By Becky Miller
If you are searching for Vanessa Tasé Suiero, as people in Morningside Heights often are, she can usually be found at Arts and Crafts in a verbal joust with a friend while wearing a perfectly angled beret, or perhaps at Hex and Co at the center of a heated Uno game. On weekdays, she may be lounging on Futter Field between classes or AirDropping a seductive Notes app poem to a stranger. In the late afternoon, you can hear her zooming around Milstein’s first floor on a children’s scooter she found on the street, in a race with only herself, shaking hands with passersby like the president.
The first day I met Vanessa, we were riding the packed 7 train home from a Mets game when she overheard a man speaking Portuguese. After an hour of chatting, she parted ways with the Brazilian man like they were cutting off an intimate romance, months-long at least. When I asked her how and why she makes friends out of thin air, she attributed her charm to her unlimited curiosity in the mundane; subway riders, cashiers, and strangers are all sources of creative inspiration for Vanessa, and she approaches them as if they were an opera or a thunderstorm. “I guess it’s not me wanting to entertain them but expressing to them that I am entertained by them, you know?” she explained.
When she arrived at Barnard, Vanessa was a musician, but was calling herself a poet. Now, she calls herself an artist, and “artists are just people with good taste,” she told me, the only declarative statement about art she was willing to make. She churns out poetry, photography, and music, but she thinks of creation in simple terms; her art is but an amplification of her emotional state. She takes inspiration from her surroundings and pours the product back out—to Vanessa, once her words leave her body, they belong to the audience.
Vanessa’s habit of weaving art into everyday life made my sophomore year a lot more exciting. Her Plimpton single doubled as a tattoo parlor, a barber shop, and a studio. She organized a poetry night in the Plimpton piano room, where the guard on duty, her friend Sharrod, was a surprise performer. We both tried out for sketch comedy group Latenite; she left the audition with a bloody knee and the part handed to her. Perhaps most iconically, she was the founder of the short-lived but well-marketed band Vanessa and The Aquarians (for which I was technically the bassist, but missed the only-ever band practice). The band had aspirations to inhabit a sweater-vest-rocker sort of niche. Vanessa, the songwriter of tracks such as “Candela Wants Good Sex,” occupied her post with a sharpness of vision that far exceeded her meager two weeks as a guitarist. The band’s one live concert, at a house party in Queens, was a moment of true glory; Vanessa fell to the floor screaming into the microphone, amid a living room of cheering friends-of-friends. After about five restarts, she got all the way through “Bloody Bones.” Since the group disbanded due to a lack of dedication, I asked Vanessa if she would form another band. “I should probably work alone,” she confessed. “Unless someone is totally dedicated to whatever my creative vision is, and has no particular vision other than their vision being my vision, I don’t want it. I can’t take that kind of collaboration.”
As a prelude to our interview, Vanessa invited me to a book talk at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn, the literary nonprofit where she worked this summer. The authors in conversation turned out to be Cristina García, BC ’79, and Ernesto Mestre-Reed, both Cuban writers. While García read from her new book, Vanessa snapped photos for the Center, silently shaking her head in praise of passages that resonated with her. On the long train ride back uptown, she explained how the conversation reminded her of the emotional politics of Cuba, where she lived until she was 11. She read me a poem she wrote recently about being Cuban, a rhythmic piece with short sentences that capture the potency of her memories of the island where she grew up. I asked her to text it to me:
Soy cubana. Nacida. Mudada. Mutada. Vacía. Doblada. Divina.
No libre. Sincera. Mentira. Metiche. De gira. Me vuelo en miradas.
Espina. Cubana. Por vida. Gitana. Rendida.
As a kid in Cuba, Vanessa was as expressive as she is now. “When I was four, I was dressing in rain boots, gloves on my hands that were made of socks, and a big ass hat in, like, 90 degree Cuban weather,” she said. When she studies abroad in Rome this fall, she wants to adopt local fashion and vows to only speak Italian when she returns to the States. “It’s the coolest thing, to speak another language. It has always been the coolest thing and it will be the coolest thing—until, like, AI can translate whatever you say in two seconds,” she reminded me.
Vanessa relates to the Apple TV+ show Dickinson, in which Wiz Khalifa plays Death and reminds Hailee Steinfeld’s Emily Dickinson that her life will be full of suffering as she is the only one who knows her true genius. Vanessa also has a singularity that can be misunderstood. She, for example, elevates the casual practice of finding keepable goods on the streets of New York to a focused craft; her sidewalk treasures include a volleyball that was once marooned on the roof of Milstein, a Christmas tree she dragged up the stairs to prank her roommates, ladders, ottomans, and helmets. She idolizes other marauders: When I asked her who she models herself after, she answered, “My future self. And Captain Jack Sparrow, I love his style. Or any swashbuckler written by Alexandre Dumas.”