Why Cardi B's Success Means So Much for Dominicans In The Bronx

New York's latest homegrown superstar parlayed her entrepreneurial spirit and giant personality into industry-wide acclaim.
12/13/2017 03:19 pm ET
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For those who have been living under a rock over the past year, Bronx native and proud Dominican Cardi B, born Belcalis Almanzar, has taken the world by storm with her hit single “Bodak Yellow.” The single reached the number one spot on the Billboard music charts, making her the first solo rapper of Dominican descent to achieve this level of success. More recently, Cardi B has received not one, but two Grammy nominations and has even graced the covers of Rolling Stone and New York Magazine. For many, this may sound like a typical urban success story ― you know, a talented rapper, from an impoverished environment reaching success, fame and stardom ― but for many Latinas (especially ‘Dominicanas’ from the BX, myself included) it means so much more. For so many Dominicans living in the Bronx, Cardi B symbolizes the promise of success.

Complex

Cardi B’s Dominican accent blending with New York slang can border on witty gibberish at times, but this did not stop her catchphrases, such as ”washpoppin” and “shhmoney,” from quickly permeating the everyday speech of urban hip-hop culture. Nonetheless, what strikes our love for Cardi is the fact that she is entirely self-made. Cardi B first gained popularity not as a rapper, nor reality T.V. star, but as a social media influencer. Her Instagram videos gained popularity a few years ago when she struck everyone with her outspokenness, humor, openness, and authenticity, quickly winning a following north of one million people and landing deals with brands, such as Fashion Nova. Cardi B does not apologize for who she is and what she did to get to where she is today.

If you live in the East Coast, especially New York City, then you’re probably aware that Latinos of Caribbean descent are everywhere, but especially in the Bronx. Cardi B represents the 53.5 percent of the Bronx’s population, which boasts residents of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origins. According to a 2010 Census, “The Dominican population in the United States rose from 520,121 in 1990 to 1,041,910 in 2000, making it the fourth-largest Hispanic/Latino group in the United States, after Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans. It is estimated that, at current population growth rates, Dominicans will overtake Puerto Ricans as the largest Hispanic/Latino population of the city within the next ten years.”

...she represents thousands just like her who may find it difficult to “assimilate” to achieve success in America."

What makes Cardi B so inspiring to Dominicans (or better yet, Dominican Americans) is her relatability. Cardi B is often quoted saying, “I’m just another degular shmegular girl from the Bronx,” and yes, Cardi B is precisely just that -- a regular girl from the Bronx. However, she means so much more; she represents thousands just like her who may find it difficult to “assimilate” to achieve success in America.

I was born and raised in an impoverished neighborhood in the Bronx by a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother, neither of whom spoke a lick of English. Therefore, they could not assist me academically. So, consequently, I had to learn English in school. Since English was my second language, I attended ESL classes throughout my early stages of elementary school. After that, I went to a failing New York City public high school, where mostly Black and Hispanic students attended. Please note, attending a failing high-school was not by choice, but has more to do with systemic economic and racial isolation that happens with most poor or low-income minority groups in the U.S.  With that said, of those Black and Hispanic students, only 30 percent graduated, and of those who did manage to earn a diploma, a large percentage of them were still functionally illiterate, and for the first time, I will sadly admit that I was one of them.

What’s even worse was that I did not even realize this until I attended college and attended classes with other students, many of whom came from suburban schools. When I worked my way into The Fashion Institute of Technology (thank goodness for affirmative action), I struggled academically the first year. I could have easily dropped out, but I was determined to succeed. I worked tirelessly to try to keep up and maintain at least a 3.0-grade average. During my junior year in college, I secured an internship within the public relations department at a large Fortune 500 company. Little did I know that my shortcomings, economic background and my cultural upbringings would cause me even more struggles. There were times when I was criticized for the way I spoke and wore my hair. There even came a point in my career when I felt like corporate America was just not the field for me, and I was ready to call it quits. I decided to give PR one more shot and landed at a smaller agency in SoHo, New York City. That is where my boss at the firm said to me, “I knew you were a natural born publicist as soon as I met you.” She spotted my talent, but most importantly, she noticed my passion. So that leads me to my reasoning for starting my own business: I hated the corporate environment in which I worked. I felt somewhat constrained, almost like I was being forced into working in ways that did not come natural to me and saw entrepreneurship as my only viable path to prosperity.

So when I see someone like Cardi B reach this level of success, not just as a rapper, but as a brilliant girl from the Bronx who came from the “gutta,” I can only imagine the obstacles she had to overcome to reach her level of success. And she did it all while staying true to her Dominican roots. I can only be proud and hope that her accomplishment sparks flames of determination from a stream of girls from the Bronx, by inspiring them to take pride in their roots and reach their highest potential.

Yours truly,

Just another “degular shmegular” girl from the Bronx

-Madeline Familia

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