(This piece originally appeared in Fusion)
I first noticed her across the street, pushing a cart covered in leaves and topped with fruit. A heavyset older woman, she parked her cart on the sidewalk, beside a float.
Sunday’s NYC Dominican Day Parade hadn’t started yet, but 74-year-old Pilar Hiemann was already drawing attention from passersby. And it wasn’t just for her cart – the retired home attendant was in a dress that is typically worn by traditional dancers in the Dominican Republic: with mounds of ruffles.
Hiemann stood protectively over her cart, and a teenage girl dressed in a similar outfit sat nearby. They were a team.
Intrigued, I approached them with my camera and asked to take a photo. “One dollar to take a photo – I need the money to get back home,” Hiemann told me firmly in Spanish, her extremely strong Dominican accent poking through. She had a lot of spunk for a woman in her 70s, which made me laugh. I nodded and pulled a wrinkled dollar out of my book-bag – handed it to her. As if rehearsed, Hiemann and the girl assembled themselves behind the cart and invited me in, even handing me an avocado to hold. A fellow photographer took the photo.
Posing with Pilar and her young marchanta partner.
I asked her what she was dressed as, and Hiemann proudly declared a “marchanta” – women who sell fruits in the streets of the Dominican Republic. Hiemann told me she’d been dressing up as one for the parade for about three decades – they inspire her.
“Yes, here comes the marchanta, representing those humble women who go out to sell their fruits, vegetables, and fragrant leaves,” Hiemann chanted. “Those women who pay for their children’s school and university education – who couldn’t come to the parade today to celebrate with the rest of us.”
Hiemann added that the marchanta also dances merengue. “Long live the Dominican Republic!” she yelled, alerting others who walked by, some who laughed at her joyous cry. Representing these women fills her with pride, Hiemann says.
I asked her if she has ever worked as a marchanta.
“No, never! I have never planted anything… not even a kernel of corn!” she said.
(This piece originally appeared in 2013 for Fusion, then-called Univision News)