Fierce Boss Ladies

Meet The Afro-Cuban Sisters Making Cigars That Celebrate The Beautiful Shades Of Black Women

The cigar industry is a white man’s terrain — at least it used to be. Since 2014, Afro-Cuban twins Yvette and Yvonne Rodriguez have been proudly challenging every racial and gender myth of the stogie business with their boutique line of cigars, Tres Lindas Cubanas.

While the sisters are the only black female owners of a cigar company, they’ve made it their personal, and business, mission to inform the tobacco world of Afro-Cuban women’s long and pivotal role in the industry. After all, it’s their late abuela, a pro-black feminist santera whose white skirt was often filled with ashes, that first introduced them to cigars.

“Women have always been smokers, just like men,” Yvonne, a former producer and editor for Telemundo, tells FIERCE. “And they’re the ones making cigars in factories back in Cuba.”

Like the classic Cuban song their business is named after, Tres Lindas Cubanas is a celebration of the various beautiful ebony shades of the black Cuban woman. There are three signature cigars in the line: “La Negrita,” which alludes to the darkest shade of women of the African diaspora, is the strongest, full-bodied, dark-leaf option. “La Mulata,” which represents mixed-race women, is the medium-to-strong brown leaf. And “La Clarita,” for the fairer-skinned brown cubana, is a mild blend rolled in a lighter leaf.

“It’s a celebration of the black woman, from the darkest to the lightest. We have to start praising ourselves more,” Yvette, a public relations professional, said.

Tres Lindas Cubanas is also a tribute to the twins’ ancestors — in fact, unbeknownst to the Rodriguez sisters, they were behind the entire idea. About 13 years ago, Yvonne met with a santera for a consultation. The woman informed her that several of her ancestors were with her, and they wanted her to do two things: speak about them and work with her sister. For years, Yvonne thought she was supposed to write a book about her black female forbearers, but as she sat one day five years ago, imagining what would become Tres Lindas Cubanas, she knew that this is what her progenitors had been trying to tell her all along.

“With our brand, we are honoring our ancestors,” Yvonne said.

And the spirits of their foremothers definitely have their back. The cigar industry is highly competitive. And for two newcomers, who happen to also be black women, the odds were stacked considerably high against them. Still, the cigars have proven to be a hit. Sold everywhere from Florida, Maryland and Illinois to Texas, North Carolina and Washington, the sisters have been able to make a livable wage off of their small line.

But that doesn’t mean business hasn’t been tough. In a boys’ club filled with elder white Cuban guajiros in guayaberas, Yvonne and Yvette — aesthetically femme, arrestingly dark-skinned and donning afros as big as their personalities — are often not taken seriously.

“We stick out like sore thumbs,” Yvonne says. “We walk into these cigar lounges with light Cuban or white old men, who think because we’re women we don’t smoke cigars, because we’re black we’re not Cuban and because we’re new we don’t know what we are doing.”

She says it’s not uncommon for men to ask them to prove they speak Spanish by saying some words in the language or even to quiz the women on blends and wrappings.

“They try to disqualify us, but we use who we are as an advantage: We are memorable, we are charming and our cigars are excellent and have an edge,” she added.

Unlike men, women cigar aficionados love the sisters and sing their praises. While most associate cigar smokers with wealth and leisure, the pair say that their female buyers are renaissance women who have careers, families and hobbies and are able to juggle it all with a light spirit and positive outlook.

So it’s their hope that their product enhances the already ravishing lives women, especially Black women, are leading.

“I want women, anyone really, who smokes our cigars to feel like they deserve it. They deserve the hour it takes to smoke the cigar, they deserve that time to look at the sky, read a book or reflect on the day. They can ask themselves, ‘how is my life going’ or ‘is my husband treating me right?’ I want them to relax and reflect,” Yvette said.

Read: Afro-Latinas Are Kicking Down Doors And Stepping Into Political Office Ready To Fight For Us

Head over to the Tres Lindas Cubanas website to purchase some cigars and let us know which leaf best describes you in the comments.

Notice any corrections needed? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Meet Michelle Poler, The Venezolana Inspiring Women To Face Their Fears

Fierce Boss Ladies

Meet Michelle Poler, The Venezolana Inspiring Women To Face Their Fears

According to Michelle Poler’s checklist, her life was close to perfect. After graduating high school in Caracas, Venezuela, she moved to Savannah, Georgia to study advertising. While there, she said “I do” to her then-boyfriend. Once she received her bachelor’s degree, she relocated with her husband to Miami, where she swiftly landed an ideal industry gig. But as she fulfilled each life goal, many of them feats for immigrant women of color in the US, she didn’t feel as gratified as she’d been told she would her whole life.

In fact, Poler, who had always lived life according to the safe and secure to-do list society created for her, didn’t start feeling happy until she ditched the rule book entirely and started uncomfortably facing her biggest trepidations through Hello Fears.

A social movement, Hello Fears empowers people to step outside of their comfort zone, engaging in activities that make them a little uneasy, so that they’re able to tap into their full potential. The project, started in 2015 when Poler was a graduate student at New York’s School of Visual Arts, uses storytelling and media content to help people embrace fear and realize the joyous life they fantasize about.

“The core of this project is to inspire people to tackle daily fears,” Poler, 30, told FIERCE. “We discovered that courage is contagious, so by me sharing my story and other people’s stories, others reading are more willing to face their own fears.”

But before the Brooklyn-based entrepreneur started encouraging her more than 30 thousand followers to be courageous, she had to confront her own terrors. While earning her master’s degree in branding, she had a class assignment that required her to do something, anything, for 100 days. The self-described scaredy cat used the opportunity to help her confront the anxieties that were limiting her from success and pleasure. From there, “100 Days Without Fear” was born.

For the next 100 days, Poler tackled a new fear each day. Starting small, the New York transplant, who at the time was scared to ride the subway alone or be out late at night, found herself conquering those apprehensions. She also ate foods that freaked her out. She experienced the torture of a Brazilian wax. She faced rejection passing out flyers on city street corners. And she dined at a bar alone.

“I started getting confidence as I was facing my fears,” she said. “Achieving those small things and gaining that confidence helped me move to more complicated fears.”

Soon, Poler was tackling horrors that few brave individuals would even dare to think about, from holding a tarantula, to skydiving, to posing nude in front of an arts class. Once she completed the physical tasks she thought she was never capable of doing, she moved on to a bigger feat: facing the fears that were getting in the way of her leading her most fulfilled life. That meant quitting her secure but unsatisfying job in advertising and confronting problems in her familial relationships.

“One of my biggest fears was losing my parents, but I wasn’t going to kill them for this purpose,” Poler jokes. “So I decided to write a letter, a very honest letter as if they were dead, telling them all the things I love and appreciate about them and also things I would like to change in our relationship so we can enjoy life together on this planet.”

The experience was emotional, both for her and the now thousands of followers she had as her project went viral. But the tough and tearful conversation, which Poler shared in a video, were worth it. When it was time for her to face her 100th fear, speaking publicly about her experience at a TEDx Talk, her Panama-based parents were in the crowd, being more present and expressive, just as she had asked of them in her letter.

With her class assignment complete, and now jobless because of it, Poler was inspired to turn her personal journey into a business and movement, one that could inspire others to lead their best lives just as she was starting to. Through Hello Fears, the Latina now helps thousands of people take the first step of welcoming the things that make them uneasy and provides them with the tools to conquer those trepidations. She does this primarily through storytelling, from original, empowering Instagram content, a digital course, a blog where people share their own fear-defeating stories and through keynote speaking engagements. Poler averages about 70 conferences a year, bringing her powerful message of triumph to teenage girls as well as big corporations like Google, Facebook, Netflix and Microsoft.

“Fear is so universal. Everyone can relate. I speak to people of all ages, backgrounds and genders, and all relate to fear and courage,” she said, noting that most of her talks are for girls and women.

In speaking with tens of thousands of people around the country, she has found the thing most people are afraid of is failing the people they love. Unhappy wives don’t leave toxic marriages because they’re worried about how divorce might impact their children. Talented artists don’t pursue their passions because they’re scared of disappointing their parents. Partners with academic dreams don’t apply for graduate school because they fear losing income could put their relationship in turmoil.

“The fear of failing others, that’s the thing people take into account the most before taking a risk. But when we think like that and stop taking risks because of our fears of failing others, we start failing ourselves,” she said.

According to Poler, there are two types of fears that keep people from realizing their dreams: personal and culture. The former, which also includes not wanting to fail loved ones, is avoiding hurting your ego. Rejection is painful, and trying and failing is a bitter death to the soul, so we protect ourselves from that hurt by refusing to face the fear. Similarly, cultural fears, the worry of what society might think of you for behaving outside of the status quo, also keeps people in unhappy situations.

But Poler says when we remain in our comfort zone, we risk never evolving into the people we have the potential of being. For her, we grow when we challenge ourselves and we accomplish our goals the quickest when we look fear straight in the eye. She would know. Before embarking on her “100 Days Without Fear” class project, she was tasked to write a ten-year plan for her life. A year later, by braving her fears, she made all the ambitions she thought were slightly unfeasible to complete even in a decade happen in 365 days, from being paid to speak publicly, to starting her own company to building a brand with her husband. Now, just four years later, she started a relationships podcast with her husband, is writing her first book and had her story picked up for a series on Fox.

“If you have any goal in mind, if you face your fears, the probability is you will get to your goal faster and you actually get there at all,” she said.

For those hoping to conquer their fears but are unsure where to start, Poler suggests making a list of the rewards that facing their fear could bring them, from tiny outcomes to possibilities that might at first seem unrealistic. “Ask yourself, what’s the best that can happen? Fill your mind with rewards and positive thoughts that take you back to the reason you wanted to do this in the first place,” she said. She also proposes keeping an accountability partner, someone who will remind you of what you stand to gain by overcoming your terrors and will inspire you when you feel like giving up.

View this post on Instagram

Yesterday I had the honor to speak to a group of 500 certified Emergency Nurses. And I thought: fearless! The things they see everyday ???? I could not be able to handle it. They have to deal with loss, tragedy, blood and pain (emotional and physical) day after day ???? . What can I teach them? I thought ???? . For some people it takes courage and intention to be at least 10% “selfish” and take care of themselves, for once. These people spend their lives caring for others, so much, that they forget to find the time for themselves. So THAT was my mission yesterday: to challenge them to do something for themselves and not feel guilty about it. . Same goes for entrepreneurs and their work. So many hours working to make it, saving all of our money and investing it back into the business. But, what about us? . When was the last time you got yourself a massage at a spa? Or took a night off to do something by yourself that you LOVE to do? Or splurged at a restaurant that you’ve always wanted to go? Or bought tickets to see a show or a concert? . It is OK to do these things once in a while. Spoil yourself, you deserve it. You worked for it. #noguilt . When we take care of ourselves we feel happy, we bring our best selves to the world and then we will be able to help others, because happiness is contagious ♥️???????? #selfcarefirst #courageis #hellofears #mentalhealth #behappy

A post shared by Hello Fears (@hellofears) on

For Poler, facing her fears not only allowed her to live the joyous life that degrees, a career and marriage couldn’t do alone but it also showed her, for the first time, how mighty she is.

“One thing I learned is that I’m way stronger than I thought. I perceived myself as a fragile person who was going to break at any point and needed someone to rescue me. I’m way stronger than that. Maybe not physically — I should probably go to the gym for that — but mentally I’m way stronger than I thought. I can handle myself. I can survive on my own, if I wanted to,” she said.

Read: Venezolana Verónica Sanchis Bencomo Started Foto Féminas To Promote Women Photographers In Latin America And The Caribbean

Recommend this story by clicking the share button below!

Notice any corrections needed? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’

Entertainment

A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’

Cuban singer and world-renowned Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz (RIP) has long been an inspiration to millions of men and women around the globe. Throughout her career and after her death, Celia’s fans have hailed her as a musical icon and a Cuban force of resistance. All of these years later, and Cruz who passed away in 2003, is still inspiring the generations that came decades after her.  In fact, in a bid to stake her claim in a college scholarship program, high school student  Genesis Diaz recently applied for and won a lucrative prize from Altice USA (the provider of Optimum and Suddenlink) all thanks to an essay she wrote about the late singer.

In her inspirational essay about the  Cuban singer, Diaz wrote about admiring Celia Cruz for being “unapologetically black.”

According to BKLYNER, Altice USA holds an essay contest in the fall to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (which runs from September 15 through October 15th). The prompt, which is given to middle and high school students, is to “name a Latino, past or present, with whom you would choose to spend a day and explain why.” The grand prize this year is a whopping $1,500 check which, if you remember college costs, can really help out any student eyeing higher education.

Diaz, a senior in James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York, won this year’s contest. Her essay was selected out of over 700 submissions from across the country, according to Jen Rivera from Altice USA, who spoke with BKLYNER.

In her powerful essay, Diaz wrote that she would want to spend the day with Celia Cruz because she exclusively surrounds herself with people who “radiate positive energy.”

“And who’s more positive than Celia Cruz?”, Diaz wrote.

But what she really captured in her essay on Cruz isn’t just her positive energy but rather the way that she was unapologetic about being Black and Cubana and how she used her African roots in her music. While writing about the artist’s accomplishments as well as her being Hispanic and Black, Diaz emphasized the effect that Cruz has had on the Latinx community throughout her life and beyond.

“Black has always been seen as a color of inferiority, which is why Celia Cruz’s early critics claimed that she did not have the right look,” she said in her essay. “She wasn’t an ideal artist simply because of her African descent.”

Diaz went onto say that Cruz “carried her African roots in her heart and through her lyrics… Celia told everyone, including me, how phenomenal and majestic it is to be unapologetically black.”

Diaz, who hopes to attend New York University and is anxiously awaiting her acceptance from the prestigious school, was celebrated last week by school officials, classmates, members of Altice USA and Council Member Chaim Deutsch

“I couldn’t believe I actually won!” Diaz said in her view.. “I was very proud and very emotional. I feel like people take entertainment figures for granted. What people don’t realize that these figures are activists also.”

Diaz’s description of Cruz as an activist and powerhouse, couldn’t be more accurate.  The Afro-Cubana proved herself to be an icon and hero in her time, when she rose to face as a salsa vocalist and eventually became the symbol and spirit of the Cuban expatriate community.

Celia Cruz has inspired countless amounts of people, including people like Amara La Negra.

“Growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me besides Celia Cruz. She was such a strong, powerful woman. She was a very inspirational person,” Amara La Negra told Latino USA about the late singer who considered her Blackness with a sense of pride that eventually turned songs like “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” into huge hits. “When Celia Cruz passed away, there was no one else to really look up to as an Afro-Latino or Afro-Latina on TV. So, I went and became a fan of Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Donna Summers, who are truly talented women and I truly admire them. But, as far as the Latin community, we really didn’t have anyone to look up to.”

For her part, Diaz, who her principal calls a “remarkable young woman,” has become her own source of inspiration. Not only did the award-winning student win the grand prize for her Celia Cruz essay but she has also started her own club “about Hispanic, Black and Carribean cultures,” according to BKLYNER. There, students can gather once a week to “discuss issues facing the school and the community as a whole.”

It’s extremely encouraging to see the younger generation fall in love (and be inspired by) Celia Cruz just as much as the rest of us were. Here’s hoping that Diaz, with her award-winning essay, continues to draw inspiration from the Cubana and that she herself embodies being “unapologetically black.”


Read: Meet Mona Marie, The Caribeña Helping Women Find Their Strength And Freedom Through Pole Dancing

Recommend this story by clicking the share button below! 

Notice any corrections needed? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *