Growing Up Latina With Nina Sky
Nina Sky burst onto the music scene at the tender age of 19, dripping 90s dancehall with their breakout hit “Move Ya Body.” Nicole and Natalie Albino have since matured sonically, wooing us with their bold, innovative style and soulful sounds. Even throughout their evolution as women (Nicole and Natalie are both married) and musicians (you can find the girls spinning at various NYC locations), the twins have remained closely tied to their roots.
“I think people would find it weird how much we identify with being Latina, because we don’t really speak the best Spanish,” said Natalie to VIBE Viva. “But culturally, we grew up in a very Puerto Rican household. From the food to the music to the family closeness.”
The Queens natives stopped by VIBE headquarters to traverse down memory lane and evoke some of their best childhood memories, from watching novelas with abuela to cutting up a rug at Christmas Eve.
Unforgettable childhood memory:
Nicole: Christmas was a big deal for us in our family. We’d all go to my grandfather’s house, the entire family, both sides would celebrate together. That’s an unforgettable memory, especially considering that our grandfather is not here anymore. Our aunt, who was a big influence on us growing up, she sang too and wrote songs, she spent a lot of time with us as well. All the kids are older now, so we don’t celebrate that way anymore. We tried, but it’s not the same.
Natalie: We never celebrated Christmas Day, we always celebrated Christmas Eve. That was when the whole family got together. Lots of music, lots of karaoke, lots of food, and lots of presents with the most extravagant bows ever.
Favorite home cooked dish:
Natalie: Our mom makes a bomb pastelón. It’s basically like a Puerto Rican lasagna. It’s platano, meat and sauce. Our mother would make that for any holiday. For our birthdays — we had birthday dinners — she would ask us ‘What do you want for dinner? Ay, no, I know what you want. I’ll make you your pastelón!’ She used maduros to make it, it was always the best.
Nicole: Our grandmother would make – it’s the most simplest dish ever – chicken cutlet, mashed potatoes and corn. Those three things together, cooked by my grandma, was the best dish ever. It’s the most simplest dish, doesn’t require a lot of seasoning, but the way she made it was the best.
Craziest Hispanic proverb as told by mami or abuela:
Natalie: Our grandma used to come up with the weirdest things. On New Years, she would tell us to wear yellow or gold panties for good luck in the new year. Another one is not wearing all-black. My mother says the same thing. Yesterday she picked him up Max, my son, and said, ‘He looks really cute right now, but I don’t like it when he wears all that black. It’s not good luck, it’s really bad luck.’
Nicole: Meanwhile, Natalie and I, all we wear is black all the time. [Laughs] It’s so rare that we ever wear color, so for our grandmother to say that, I could only imagine what she thinks. She’s probably praying over us all the time.
Che Guevara moment (greatest moment of rebellion):
Nicole: My first tattoo. When I got my first tattoo, I didn’t want anyone to notice and I tried to hide it so bad. I had this huge patch on my back and you know it bleeds through the patch. I threw out the patch in the garbage and my mom found it and got so mad at me. She thought I was using a gauze as a feminine pad. She was like, “Why would you use this?!’ I remember feeling so bad lying to her. I had an anxiety or panic attack, and an asthma attack, ultimately, because I couldn’t deal with the fact that I was lying to her about getting my tattoo. So, it was both my most badass moment and softest moment, because I cried and had a panic attack about it. [Laughs]
Natalie: For me, it was the same. We got our first tattoo together, but I didn’t get caught when she got caught. And she didn’t rat me out either. We always got henna tattoos. We used to hang out in the village a lot and get henna tattoos on St. Mark’s. We were 15, 16 maybe. Eventually [my mom] noticed I got the real thing on my back. She came up to me one day and asked, ‘What’s that on your back?’ I said it’s henna from last weekend, remember?’ She said, ‘No, no it’s not. It has color. Come here, I’m going to scratch it.’ So she started scratching my back and I’m like, ‘Ok, Ok! It’s a real tattoo!’ She was so disappointed in us. She got over, though.
I first saw myself as Latina when…
Natalie: I always knew I was Latina. We lived in a household where there was mad salsa, merengue and freestyle, which to me was like Latin hip-hop. We always knew we were Latina. We grew up pretty much with our grandmother. Our grandmother was the one who watched Nicole and I, we spent almost everyday and night with her. She spoke Spanish and we watched novelas with her. There was no real clear moment of clarity, but –
Nicole: You don’t realize it, but one day you’re just watching Maria la del Barrio. [Laughs].
Natalie: Yea! And I think people would find it weird how much we identify with being Latina, because we don’t really speak the best Spanish. But culturally, we grew up in a very Puerto Rican household. From the food to the music to the family closeness, we knew we were Puerto Rican.
Chupacabra or El Cuco:
Nicole: Man, I feel like both. [Laughs] My mom’s side would be Chupacabra and dad’s would be Cuco.
Natalie: We spent half our time with our mom, half with our dad. We’re from Queens and he’s from the Bronx.
Poor man’s meal:
Nicole: Our grandma would give us a mayonnaise sandwich. Literally. Two slices of bread toasted, with mayonnaise. And If she wanted to get real special, she’d put any vegetable around in the middle of the sandwich.
Natalie: Avocado would be something, for example. It would be like tomato and mayonnaise, avocado and mayonnaise… Nichole now hates mayonnaise, poor thing. She could only have so much of it.
Nicole: Our grandma, if you were sick, would always make you Farina. No matter what, that was the cure.
Natalie: Omg, yes. Our mom was really sick not too long ago and our grandmother was like, ‘I’m going to send her the best Farina, it’s going to really make her feel better.’ So she sent it to the hospital to my mom, because she’s really old and can’t visit herself. It was the cutest thing ever. That was her way of nurturing you. And I think for us it’s been the same over the years.
Nicole: Vicks was definitely another one. Just breathing it was a magical remedy.
Salsa, Bachata or Reggaeton?
Nicole and Natalie: Salsa!
Natalie: We grew up on it. La India was one of our idols, we love her. So salsa for sure.
Nicole: We saw her perform recently and we were just so in awe and excited about it. We literally grew up listening to her. She’s got the biggest voice and the best lyrics.
Telenovela guilty pleasure:
Natalie: Omg – and it’s [Nicole’s] too – Love & Hip Hop. She put me on.
Nicole: Yea, you have to feel guilty watching it. I feel guilty watching the women interact with each other the way they do, and watching the men treat the women in the same way. I don’t think it’s empowering for women at all, and we’re all about women empowerment. So sometimes I watch it and I feel like I’m just contributing to the success of a show that’s not good for anyone.
Natalie: It’s definitely an example of how not to be, how not to live your life and of what man not to bring home.
Natalie: I love Rita Moreno. Westside Story is one of our favorite movies of all time. She’s so talented, across all boards. She was one of the firsts to do it, a pioneer.
Nicole: I would have to cosign, actually. Rita Moreno.
Nicole: We always say dream big. Work hard, play hard, but only in that order. Being yourself is the most effortlessly cool thing you could do. [Laughs] All my mantras.
Natalie: Yea… hers are all cool. And — you can do it!