Around half a million people in New York City have ties to the Dominican Republic. In a homage to the city’s Dominican culture, Nike teamed up with NYC shoe designer César Pérez to create the long-awaited “De Lo Mio” Air Force 1s, which drop Saturday. The AF1s, first created in 1982, are also known as Uptowns due to their pervasiveness in upper Manhattan neighborhoods such as Washington Heights, sometimes called “Little Dominican Republic.”
“De Lo Mio” — which translates to “of mine” or “of my people” — is a term of affection used by Dominicans that gained popularity in 2011 when the now-deceased dembow artist Monkey Black’s “De Lo Mio” was pumping through speakers in the DR and NYC.
As part of Nike’s plan to promote the sneaker, six NYC-based photographers of Dominican descent were selected to shoot photo essays themed around the shoe. Dominicans living on the Caribbean island have dubbed Dominican-Americans or those who emigrated to the states and have picked up “American” habits regarding fashion and culture as “Dominican York” (the term has evolved from its original more negative connotation).
The resulting Dominican York–inspired campaign has been shared on social media and Nike platforms such as the SNKRS app, giving us a glimpse of the celebratory shoe, on sale tomorrow and available through the app. The artists, given full creative control by the footwear giant, opened up to CHICA about their work.
Dominican-born Cheril Sanchez, 27, felt a fresh connection to the sneaker once the project was presented to her. Her shots reflect that area where she grew up in the Bronx’s Kingsbridge area and highlight her family’s business in Marble Hill. “I wanted [viewers] to feel like home, in the sense that this is where I grew up. I walk those grounds daily, my mother’s salon is in that area. Working with Yaris Sanchez, we go way back, all those spots are connected and influence us. I wanted to showcase my relationship with my best friend and how we constantly are creating.”
Juan Veloz, 23, raised in Brooklyn’s Bushwick, never imagined he would ever shoot with a major brand like Nike. From the sneaker to the messaging, everything about the project felt right to him. Juan told CHICA, “It makes me feel powerful. As Dominicans, we’re known to be unapologetically loud and in your face. For Nike to be like, ‘Do that,’ made me go, ‘What? You sure? I’ll make this real Dominican, I’ll use my grandmom.’ ”
When Veloz presented the idea to his family, his mom hopped on board as creative director. “Dominican moms are really into decorating, and as soon as I told them about it, she said, ‘Esto es mio’ [this is what I’m good at] and took control.”
Veloz explained why he chose to honor his forebearers: “Most Dominican-Americans wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our grandparents. It felt right to include the person that brought us to this country. Grandmothers are like a second mom to most Dominican kids, the point of me using my grandmom was to showcase the maternal role she plays — she helped raise us. Grandmoms always hold it down, especially in Dominican culture, we respect our grandparents so much.”
For Elvin Tavarez, 27, the project meant being able to shine a light on something personal for him: the LGBTQ community, which isn’t as embraced in Dominican culture as in others.“I’m gay. My whole thing was, I wanted to put on my brothers and sisters from that community, who get treated as outsiders. And make sure it was as inclusive as possible, one of my models is deaf, and I also had a trans woman in my shoot.”
The Queens-raised photographer executed his idea with influences driven by early ’90s hip-hop culture. To prepare for the shoot, he pulled references from merengue icon Tono Rosario and ’90s trip-hop duo Massive Attack.
Ralphy Ramos has worked with Nike in the past, and while it was pouring rain the weekend Ramos shot in the DR capital of Santo Domingo, he made use of every occasional break in the clouds.
The 32-year-old photographer, experienced shooting BMX bike action, shot in the neighborhood he’s from, Villa Duarte, and was able to embrace an everyday Dominican lifestyle, hanging out on apartment balconies. Ramos didn’t know any English when he moved to Brooklyn at age 11 with his sister and mother. “Knowing my background and everything I’ve been through, to be a part of this campaign means a lot to me. Especially being able to shoot in my old neighborhood with one of my friends,” said Ramos.
Wanting to show what it’s like to be a teenager growing up in NYC’s Washington Heights, 25-year-old Adeline Lulo’s inspiration came from memories of being with her huge family and the sisterly bond Dominican cousins tend to have. In addition to get-togethers at her grandmother’s house, she remembered her sister and friends posing for photos in the sneakers.
During her teen Catholic school years, she would roll her skirt and pair it with the now classic AF1s. Lulo told CHICA, “It brought a nostalgic feeling to me, and I felt it was important to recreate my teenage life. I chose Laura, Angie, and Jasmine because I’ve always been inspired by their bond and their style. They remind me of myself growing up with my sisters and best friends. [We] are all Dominican’s who were raised in the Bronx and are striving to make the best of ourselves and our dreams. It isn’t easy being the child of parents who migrated to the U.S., but there is so much that we learn through the struggles and that makes us who we are.”
Queens native Alberto Vargas spent his life traveling back and forth between both countries. He wanted to create photos as close to his experience with the sneaker as possible, in hopes that other people would relate to it. “What the sneaker represents to me as a kid growing up? I would save up to buy Air Force 1, and being able to represent my grandpa and little brother in my mother’s kitchen in the house I grew up in was an amazing feeling.”
In the kitchen were functional Dominican souvenirs that populate most Dominican-American homes. The 26-year-old photographer felt it represented a love for Dominican culture, with the kitchen connecting to food. He worked with stylist Nathalie Gonzalez who hand-painted and stitched the clothing and worked with him from the beginning while building the concept.