Interview by Layla Hussein
Meet Nicaulis Mercedes, the Bronx Teen Revolutionizing the Literary World
She is not letting her circumstances impact her measures of success
While the Bronx is commonly viewed in a negative lens due to its past record of poverty and violence, 16-year-old Nicaulis Mercedes is here to make a change. As she was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, her experiences as a female of color made her realize at a young age what the world expects from women of color. She was expected to cook, clean, and do household chores because a girl is expected to do these duties, but Nicaulis knew she wanted to be something more than a maid or a housewife.
As a teenager in the Bronx, Nicaulis—as well as girls across the globe—still finds discomfort when it comes to leaving the house and getting catcalled. Being a female brings daily struggles that causes her to have social anxiety in public settings, but inside this young child that grew up in the Dominican Republic was a girl with a passion for literature. With her struggles of battling the prejudices that come with being an Afro-Latina, creative writing and theatre often served as an escape for Nicaulis.
Her teachers have been her biggest role models, all teaching her to become something more than what the world expected of Nicaulis as a female of color. They all made Nicaulis feel empowered, a feeling that she was rarely used to while growing up. Her ELA teachers from middle school believed in Nicaulis and saw something in her that she did not see in herself. They saw passion, drive, and a hunger for learning in Nicaulis. As her teachers discussed thriving in the world as a person of color or making a change as a young person, Nicaulis finally felt like she could change the world instead of waiting for other people to do it. “I had a teacher afterschool where we were supposed to work, but we actually ended up talking about BIPOC issues, Native Americans, feminism, living in the Bronx, and basically everything,” said Nicaulis. “She was one of the main people that inspired me and I really look up to her.”
Below, you’ll learn about the efforts of Nicaulis Mercedes after realizing she could make an impact on her community when her middle school teachers inspired her to act. Nicaulis particularly made the most out of her quarantine experience by challenging herself to try new things.
// What has been your proudest accomplishment?
On a professional level, one of my proudest accomplishments was writing a play for Roundabout Theatre. After I wrote a play for Roundabout Theatre, I was featured on Playbill’s website. I was really proud of myself because a few months prior, I remember browsing through the website for internships, and the fact that my name is now on the website was a really big deal. Especially as a theatre kid, Playbill is a huge deal to me. On a personal level, I learned how to speak English and getting better is another accomplishment for me. I went from someone that didn’t know how to speak English to somebody who has been awarded for creating poetry.
// How has writing shaped your identity?
I don’t think writing has shaped my identity, but rather my identity shapes what I write. My proudest poem that I wrote titled “Curls” is about me dealing with my identity and my natural hair. So, the things that I go through inspires me to write about it.
// You have always loved theatre, so how has theatre influenced your life?
Theatre has given me such rewarding opportunities where I’ve met amazing people. Not only did I get to write a play and end up being featured on Playbill, but I connected with amazing mentors and got to work with really nice people. The theatre community is full of kind and collaborative individuals who know how to communicate since communication is needed to make a play happen, so I was grateful for that experience. In school, I also major in technical theatre, which is theatre backstage, and not only have I learned technical skills like building a set and setting up lights, but I’ve also formed lots of bonds with amazing people. Theatre has opened a different field for me because when I first started high school, I didn’t think about what career I wanted, but after getting into theatre, I have numerous paths that I can consider, like being a playwright or an arts administration.
// What projects are you currently working on?
I am one of the founders of Journals of Color, a literary magazine in the Bronx for other people of color just like us to join. We empower Bronx teens through photography, art, and creative writing and let their voice be heard. We started this because as me and my Co Founder grew up as females of color, we didn’t have professional platforms and programs in the Bronx where we can creatively express ourselves and voice our opinions in a safe space with people just like us. We felt like it was really important for teenagers in our community to have Journals of Color as their platform.
// Do you have any advice for girls trying to empower themselves?
One of the best things you can do as a girl in order to empower yourself is to have a mentor, especially female mentors or mentors in the career field you want to pursue. The way I empowered myself the most was through mentors I had through the programs and internships I did, and these wise people give great advice and make your unique experiences feel relatable. I met other females of color doing the majors I want to do and it helped me a lot! Another important lesson is being able to stand your own ground without being afraid to say what is on your mind. That’s how you get places because you’re never really going to get anywhere if you don’t say anything. -GGH
“The only thing standing in between where you want to be and where you are is yourself.” — Nicaulis Mercedes