Unapologetically Nonconforming: Embracing My Backstory

As the founder of Angela Atelier, I often talk about celebrating your journey, so what better way to do this than embracing my backstory and sharing it with you? If I had to use one word to describe my existence, it would be weird, oddball, strange –that’s how others saw me. But I liked to think of myself as non-conforming, rebellious, trailblazer, or unique.

My parents immigrated to the United States and settled in Washington Heights, NY when I was just a child. They left me and my three siblings in the Dominican Republic while they established themselves, and then they sent for us once they were ready. It’s a journey that has shaped so much of who I am today.

embracing my backstory

When I arrived in Washington Heights, life in our new neighborhood was vibrant and full of love. Although modest, we had family nearby, and our apartment was grand for a family just starting in a new country. It was a time of transition for the neighborhood, and we were right in the midst of it.

My siblings and I were close in age. My younger brother was born just months after we arrived in the States, making him two years younger than me. So, four of us had green cards, and one was a US citizen. My siblings and I were also not too far apart in age. Despite that, I was so different from them that I didn’t quite fit — like an alien dropped into a foreign home.

Embracing My Backstory: As a Tomboy, an Introvert & Truant

I was a tomboy through and through, rebelling against the frilly dresses my mom wanted me to wear and finding freedom and strength in my jeans. Dolls bored me to death, so I preferred racing cars down our long hallway with my brothers.

I was always an introvert, finding solace in books and my quiet space. Despite the noise and chaos of a big family and a bustling neighborhood, I found my little pockets of peace. Inside, those pockets of peace were in books. Outdoors, they were in the neighborhood.

One thing that still surprises me is my childhood freedom to roam around Washington Heights without much parental supervision. I would hop on the subway, explore the parks, and make it home by dark, all at the age of eight. All of it alone. Yet, It’s a different time now, but it felt like the world was my oyster back then.

Traditional education didn’t suit me either. I often found myself feeling bored and uninterested. Back in grade school, I was frequently absent. Instead of being in the classroom, you would find me hopping turnstiles in NY to get to places important to me – the park, another neighborhood, anywhere but a dull classroom. This behavior eventually caught up because I barely graduated from high school. As an adult, I made it my goal to pursue higher education and earn my college degree, which, as you can imagine, was challenging for someone with no study habits.

Washington Heights NYC Embracing my backstory
St. Nicholas Avenue was just St. Nicholas Avenue when I lived there. I have to say, I didn’t know who Duarte but I knew Martin Luther King.
PS 128 NYC Embracing my backstory

It was at Rutgers that I indeed found my stride. The critical thinking and engaging conversations were exactly what I needed to thrive. It was here that I realized that I didn’t fail my education. Education failed me.

We ended up in New Jersey because my brother was being bullied in Junior High. He was constantly dodging the bullies instead of focusing on studying, and my mother was worried about his safety. One night, I dozed off in our old neighborhood and woke up in my cousin’s apartment in Perth Amboy, NJ–I was about 11 at the time. It all happened so suddenly. My mom had to go back to retrieve our belongings, but we had to leave most of our belongings behind due to financial constraints.

As for work, I’ve done some of everything to pay the bills. From office jobs to clerical work, I’ve always been willing to learn on the job and adapt to new challenges. My big break came when I got fired from a job at a metal refinery company. At the time, it felt like anything but a break, but it led me to a 30-year career in Corporate America. Back then, you would go into a business and apply for a job on the spot, and that’s what I did at Ethicon.

I joke that I walked into a large corporation wearing spandex pants and bangles and out wearing khakis and a polo shirt. It was a turning point that changed me in many ways, mainly for the better. But lately, I’ve been jonesing for that girl who only knew how to be different. I want my grit back.

I’ve given you a glimpse into my journey from Washington Heights to Corporate America. Embracing my backstory wasn’t easy back then; I didn’t always see my experience as an immigrant and truant as something to be proud of. I may explore why in another post–for now, stay tuned.

About Angela Acosta & the Atelier

Based in New Jersey, Angela Acosta specializes in personal branding and portrait photography for women business owners and professionals in New York and the tri-state area. She expertly channels brand narratives through tailored images, offering insights on wardrobe and styling to ensure authenticity. With a deep commitment to capturing the essence of each client, Angela transforms branding with impactful photographs that resonate and inspire. Contact us to schedule your complimentary consultation.