Spotlight: Neysha

Meet Neysha, born on the sunny island of Puerto Rico. Raised as an army brat, her childhood was spent wherever home was meant to be in the moment.

 The question, “Where are you from?”, finds her challenged for an answer.  

 "Where am I from? 

I was raised a little bit of everywhere. I went to 5 different elementary schools… an all black middle school in Oklahoma… and then an all white high school in Florida… so you get the picture. I guess to me that means where did I always leave my heart when I was elsewhere. And my heart has always been in Puerto Rico.”

A passionate person, through and through, Neysha is the happiest when galavanting to remote parts of the world, collecting memorabilia that holds special meaning to her. Not your typical shot glass/t-shirt kind of girl, instead she prefers bringing back souvenirs that are conversation pieces. These treasures can be seen throughout her museum like home, where she happily displays the strange, beautiful things she has created from the bones, insects and jewelry gathered on her journeys.  Art, in every form, is her true love.

“There is something so beautiful to me about death and anatomy. 

I love being able to show the beauty in something most people fear...death."

Traveling the world is crucial to her, as it allows her to gain perspective, good and bad. Witnessing different cultures, food, languages, and customs, gives her a valuable outlook into her own life, and insight on how she can grow personally. Her travels have also provided her with a deeper appreciation of her homeland, her island of Puerto Rico. Suddenly aspects of her world that she may have taken for granted, become treasured and relished. 

“I have been to some truly beautiful beaches in this world… but some of the most beautiful have been on my island. I've swam in some stunning rivers…but some of the most stunning, right here. I've met amazing people, eaten amazing food and yet, I find the best of all of it right here on this island. This place is so special and I love sharing it.”

What about Hurricane Maria? 

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Neysha was traveling in Thailand, so she was fortunate not to have dealt with its wrath in the moment. That didn’t spare her suffering however, as she experienced a sort of survivors guilt, helpless, and desperately wanting to be together with her family and friends.  

"Maria hit and I didn't hear from my family for 2 weeks. I didn't know how they were, if they were alive, injured, needed help. I felt so helpless. I finally heard from them and wanted to come back and be with them during this tragic time, yet there was no point, I would be just be another mouth to feed. There was no food, no clean water. But my people are resilient, they got back up, all the while cracking jokes about it like they always do. Thats the Puerto Rican way."

Neysha considers herself a very lucky girl. Her parents have been happily together for over 30 years, and have instilled in her the value of respect and true love. Yet, although open minded, their traditional ways have made it challenging for her to live the life she was intended to live and be the person she wanted and needed to be. Strange and opinionated, beating to her own, beautiful, controversial drum, Neysha has certainly endured and overcome many obstacles. 

"You know, I've always been unapologetically exactly who I am. And that wasn't always an easy thing to do. I was purposefully a straight A student, just to prove the point that my looks were irrelevant to who I was.” 

When she realized she was gay, she was overcome with dread. Already considered the black sheep of the family, she now had to deal with the repercussions of sharing and living this newfound discovery. So she faked being straight for a very long time, not because she was ashamed or frowned upon it, quite the contrary actually,  she just didn’t want to add one more “label” to her minority plate.  

“Being gay is the last thing I wanted to be. I was already the black sheep of the family,  now I had to be the gay, black sheep of the family. The Black, Hispanic, tattoed, dreadheaded, lesbian one.  Are you kidding me?!”

For Neysha, her love of art extends to her body, where she is able to express herself creatively through tattoos and piercings. At a young age, she remembers rummaging through her moms jewelry to make fake piercings using random pieces and went so far as to add kool-aid to her conditioner to give herself unique, colored streaks. Her first official piercing was at the age of 14 and tattoo at 18, and although her parents were not happy, she, herself was ecstatic.  

"The first time I saw a tattoo, I remember thinking, what a great idea!  Art on your body forever!!” My tattoos tell a story. They are promises I make to myself that I cannot break because they are forever on my body. They are reminders of the person I was and want to be. They are my life experiences; the places I've been, the things I've seen, the people I've loved, the things I believe in. They symbolize good days and bad days. It is chaos, it is beauty, it is art.” 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

"I'd tell her to just be honest with herself, to not waste any time. You can't grow out of being gay and faking it will make you sad for a very long time. Spare yourself the unhappiness and spare  heartache to all the men who loved you. I was always so unapologetically me, but felt a bit like a fraud because I had a secret. And oh how that weight has been lifted. My deepest regret is not having done it sooner."

Today Neysha lives proudly in her birthplace, Puerto Rico, with her four rescue pups. Sophia, the River Dog,  Mia, a fat pitbull/boxer, Bella, a cocker spaniel, and Karuna, a not so cute, hairy chihuahua with a funny underbite, who she rescued after witnessing her being hit by a car in front of her very eyes. The accident clearly a matter of fate for poor little Karuna, who now has a happy home and a mama that loves her.  

What does the future hold for this tough and smart spitfire?  Big plans are on the horizon, as she begins the search for the perfect plot of land to build her own self sustaining, earthbag home, where she will grow all her own organic fruits, veggies, and herbs. From there  she hopes to not only expand this unique earthbag B&B concept, utilizing all of nature’s resources , but to be the impetus for others to follow suit and learn from her. 

"My ultimate goal is to be a positive role model and to educate like minded people that you don't have to be wealthy or sign the next 30 years of your life away in order to own your own home.” 

What a great day running around Luquillo Beach with this amazing young woman. The images I captured of her do not do justice to this beauty. I look forward to watching her grow, making moves in this wonderful world, and painting, dancing, singing, creating and doing whatever sparks her interest and crosses her path. 

hellen barbara photography

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