s dedicated to uplifting and elevating the many communities she’s tied to by documenting the underrepresented stories of her people and cultures.
Where did you grow up/where did your parents grow up?
I’m born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been living here for the majority of my life. My mother was born and raised in Salinas, Puerto Rico and my dad was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. My mom is the only one to come to the U.S. from her immediate family, the rest stayed on the island. She came here at 17 and moved into her aunt’s apartment in Brooklyn. And my dad was 18 when he came here with his older brother and uncle and also moved to Brooklyn. Both of my parents had to learn English and assimilate while living in New York.
My mom especially went through huge cultural changes; she became Muslim, she wore the hijab, there were certain aspects of her culture she couldn’t enjoy anymore. Growing up, I’ve seen my mom slowly lose herself or her identity many times, but there were always things that she kept close, whether it was family of course, music, food or the Puerto Rican flag. Especially growing up, whenever I would see the Puerto Rican flag, I would get goosebumps or often tear because I’d be like, “That’s where I come from. And it’s more than my mom, it’s a whole community, it’s a whole people.”
What does it mean to feel seen, supported and celebrated?
When my parents, my sister Ayah, and my cousin Sandra tell me they’re proud of me is one way I definitely feel seen, supported, and celebrated. Support and love from family always hits different. But on a larger scale, when there’s a community that has their arms opened and elevates their community members in numerous ways is another very important way for me. To see myself and people that look like me and my communities POSITIVELY in art, in media, in education curriculums, in government, local, and community leadership, in the health and sciences, and in other ways.
We’re so fucking tired of fighting to feel seen, we’ve been doing that generation after the generation. It’s hard to feel celebrated given the inequitable and racist systems we’re living in. At the annual Puerto Rican Day on Fifth AveI’ve protested twice with a group calling for independence because although the Puerto Rican people are being “celebrated”, not all of us, especially folks on the island were actually being seen. Give us the resources and means to actually be seen and we will show you what it looks like to feel celebrated in unprecedented ways.
How has your identity shaped your current pursuits?
I used to wear the hijab, and my sister used to wear the hijab, so navigating our identities in New York City public schools was challenging — how different groups of people treated me when I had it on versus when I had it off. I was more Arab or I was more Latinx in different spaces, and I’d get backlash for being Latinx or for being Arab — they were different backlashes, but they were both backlashes. That’s how I actually got into my activism and doing work around education reform because of my experiences with my identities in these spaces.
It was in high school when I started learning more about Puerto Rican culture and Puerto Rican history. What does it mean for me to be a Nuyorican because my mom is not a Nuyorican? And all the Puerto Rican history that’s based in New York, my mom doesn’t know too much about it because she’s from the island. There’s a huge disconnect between the two. There were some points in my life where I was like, “I’m not Nuyorican, I’m Puerto Rican because that’s where my mom is from and my grandma is from.” But as I got older, I was like, “Nah, I am Puerto Rican, but I am Nuyorican. This is where I was born, this is what I’m surrounded by. My friends who are Puerto Rican are based in New York.”
And so, I started learning more about my identity, my history, my culture, and then I started doing decolonization work around Puerto Rico — visiting, protesting, creating and sharing infographics because nobody talks about Puerto Rican history either. The fact that we’re a whole colony of the United States and everything that has been going on there — nobody knows. Everybody’s going there to vacation, they think it’s just a vacation spot. But we’re a whole community with a history of population control and there’s so much that needs to be fixed. That’s kind of how I got into where I am, and now I want to take photos and create art calling out for justice and uplifting and sharing Puerto Rican stories, alongside Arab stories.
What’s the first word that comes to your mind when you hear ‘community’?
How do you define community/what does community mean to you?
Wow, there are just so many things that represent community. Like when I look at the Puerto Rican flag, I already envision a whole community. It just reminds me that I come from power and from resilience. I feel like the Puerto Rican people are so resilient. And our resilience isn’t glorified enough. I see resilience and power.
When do you feel most beautiful and most aligned with your highest self?
When my hair and nails are done and when I’m in Puerto Rico. When I’m in Puerto Rico I feel like I can jump off buildings, fly…like everything I feel like I can’t do, I have all the hope when I’m there. I don’t know if it’s the ancestors, I don’t know if it’s the air…it’s all of it! I feel renewed when I’m there. When I feel like I’m not feeling like myself here, I take a trip — even if it’s for like a week — and I come back feeling rooted.
What do you do to feel good when you need to ground your energy?
I smoke a joint and surround myself with loved ones and friends. But also…DANCING. It’s dancing for me. I grab my friends, and I’m like, “We’re going to listen to Bad Bunny. I need to go throw some ass. I need to sing Dákiti. We’re going all out.” That is definitely my healing space and time.
What makes you most proud of your identity?
This connects to when I was talking about resilience, but knowing that I come from a people who have withstood so many obstacles and oppression, and are still standing here to this day — and knowing that I am the product of that — is super empowering for me and my cultures and my identity. And something that has been really empowering for my identity has been really understanding my queer identity as a Muslim woman. Owning my identiy as a queer person was really, really difficult growing up with Islam and growing up with a Muslim father because it was seen as such a taboo. I used to see myself as a bad person, or think that I was sinning, and it’s because of religion and how religion had taken over my understanding of myself.
It wasn’t until college where I started seeing Muslim women on social media that identited as queer, the first one being Blair Imani. She’s a Black Muslim woman who identifies as Bisexual and is an award winning author and historian, and she has a huge following on Instagram where she talks about her journey. She’s so refreshing. So, now I’m able to really branch into understanding myself and what really feels true to me. And understanding that Muslim queer women fucking exist! Because even within the LGBTQ community and conversations, we don’t really talk about how Muslim people have a whole different experience.
I had to understand that the concept of “coming out” is based on Western culture and Western colonization. That’s something I’m still exploring. But I’m definitely taking much more pride in owning that part of my identity and sharing it with the world, so that hopefully there are other Muslim queer people who feel like they can draw that connection.
What are you currently working towards/focusing your energy on?
Currently right now I’m putting energy into my photography and just basically being able to tell Puerto Rican stories, specifically Puerto Rican stories in New York. But I definitely want to be able to connect the diaspora from all across to the island. I’m a storyteller, so I’ve been thinking about different ways to tell my stories. Photography has been the medium I’m putting my energy into right now.
Also, being half-Puerto Rican and half-Lebanese, I’m able to tell stories from both angles. I feel like Arab stories are never or rarely heard of, to an even lesser extent than Puerto Rican stories. So, I definitely want to shed that light on my community. I just posted something on 9/11 sharing my story as a Muslim American and that got 1,400 likes — I was so shook! That means there’s power in these stories. So I’m just excited to continue that and to continue my activism along with my photography and art.