To some, Yaris Sanchez is most commonly known for her appearances in The Dream’s remixed “Rockin’ That Thang” and French Montana’s “Shot Caller.” To others, Yaris is recognizable from her many fashion campaigns, ranging from Good American, Calvin Klein, and Nike, to Outdoor Voices. But these days, the Afro-Latina is inspiring her 400,000 followers through food and knowledge. 

Originally from Santo Domingo, Yaris and her family immigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States when she was only three. Self-ascribed as the Dalai Mama, Yaris’s moniker comes from her monthly video recipes, often emphasizing Dominican and Latin cuisine. In her series Dalai Mama’s Kitchen, the LA-based creative prepares delicious cultural dishes, from mofongo to Dominican chimi, while educating her followers on the origins and influences of Latin food. But antojos aren’t her only specialty — Yaris also hosts a book club, Dalai Mama’s Bookshelf. Through her latest literary series, Yaris highlights works from Black and brown voices like Resma Menakem and Elizabeth Acevedo to educate her viewers on issues of representation, systemic oppression, and social justice. Yaris spoke with Latina on balancing these projects, and the drive behind it all. 

Where are you from? Tell us a bit about your cultural background.

I’m from the Dominican Republic, born there and raised in New York City. I grew up in Washington Heights and then later in my teens I lived in the Bronx.

You’ve spent the pandemic curating new content that celebrates your Dominican background and educates your audiences on a range of topics. Tell me about the decision to begin Dalai Mama’s kitchen and Dalai Mama’s bookshelf.

I think that during the pandemic everyone was pretty much forced to look inward and reflect. I thought a lot about purpose, what brings me joy and how can I be a light for the world during these times. I asked myself questions like, “What am I naturally good at? What brings me joy? How can I bring this to the world?” Cooking has been a part of my life since I was a little girl, not only is it a big part of my culture with the big family gatherings but also a form of bonding with my mother. My mother and I would watch The Food Network together and I would help translate the ingredients to her from English to Spanish because she wasn’t fluent in English. Now I really enjoy hosting dinner parties for friends and family. Reading has also been fundamental for me. English was my best subject in school, I would ace those essays! Really, I’m just a knowledge seeker and genuinely want to elevate my people. 

You were able to speak to Resmaa Menakem, author of “My Grandmother’s Hands.”  What was that conversation like?

I had the honor to speak with Resmaa Menakem and the conversation was truly inspiring and enlightening. I had so many emotions as he took me through the various topics we discussed. We touched on the racial divide issue in America, traced back ancestral trauma, how to heal and listen to your body, creating culture shifts, and the importance of communal care amongst each other. I think the world really needs to listen to what Resmaa Menakem has to say, he’s a national treasure for sure. 

Both of your shows focus on the Dominican experience & elevating Dominican & Afro-Latinx voices. How do your own personal experiences impact the content you make?

Well, you can’t really speak on what you don’t know, right? It’s really just important to have more representation. Afro-latina voices are not very prominent and I grew up seeing and experiencing that. In America you’re either white or Black in relation to your proximity to both of those races — primarily skin color. I feel that the term Afro-Latina is still fairly new in American culture. Schools here only really focus on American history and barely do. So for me, shining light on my ethnicity and showing the interconnectedness we all share is a form of communal care while using literature, food, media as tools to bring people of different cultural backgrounds together. 

Shifting from your work, to the more personal. How has the pandemic been for you? How has it been juggling motherhood and your professional life?

The pandemic has been really good to me. There have been some struggles, don’t get me wrong, but without pain there is no gain. I grew tremendously during this time, it was like a reset button for my personal and career life. It’s been a challenge to juggle being a mother, provider, and school teacher now though. My daughter has been doing remote learning and I’ve had to really step in to fill the roles that her school was fulfilling. 

What are your favorite Dominican traditions? How do you keep these alive in your household?

I stay connected by cooking those traditional foods I grew up eating, and listening to the music I grew up listening to as well as new artists. So many of our traditions involve food and music because family gatherings are what it’s about. 

One of our goals at Latina is to empower the next generation of LatinX youth. What advice would you give to your 20-year old self:

Stand in your truth and power. Have no shame about who you are. Own your culture and roots. You don’t have to have all the answers, trust that everything is unfolding for your greater good. Protect your energy from those who are harmful and draining. It’s okay to prioritize yourself and the things that bring you comfort and peace.  

Last but not least, can we get an exclusive Dalai Mama recipe?

Yes, you absolutely can.

Dalai Mama’s Eggplant Stew:

Ingredients:

1/2 pound of smoked turkey sausage 

1 eggplant 

Dalai Mama’s Sofrito

1 tbsp of tomato paste 

1/2 lime 

Instructions

  1. Peel and cut eggplant into very small cubes as small as possible.
  2. Chop smoked turkey into small cubes.
  3. Place eggplant in a saucepan with some water on low fire. Cover and let it soften for 5 minutes, open and continue breaking it apart with a spoon.
  4. Add 2 tbsp of Dalai Mama’s Sofrito and stir together.
  5. Add 1 tbsp of tomato paste and stir.
  6. Throw in smoked turkey, stir together.
  7. Taste test and adjust with salt and pepper if needed.
  8. Squeeze half a lime.
  9. All done! Enjoy