By Jenay Wright — The art of beekeeping is one that manifests with so many great things and is an experience that needs more attentiveness. From preserving honey, collecting hive produces such as beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis the apiarist ( beekeepers) have a lot on their plate. Their job involves so much handwork from building relationships with the bees and also learning a new practice. It is one that is extremely stimulating and for some, it is more than just preserving bees but can also serve as a therapeutic space for healing.
There are so many beautiful and beneficial pieces that come with the beekeeping industry. Nicole Rivera Hartery, an Afro-Puerto Rican apiarist is paving the way and creating spaces for Black women to be represented in the beekeeping industry. There are communities of Black apiarists and they do in fact exist and Nicole is that voice. Her Puerto Rican heritage is deeply rooted and her Afro-Latinidad is one she wears strongly on her sleeves.
Check out Nicole’s journey through embodying her Afro-Latina identity and her passion for beekeeping!
What was your upbringing like growing up of Puerto Rican descent?
I’m 38 years old and my upbringing was very “traditional” and “cultural” Puerto Rican, my parents are first generation born here in New York City. My mother’s family is from Luquill, Puerto Rico and My father’s from Arroyo, Puerto Rico so they are fluent in Spanish. I ate rice and beans everyday and grew up eating all the common traditional foods. I grew very close to my grandparents on both sides, so Univision and Telemundo were a constant so Celia Cruz, Iris Chacon, and Walter Mercado were definitely household names. I grew up extremely proud to be of Puerto Rican descent, and still am.
Did ever not feel Black or Latia enough? If so how did you handle feeling like you had to choose?
I can honestly say I’ve never not felt Black or Latina enough. Not to say my racial experiences within the both the Black and Latino communities weren’t still painful. Some of the most racist things said to me were from other Puerto Ricans or within the Latino Community. I found out very quickly that when other people who are of lighter skin find out you are Puerto Rican, they are extremely bothered by it and throw insults. I’ve gotten “Oh but your hair is so Kinky” and the shady look of disappointment. I’ve never had an issue or insecurity with my hair, but the intent of the insult behind their statement and look has always been hurtful. I still get these statements and looks today. As far as within the Black community, it’s been two different reactions. It’s either a sense of pride because I do acknowledge my Blackness or ” Yea but Nicole, you’re not “Black, Black” , you’re Puerto Rican.” More than anything, I was so confused and never understood these comments. On both sides of my family I have a range of complexions, and I always thought, Does anyone else in the Latino community not have this? Growing up and getting the “well you don’t look Puerto Rican ” comments from non Latinos were very confusing as well. I used to think, does anyone not pay attention to baseball? There are so many darker complected baseball players who are Latino. Us Black latinos are all around, have always been, but lack of representation for the Afro – Latino community definitely has proven to be narrow minded to make people think we’re all supposed to look like Jennifer Lopez.
When I was young my parents never discussed our “Blackness” we always discussed being Puerto Rican , even dealing with racism towards us. To later find out in recent conversations each of my parents that they chose to hold in their trauma rather than discuss it which is understandable. They grew up learning to just deal with it and didn’t have the support systems that so many of us have today. However my parents have never shown shame or insecurity about their Bllack skin as well. They grew up very different from me and my siblings, my parents grew up in East Harlem NYC, even though my sister and I were born there in NYC, we moved to South Jersey at a very young age so I always thought the ignorance and rudeness of people I experienced was because I lived in the suburbs. I now know it’s not, it’s everywhere. The biggest and most educating moment for me which has definitely made me self aware and proud of who I am today was when I was around 12 years old. I was in sitting in my grandmother’s NYC apartment kitchen table sitting with both my Titi Gloria (my grandmother’s sister) and my Grandmother, the subject of race and nationality came up, and my Titi Gloria said me “Nicole, your race is Black, your skin is Black, and your nationality is of Puerto Rican Descent. ” I will forever be grateful for that moment. That is the moment that I knew, I represented both my race and nationality and because of this moment I would always have a sense of confidence and know exactly who i am, and educate others if i had to. As Afro – Latinos we deal with racism from White Americans, Other Latinos, and being told we’re really not Black, till this day it has its painful and traumatic moments. However, I’m fortunate to have a strong sense of identity and not let it make me feel “less than”.
What is your fondest memory from your Puerto Rican roots? How do you preserve it?
My fondest memory of my Puerto Rican roots is actually an ongoing tradition in my family every year. My mother, grandmother and aunt (Titi Nilda) are the three women in my family that make the pasteles every year for the family, they make so much and have modified it for different family members by even making vegan ones. They work on these pasteles for like three of four days just so we can have them every year around Christmas. Pasteles is one of the foods that are rooted to our Indegionous Taino and African blood and love to see my family work so hard at keeping these traditions alive.
How do you reclaim your blackness and still incorporate your Latina heritage?
I think in the Latina culture simply acknowledging that we are Afro-Latino/ Black is huge within itself, there are so many Black Latinos who will not even acknowledge the fact that they are Black which is extremely heartbreaking to witness that self hate or denial. Letting everyone know that I am so proud and love of my Black skin and simultaneously being proud of being Puerto Rican is extremely important for me. A long time ago I was in conversation with my paternal grandparents and they told me that they chose to elope because my grandfather’s family was racist and did not want him to marry a “Prieta” . It was the first time I had ever heard that term “Prieta” and thought how painful that must have been for my grandmother. So for me, it is important to show my Black pride for my grandmother, for all that she and my ancestors before her have endured and for my daughters so they grow up with a strong sense of who they are.
How did you get into beekeeping? When did you discover your passion?
Honestly, I did a lot of praying and pondering, I wanted to get out of the mortgage industry but wanted to get into a field I was passionate about, and after years of reading, researching, and finding out how pollinators and dying off at an alarming rate, I decided to become a beekeeper.
Were you self-taught the art of beekeeping?
After deciding to become a beekeeper, I did not know any beekeepers nor have I ever met one. So I looked up schools in my area and Rutger University had a beginners beekeeping program and I enrolled in it, which was the best decision because the teachers Mike and Debbie Haberland also became my mentors.
What is the biggest challenge you faced preserving bees?
Honestly this year 2020 has been a bit more challenging than last year because everything is going especially with Covid19, really making the time and making sure I get everything I need to get done especially with thorough inspections. It’s been hard, but I’ve still been able to get it done.
What is the biggest misconception you’ve heard about being a BeeKeeper and an Afro-Latina?
People are always surprised when they meet me and I say “I’m a beekeeper” because Black beekeepers are not normalized in the trade at all, so I always get such a shocked look. However, it is always received very well.
Did you find learning beekeeping easier than embracing your Afro Puerto – Rican heritage?
Nope not at all, beekeeping tends to be stressful at times because you’re responsible for taking care of these insects who are so important to our ecosystem. Since I’ve had a good sense of self identity, beekeeping has definitely been harder than embracing my Afro Puerto Rican heritage.
Can beekeeping serve as a therapeutic space for others?
Absolutely, watching and observing and seeing how they go about their day to day jobs and responsibilities as well as watching their sisterhood within the colony can be both therapeutic and inspiring.
What is your advice to someone looking to get into the beekeeping industry?
My advice for someone who wants to get into beekeeping is to definitely do research and take a class before purchasing bees. This will definitely have you feeling prepared prior and will let you know what you’re getting into. Also reach out and talk to other beekeepers, it’s always great to hear different perspectives and experiences. I’ve learned you can learn from beekeepers who have been beekeeping for twenty years or one year.
Keep up with Nicole on Instagram: @riveraxn