Young Dominican people, especially those who are first- generation, are stereotyped as ignorant, backward and uneducated. For this reason, they are perceived to be as in need of “saving” and “educating” to achieve first- class citizenship. However, this is not a complete picture. My participation in the 8th Dominican Student Conference at Harvard College proved otherwise, or that my people are have been and are still making great strides in every segment of American society.
Aside from the long history of American colonialism and exploitation in the island of Hispaniola, the relationship between the United States and my native country has been far from healthy. Characterized by political corruption, the utilization of power to achieve economic prosperity and miscommunication, this relationship has rarely benefited the poor people of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
For example, my parents and I immigrated to the United States during the 1990s to escape poverty, so our reasons for wanting a piece of the “American Dream” were largely economic. On the other hand, after the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo for much of the earlier part of the 20th century, many people desperately left to los Estados (the States) in search of a better life and access to civic rights. My father’s parents were two of these people.
More importantly, the economies of the two aforementioned countries rely largely on remittances, money that migrants in the United States often send to families back home. As someone who grew up watching my mother send cajas (boxes) to our family in the Dominican Republic, I can speak to the degree to which Dominicans appreciate the items they receive from a country marked by severe impoverishment and social inequality.
Furthermore, educational attainment is difficult for many Dominicans, which is why coming to the United States to obtain a quality education is so important. My mother actually could not continue her college education at one of the Dominican Republic’s most prestigious universities because her family simply could not afford it. But just because the education system in the Dominican Republic is pretty shitty, this does not mean that there are not those who get the opportunity to achieve upward mobility.
The Dominican community is largely a transnational one, so that the feeling of no ser ni de aqui, ni de alla (to be neither from here nor there) is a shared one. Although there has been a lot of research on the transnational experience, it continues to be a very complicated area of study because many Latinos who settle in cities across the United States navigate American life in a myriad of ways. A Dominican immigrant living (but planning on returning to the native country) in Lancaster, PA will face discrimination very differently than will an immigrant (with no knowledge of the English language) living in the Bronx, NY.
In the United States today, there is a growing number of Dominican immigrants, especially first and second- generation students who are getting college educations and degrees. While at Harvard this weekend, I had the opportunity to network and meet approximately 500 young Dominican students and intellectuals to learn more about our country’s political and social realities, its contribution to scholarly fields in the States and even the current condition of Dominican women.
I listened to success stories, from the first Dominican man to represent our country and win an Olympic gold medal to the first Dominican woman to become an American ambassador, and I was deeply inspired by our talent. All of the students that I met were hungry to succeed and assumed ownership of their lives to be leaders and innovators in their respective communities. They were civil engineers, aspiring doctors and lawyers, filmmakers, artists, activists, trailblazers, young ambassadors, survivors, and most important of all, proud Dominicans.
It was a beautiful thing for me to be a part of, especially since I feel that the Dominican community at Amherst is small and not as visible as it should be. There was really a strong sense of pride in the atmosphere and I was reminded of the time that I spent on my grandmother’s lap drinking milk, listening to her soft breathing and the coconut trees sway in the night in the city of Santiago. My little transnational experience brought to life right before my eyes.
Furthermore, I learned that I have a commitment to serve my community and my family in the Dominican Republic; to take everything that I have learned in the States to better the condition of my country. Ever since I began my Amherst career, I have considered studying abroad in the Dominican Republic and returning to Santiago to speak to the people of the neighborhood I grew up in for three years. I have even considered becoming politically involved in Dominican-American affairs. However, I know that I am not ready right now. I know that before I return, I need to do and learn more at Amherst. For me, the trip to my country is not only to remember my childhood, but to also make political and social changes.
Even though my mother struggles to understand why I am so interested in Latin American history and revolutionary politics right now, I know that she will learn to accept it one day. If my mother had been at the conference with me, she would have an easy time relating a lot to what was discussed and presented. The carnival lechones (carnival dancers in costumes) that the organizers surprised us with during lunch yesterday would have had her up, dancing and singing like she loves to. However, like my father, returning to our country after so many years is no longer an option when the United States is now the place we call home. La República (The Republic, short for the Dominican Republic) is a distant memory, one that in their eyes should remain as such for as long as possible.
But after attending this event with about eight other Amherst students, I hope that our campus can one day also organize its own Conference to empower young Dominican students in the Pioneer Valley area. We need to continue raising difficult questions and engaging in critical discussions about the violent Dominican-Haitian relations, especially now that Dominican-born Haitians are being denied their citizenship status and violently deported from the country. A lot of the questions I have had regarding Latino identity in the United States have been answered in most of my classes this semester, and also by the strong voices I heard at this Conference this weekend.
Perhaps this is the start of my revolution. The most important things that I have now are my weapons—my hands, my intelligence, my heart and my voice. Long live my beautiful country, the Dominican Republic!