Joan Smalls is always looking for a taste of home. The 31-year-old model completed a tour of New York, London and Milan in honor of fashion month and was in the mood for island vibes. “I was just in Europe, and I was getting home sick,” she told HOLA! USA. “I was sick of pasta, and I love pasta, cheese and bread. I was like I miss like my rice and my beans. I needed a kitchen but can’t get the ingredients over there, so I got this [event], and I was like I’m so in.”
New York City gave the Puerto Rico native a much-needed island welcome as she joined Dewars for the launch of the Caribbean Smooth Rum Cask at the Gitano Garden of Love. To make the event extra special, chef Yvan Lemoine recreated the Smalls family’s signature Arroz con Gandules recipe. Joan, who is fresh from her run at Milan fashion week also chatted about how every person should celebrate their individuality and what she does to celebrate her culture in every aspect of her career.
Since it’s Hispanic Heritage Month (cheers) is there a part of your culture that you want the world to celebrate?
“It’s interesting because my culture is so diverse. Being Puerto Rican is having so many cultures. I am black and I’m Latin and I am native Indian. I always grew up knowing I was a mixture of things and it’s beautiful to be accepting of different cultures and your heritage.
When I’m on the runway, when I’m at editorials, I always make sure I bring that extra spice that the Caribbean flavor always has. You can never duplicate it. Everything you do, you do with passion and you do it with conviction and regardless of what people say you know who you are because you are your own truth. So, I always make sure I’m that whenever I go.”
There are more Latina models making their way into the fashion industry, have you taken anyone under your wing? Who is your inspiration?
“Not really. It’s always a funny question when someone says I want to be like you, or someone should be like someone else. I feel like we all should celebrate each other for who we are as individuals and never be someone else because that’s their own journey.”
“You have to make your own space in this world, regardless of what it is. You can look to others for inspiration, but don’t say you should be or want to be, because I feel like you’re going to make your mark regardless and it’s going to be so special.”
Can you see the Smalls family toasting Caribbean Smooth?
“For sure! These would get my father so lit. He hates tasting the alcohol flavor so you can disguise it any way. His favorites are Pina Colada. Whenever we got to dinners and we’re like it might be a little bit awkward, we’re like can we give him a Pina Colada and make it double. Make it strong. [laughs]”
It’s like a taste of home for you right?
“Yes. I see myself in Puerto Rico with the sun. Either when it’s starting to set but it’s still super-hot. At like the end of the day when you want to let loose and listen to music. You start eating too. I love savory food so it’s a good combination.”