PITY PARTY: Roma Riviera on life after Maria, how the queer commuinty helped her get through it all, and the resiliency of art in Puerto Rico
Creative Director Adrian Joseph found himself stranded in Puerto Rico after the events of Hurricane Maria, which after 7 months continues to plague the island in despair. In the middle of life “normalizing” the life he recently sat down with one of Puerto Rico’s most exciting young artist, performer Roma Riviera to chat about life and art in the city after the tragedy capturing the trans muse wearing one of the islands top couturiers. The collaboration transpired to be an artistic voyage that shoes no one wishes to abandon ship.
Does Roma have any fond memories of her childhood that have inspired her to be where she’s going?
I was always a very shy and introverted kid, which contrast with who I’m aiming to be, a performer. When I was little I wanted to be a fashion designer, and for my sister’s quinceñero, she and I got together with one of our grandmother’s sister and we designed her dress. For the latinxs culture, and the heteronormative community I grew up in, being a fashion designer was for gays or girls (I’m both now), and giving myself that opportunity to be authentically me really helped me understand that there was nothing wrong with being who I was, and who I am.
At 22 years old, what is the best part of growing up in Puerto Rico?
Probably the food. I’m a huge foodie! I love creole and Caribbean cuisine. And the fact that we’re so small, everything is so close. Even us as people.
This interview is a presentation to the world of who you are as a person and a performer. You’re as indie as indie can get, yet here you are. Why do you think this is?
I have no idea. I mean, I just started doing shows a year ago. It’s still very unreal to me, that I’m actually part of the club scene. But if something I’m doing is not being afraid of being vulnerable. Maybe that makes me relatable to the queer kids who go to my shows. And self-confidence in what you do. Pay no attention to negative comments about your work or persona.
You are wearing Puerto Rican designer Of Atelier who honed his craft in the cities working with some of the biggest names in the 90’s industry. Describe your personal style?
My personal style is very edgy. I like what’s going on in 2018 with fashion. I was watching the fall/winter shows, and designers like Emilie Janrell, Balenciaga, Calcaterra, Robertson have really captured my aesthetic in their fall/winter collections. Very edgy, very naked.
Knowing this, who is your dream designer to wear if any?
Balenciaga because who wouldn’t want to wear Balenciaga.
At such a tender age and in the process of growth you are in what message do you express with your work as a performer? What do you hope to achieve?
My main concept as a performer is to normalize my body, and my experience. With that, I hope I’m able to inspire other trans women, and trans people in general within my community to be themselves. Whatever that might look like. To be unapologetically yourself.
In the social economic chaos that covers the island of Puerto Rico, what motivates you to be whether you agree with this statement or not, a pillar of self-love and personal acceptance for younger queer or trans youth? Is this something you hope to be?
I’m privileged to be called that. If something that’s all I hope to be. I once saw a trans woman and it resonated with me. I only wish to be that to a younger generation. Self-love and personal acceptance is not something that will happen overnight but is so important to have those qualities in this economic chaos like you called it. It’s not easy dealing with dysphoria, especially when you can’t afford to fully physically express your identity. So for me, it was about either I accept myself like I currently am and be happy or be unhappy concentrating most of my energy on a physical transition. Obviously, this is just in my case. And, like I said, it’s not something that happens overnight or linear, because there are days I wish I could change a million things about my appearance, but is in those days where I remind myself how fortunate I am to be able to have the support of my community, and family.
You’ve shared the support your family presents to you. How do you think it is for them to be the parents of Roma?
I was raised by my mom, a single mother, and she would always let me do her hair and her makeup, and I still do. So I’m pretty sure she’s happy about that. And both my parents are very supportive of me and the LGBTQAI+ community. Also, as parents, the worry for my future. And being an artist only makes your future more uncertain. But even with their concerns, they are always supporting me. They were the type of parents that enabled as much as they could my artistic side. And for that I’m thankful.
Do you find that support from the local LGBTQ community?
I do. I have found a second family in the LGBTQAI+ community here. Once I started to hang in queer spaces there was no turning back. Never went back to a straight bar. Just kidding. And through all the post-Hurricane Maria struggle, my community was always here for me, and for each other.
Name your biggest career inspiration and tell us why?
Telenovela actress. I grew up watching telenovelas. If you’re Latin-American you probably grew up watching them. I love the over the top romance, acting, and scenarios. Everything is so over the top in Telenovelas. And I’m so inspired by the gold-digging antagonist in most of them.
What musical artist does Roma get ready to before going on stage? Who do you listen to in the shower?
It’s so embarrassing to admit that I’m a performer and I’ve only been listening to the same artist over and over since her first album last year, and that’s Sevdaliza. Her essences is so unique. But when I do take a break from her music I usually listen to FKA Twigs, Hole, Amy Winehouse. I’m also very known for doing Lana del Rey in my performances. I’m a hopeless romantic, so music that represents that is what I’m usually jamming to.
How many times a week do you perform?
In the shower every day. It’s funny because I barely get called to perform. And I don’t think is anything personal, but it really puts me in the position where I start to doubt myself. However is that doubt that I use as fuel to keep growing and pushing myself.
For those that have yet to see you perform, what can they expect?
I like to always deliver a message with the lyrics. Whatever song I choose, is a song that’s very personal to me at that moment. I feel like if people pay attention to what I’m doing, and what the lyrics are saying they could understand where I’m coming from.
Your resiliency showed when everyone was leaving the island after the catastrophe of Hurricane Maria. You decided to stay or probably had no other option but to battle it out due to the islands high poverty levels. What methods did you use to cope with this situation as a queer artist or more important as a person?
I didn’t have another option. One friend offered me a ticket, but I had no place in the city where they offered me to go, all my close family is in here, and I didn’t have a cent on me. Not only that, but for the first time in a long time I was finally getting to see where I wanted to be, and how to get there. So I decided to face the adversity. It was hard, and for sure it would have been harder without the amazing queer community that helped me so much. Overall I just kept my vision where I wanted to be. I kept planning, polishing ideas and concepts. Getting to know me even better through meditation. And after three months, almost four, the power came back and I was able to then start working on materializing those ideas. Which is where I currently am.
What are you working on?
I’m working really hard on aesthetically getting myself where I want to be. Having to transition my everyday wardrobe while building an artistic wardrobe has been the biggest challenge for me. I’m also working on other projects to which I’m only going to say that they have to do with videos and a more online interaction. Maybe a Roma Riviera cabaret. But I’m working on materializing those plans I made amidst the post-Hurricane Maria chaos.