Marcela Alcala, otherwise known as @mexicanbutjapanese on Instagram, is a proud member of a historically ignored part of the Latinx community: Asian Latinxs. Dozens of Asian-Latinx communities exist and thrive throughout the U.S. and Latin America including Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, and Brazil, but many don’t know or don’t take the time to learn about just how many Asian cultures play an important part in the community. As a Mexican-Japanese lifestyle influencer born in the Mexican state of Coahuila and now based in New York City, Marcela is proud of where she was born and raised for much of her life and loves sharing her passion for beauty, make-up, and fashion with her followers online. She often shares her culture on her platform by using products from Mexican brands and partnering with Mexican beauty and clothing brands, some of which are even Japanese-inspired. The story of her family and her mixed heritage is something she holds close to her heart and one that obviously causes curiosity from people of all backgrounds when she speaks Spanish or shares that she grew up in Mexico. But for Marcela, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I know I am Asian because I look at myself in the mirror but other than that, I grew up super Mexican,” she tells HipLatina. “Even my mom, who is full Japanese, was born and raised in Mexico with her siblings. So the Mexican part came very natural to me.” And contrary to what people might assume, she says, “The Japanese part is still very, very new to me. One that I’m still exploring.”
With over 50,000 followers on Instagram, it’s hard to believe that Marcela hasn’t always been an online influencer. But, she says, she has always worked in the industry. Before she was creating popular videos of unique eye looks and clothing finds on her personal platform, she got her start creating educational videos for beauty brands. These videos were used to train make-up store associates in stores including Sephora on how to use certain products on themselves and customers in-store.
After sharing one of her training videos on her page and receiving a surprising amount of interactions from followers, both old and new, she decided to pursue her passion on her own terms. But, she adds, her love for beauty really began with her mom.
“Like many of us, a lot of my passion and inspiration really started with my mom,” she says. “My mom recently passed away, but she was just such a free-spirited, funky person. She never categorized herself. She dressed however she wanted and felt. She was not really conforming to any social beauty norms of her age. And I always thought that was so inspiring.”
Marcela even featured her mom in many of her videos and photoshoots, which she attests “made my account grow even more” because of her natural grace, beauty, and charm on camera. Even after her mom passed away at 71, Marcela is still learning about herself through what her mom taught her, especially how to find natural links between how she does her everyday skin and beauty routine, and how she chooses to honor her Japanese heritage.
“[My mom] had Japanese skin and so do I,” she says. “So she was very, very careful with the sun and with sunscreen. Her skincare routine had more Asian influence.” In the same way, “I have Asian hair, I have Asian brows, I have Asian eyes because my eyes are more almond-shaped. So there are certain things that I do makeup-wise that work for Asian brows or specifically Asian lashes because they tend to behave in a particular way.”
Throughout the years, Marcela has been able to connect with the Japanese side of her family by traveling to visit them in Japan. She says that though she was unfamiliar with many of the traditions and customs, she and the Mexican side of her family were welcomed with open arms and many gifts. But given that her connection to Japan and Asia, in general, is tenuous, she always thinks of herself as a Mexicana first.
“I am very, very proud to be Mexican, I love Mexico. I always say that when you’re Mexican, it’s really hard to escape it,” she jokes. “Even my friends now in New York and just as I’ve grown up, they’re like, ‘I don’t even see you as like an Asian person anymore. I just see you as this Mexican person.’ But of course, I love both.”
Besides sharing her life’s passion and work, one of the best things about being a person in a position like hers with an influential platform and loyal following is the people she’s been able to meet who are also mixed. Not just Mexican-Japanese, she says, but people of every combination you could possibly imagine from every corner of Latin America, Asia, and beyond. For her, that’s been incredibly humbling, surprising, and exciting.
“Sometimes they don’t feel represented or that there’s not a lot of mixed people just sharing their experiences,” she says. “I always love it when people reach out to me and they’re just like, ‘Oh, it’s so cool to see you. I didn’t know there was somebody like me.’”
Especially in the Latinx community and Latinx-led media, mixed people like Marcela are hardly ever featured, acknowledged, or given a voice to share their stories and experiences. Black and Indigenous folks in Latin America are slowly getting the visibility in media they deserve but social and political rights for these groups continue to be denied, while Asian Latinxs continue to baffle and confuse many in the community for simply existing. While Marcela has had mostly positive experiences as an Asian Latina, she knows too well how it feels to be disconnected from a certain culture, like so many in the Latinx community. Luckily, however, she continues to explore her Japanese culture in ways that feel comfortable and natural for her.
“For me, exploring Japanese beauty or Asian beauty has been really cool and interesting to me and has just made me even more excited about the culture,” she says. “Even for me to find stores and understand more of those rituals has been a much more authentic connection.”
Marcela adds, however, that at no point should we feel that pressure to conform or explore a part of identity that we’re unfamiliar with if we’re not ready or in a way that feels disingenuous. For people who may resonate with or share her experiences as a mixed person, she notes:
“You don’t have to fit into any category. But if you do want to connect with a specific culture, do it in a way that’s authentic to you. Food is a great place to start. Just start with the piece that interests you the most, but ultimately there’s no need to force anything. Just like do whatever you like and don’t worry about anybody else.”