This Latinx Heritage month, I’d like to share a little bit about my parents’ country of origin-the Dominican Republic (aka DR, not to be confused with Dominica, also an island in the Carribbean, not colonized by the Spanish). DR Dominicans are a very proud people known for our loud greetings resplendent with hugs and kisses, and for making you feel right at home with a warm meal and tireless hospitality (also.Dominoes, Plantains, Goya, and a mean Bústelo coffee). Dominicans recognize each other from a mile away - and when we spot one another we really see each other, often exchanging greetings and ‘native’ towns of origin in DR like old friends, reveling in the sheer beauty of our shared identity, whether in a cab, veterinarian office, or on the street. To a Dominican, DR is the most magical land in the universe, and seeing another Dominicans succeed fills us with pride.
When I’ve asked elders in my family for historical accounts, there are no comments about slavery, just low wages on the tobacco and sugar fields; No comment about indigenous traditions, but an uncanny ability to cure any illness with just the right herbs and plants, and a sancocho that will restore your entire soul. I was baptized and raised Catholic, but my mother lit candles with Saints on them for loved ones who had passed away, while praying the Rosary. No acknowledgment of our African roots, but moved by the sound of the African drum, and preparing meals derived from African cuisine, with African features. Those are the tensions embedded in our colonized history, a merging of Indigenous, African and European traditions manifesting into rich expressions of music, food, art, language, religion, and culture across the Latinx community.
Dominicans are pretty recent transplants in the U.S, with the largest migration happening around the 1970’s. Cubans and Puerto Ricans got here first, and before them (and to date) the US has interacted for centuries with Mexico. As a high schooler, when I went away to a boarding school in Massachusetts, most of my white peers thought I was ‘Mexican,’ which I realized was a substitute for the word ‘Latino,’ because that was the only Spanish-speaking ethnic group they had encountered to that point. Regardless of the country of origin, if you’re from South America or the Spanish speaking Carribbean, once you’re in the U.S., you’re Latino. Colorism allows certain lighter skinned Latinos to pass for white, but even the fairest Latino will usually bust a dance move or say a word that ‘identifies’ them as Latinx, and I personally love that. As a proud Dominican born and raised in the United States, it took me a while to even understand that I shared an identity with Colombians, Peruvians and Cubans under the ‘Latinx’ umbrella, because I knew very little about those countries and their histories. As I delved deeper into Dominican history, I realized that the Dominican Republic was inhabited by Arawak Indians in the late 16th century like much of North and South America. I learned that Africans were enslaved in the DR to work the fields after the genocide of Indigenous people. I learned that Spanish colonists imposed the Catholic religion and Spanish language in our countries. While it’s a complicated history, and one filled with violence, the Latinx diaspora has married elements of all three influences to inform a rich culture.
The new narrative I’m living is that of an American-born citizen with roots in the Dominican Republic. My mom gave birth to two American-born Dominican children, or Dominican-Americans, or to keep it short - Americans. The US is a nation of immigrants, except for Indigenous folks. Whether African, Spanish, French, Polish, German, Asian, or from Latin America, Americans all have geographic roots rooted outside of the US, except Indigenous people. This celebration of my Dominican culture, is an American story.