Born in Harlem to Dominican parents, award-winning journalist, cultural activist, and documentary filmmaker Raquel Cepeda is the author of Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina. Equal parts memoir about Cepeda’s coming of age in New York City and Santo Domingo, and detective story chronicling her year-long journey to discover the truth about her ancestry, the book also looks at what it means to be Latina today. Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, released the book on March 5, 2013. The paperback was released on February 4, 2014: the companion curriculum, developed and written by Karen Robinson, a senior education officer at the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights’ Speak Truth to Power initiative, is now available for free download here. Cepeda is currently in production on Some Girls (formerly Deconstructing Latina), a documentary focusing on a group of troubled teenage girls in a suicide prevention program who are transformed through an exploration of their roots via the use of ancestral DNA testing.
Cepeda directed and produced the NAMIC (National Association for Multi-ethnicity In Communications) Vision nominated film Bling: A Planet Rock, a feature length documentary about American hip-hop culture’s obsession with diamonds and all of its social trappings, and how the infatuation with “blinging” became intertwined in Sierra Leone’s decade long conflict. The film was co-produced by VH1/MTV Networks and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
For almost two decades, Cepeda’s writings have been widely anthologized and her byline has been featured in media outlets including The New York Times, People, the Associated Press, The Village Voice, MTV News, CNN.com, and many others. She’s contributed to WNYC, CNN and CNN’s Inside the Middle East as a freelance reporter. Cepeda edited the critically acclaimed anthology And It Don’t Stop: The Best Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years, winner of the PEN/Beyond Margins and Latino Book Award. As the former editor in chief of Russell Simmons’ Oneworld, Cepeda was responsible for the magazine’s overhaul in September 2001, winning a Folio Award for best re-design and receiving accolades for her global take on urban culture.
On November 25, 2014, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Cepeda was presented with an award from celebrated Dominican artist German Perez at the United Nations. The plaque reads: The permanent mission of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations recognizes Raquel Cepeda for the courage reflected in her literature, her commitment to denouncing violence against women, and her work in helping young women’s empowerment.
Cepeda, named one of El Diario|La Prensa’s Distinguished Women of 2013, sits on the board of City Lore and the Style Wars Restoration Project. A current NYFA Fellow in the Playwriting/Screenwriting category, she contributes to Latino USA on NPR, and has appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry, Huffington Post Live, Al Jazeera English, CNN, and other outlets talking about genetic genealogy, Latino-American identity, immigration, hip-hop culture, and mental health issues amongst Latina-American teenagers.
She lives with her husband, a writer and television producer, teenage daughter and infant son in her beloved New York City.
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A few of my favorite moments during my tenure at RUSSELL SIMMONS’ ONEWORLD magazine
Steering the OneWorld ship through previously uncharted waters as its editor-in-chief was a perfect storm. It was fulfilling. Frenetic. Dramatic. And sometimes, freaking weird. The course I mapped out was pretty straightforward: to reflect its namesake’s impact on hip-hop as a movement. However, I did so from a deeply personal place: that of an internationalist informed by her Dominican and New York City roots, a world citizen who used hip-hop culture to break down borders between nations and states. Russell Simmons played a significant role in positioning hip-hop as a global phenomenon, for better and worse (discuss amongst yourselves). And with that nugget deeply etched into the forefront of my mind, I dedicated prime real estate in the magazine to representing the maturing and multifaceted side of the culture here and abroad. Below, click and slide to find a few of my favorite moments.