Before I sat down with Jillian Mercado – modelactor and avocado all around for greater representation – to talk about the Metaverse Culture series, I had very little understanding of augmented reality and had never tried a VR headset. This same is the metaverse? In fact, I had no idea.
Luckily for me, the Meta team was able to break it down in simple terms. “The ‘metaverse’ is a collection of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who are not in the same physical space as you. You can hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create and more. They explained that it will take a collective to build, rather than something a single company can develop. If you were to compare it to the development of the Internet, the metaverse is only at the “dial-up stage”.
Mercado was asked to participate in Tercera Culture (or third culture), the fifth part of the Metaverse Culture series, which explores Latinx culture, identity, and equity in the metaverse. The goal? To make it an inclusive space from the start and create more accessible entry points into cutting-edge technology for communities that have been historically excluded.
Tercera Culture also inspired the creation of a “Nuevo Norte” – a virtual space in the metaverse created by the artist COVL which pays homage to its Puerto Rican roots. Its vibrant colors give you a warm welcome as soon as you arrive, and it comes with a nightclub and a space where people can discuss and share ideas.
After settling in with a Meta Quest 2 and receiving a quick tutorial, I have to say… the metaverse blew my mind and already felt so futuristic I couldn’t believe the technology was all about it. ‘at its beginnings.
And although Mercado and I were on opposite coasts (her in Los Angeles and I in New York), our avatars were able to sit side by side in a conference room to chat. Tercera Culture, futuristic beauty, and more.
What was your very first impression when you put on your helmet? It’s a bit shocking!
I can’t even explain it. I recently went to Japan and it was very empowering in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. The expression is…whoa. It’s so hard to explain unless you’re into it. But all my friends who come to try it say: “It’s surprising.’ You imagine different worlds – I grew up with The Sims and all those immersive games – but being there? It’s trippy in the best way.
I’m so grateful to be a part of something so futuristic. Not that I ever thought I would. But since the representation for me, in particular, was not there, it is difficult to imagine something. All this came to mind; a million things at once, but I’m so grateful to experience this.
Speaking of representation, I found that even the process of creating my avatar was so different from when we were younger. There were tons of options; I might even have braids.
I was just going to tell you that I love your braids! Makes me regret having braids. Even the simple act of choosing your avatar’s skin color was once a choice between three different shades. It would have been nice to have different shades, hairstyles and eye colors. They really go in depth with everything: the shape of your nose, your mouth, your ears, whether you have freckles or not. I was probably there for an hour straight. And fashion, are you kidding? I was here for the fashion.
Since the Metaverse is in its infancy, is there anything that doesn’t exist yet that you’d like to see?
Because I can take a first look, I can hope and know that there is so much room for changes and additions, especially because everything is technological.
These are all codes, so it’s easy to enter. We just need to have that voice and that person who can say if something isn’t working for their community. To my own community – that is, the disability community – for which I am very much an advocate…right now, [our avatars] are half a body.
Hopefully in the future there might be wheelchairs or maybe someone who doesn’t have arms can add that to their avatar. I’m so hopeful for the improvements to come and that they take their time to make sure they do it right. Not just throwing out a checklist. We can see through checklists these days – and these aren’t fun. Since working with the team, they’ve been very open to feedback on how we can make it a more inclusive place than it already is.
When a young person from the Latinx community enters the metaverse, what do you expect them to leave?
Opportunity. When we went to [Nuevo Norte], It was so beautiful. It’s full of colors that are very much in our culture and little phrases like cafecito over there. The frog you see is called coqui – it’s very Puerto Rican. It’s just to see your culture represented and thought about. It’s just another way of allowing ourselves to be authentically ourselves.
What is the third culture or Tercera Culture mean to you personally?
To be super honest, I had no word for it. I’ve always had tercera culture with me because my parents are from the Dominican Republic. They brought their traditions and their culture. I was born in New York and it’s a together separate culture. Mixing those two and having my own culture is more of a check that we can all coexist with how comfortable we are sharing our cultures, and sharing that with the world and saying it’s okay to mix your traditional view with the way you have seen the world since you were born.
Mixing these two and having my own culture is further proof that we can all co-exist by sharing our culture with the world. We say it’s good to have your traditional view, the way you’ve seen the world since you were born.