Culture

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

Anyone traveling to the Dominican Republic this summer has likely been met with the cautionary warning; “Don’t drink anything from the minibar.” Eleven tourist deaths on the island in 2019, ranging from natural causes to counterfeit alcohol consumption, have spurred FBI and State Department investigations. Though news of flight and hotel cancellations abounded, I missed my family and refused to let fear stop me from seeing them. Since I lived to tell the tale, here are a few things I learned about my father, about myself, and about the precarious paradise that keeps calling me back.

Billy Joel and Nas have interpreted the “New York state of mind,” and if you have ever visited the Dominican Republic beyond the purpose of tourism, you’ll know that there exists a Dominican state of mind too.

Credit: Dan Gold / Unsplash

Whenever I exit Las Americas or Puerto Plata airports, humidity slaps me in the face, and my Dominican mindset is immediately activated. On this island, electricity does not run 24/7. When the electricity goes, or as we say “se fue la luz,” water doesn’t run from the tap either. All that is left to do is swap your sneakers for flip-flops, and exorcise your need for immediate gratification. It takes practice, and I re-learn this lesson with each visit.

The Dominican Republic is changing fast. 

Credit: zonacolonialrd / Instagram

There is new construction everywhere you look. I sit on the balcony chatting with my father and stare across the street trying to remember how it looked before the apartment building was constructed in that space. I can see from an open doorway on the ground level that wooden boxes are being stacked, and hauled out in front of a business. I tune out my father’s voice as I focus on the shape and size of the boxes. My Spanish needs work, and I ask my father, “Papi, what does ataúd mean?” The business slogan translates to “Quality Coffins.” I think about magic realism traditions in Latin American literature, and I am reminded that so often a country like this juxtaposes disparate images and experiences in such a casual manner. I don’t think I would be able to live across the street from a constant reminder of death anywhere else but on this incongruous island.

We drive to the countryside of El Seibo for a few days.

Credit: fedoacurd/ Instagram

My father syncs his playlist and he directs my sister what song to play next. The first song is by Boy George. I watch my father sing along, and I can’t help but think about the Dominican Republic’s homophobic culture steeped in hyper-masculinity. Same-sex marriage is not recognized on the island, and members of the LGBTQ community continue to face discrimination and violence. I talk to my sister about this later that night, and she tells me small changes are coming to the island. The city of Santo Domingo hosts inclusive events like Draguéalo, where you can even sign up for a Vogue class.

Credit: Draguelao / Facebook

My father’s playlist continues and I’m struck by his selections ranging from Taylor Swift to A.I.E. (A Mwana), a song by a 1970s group called Black Blood, featuring lyrics in Swahili.

I watched this Dominican dad jam across continents, decades, cultures, languages, and race. I realize there is so much I don’t know about him, and so often we shortchange our parents’ knowledge and experience, reducing them to stereotypes and gendered tropes.

My next lesson is on staying sexy.

                                                           Unsplash/Photo by Ardian Lumi 

After a few days in the countryside, my sister and I rent a hotel room in La Zona Colonial. We ready for a night out when she looks at my outfit and asks me, “Um, is that what you’re wearing tonight?” I thought my yellow jumpsuit was poppin’. My sister pulls out a little black dress from her overnight bag and kindly suggests I wear it. The dress is tiny. It’s skimpy. It’s super short. It’s absolutely perfect. I channel my inner Chapiadora, Goddess of Sex Appeal and Free Drinks, and dance all night. 

Growing up in the 90s, I styled myself in oversized men’s clothing. It wasn’t until that one magical summer in the Dominican Republic when the heat was too oppressive to wear jeans, so I wore—gasp—a skirt. That was the first time I felt sexy, and learned the power of sex appeal. Though I wielded that power throughout my twenties, it fell away in my thirties. Wearing my sister’s LBD I realize I still have “it,” and in the Dominican Republic, sex appeal is ageless. Be careful when you come here. You may fall in love with a local, or you may just fall in love with yourself again.

The island leaves me with one last lesson.

It comes late one night, sharing a few bottles of wine with my father and sister. No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver—the worst blind person is the one who refuses to see. I could say the current political landscape in the U.S. reflects this willful ignorance, a refusal to see; yet it is the same human experience felt across space and time.

I come away wondering about my own blind spots.

                                                            Instagram/@rensamayoa

I board my return flight thinking up ways to combat willful ignorance at home, thinking about maintaining that flexible DR state of mind and thinking about buying a little black dress. As tourism in the Dominican Republic picks up again, and unfavorable headlines drop out of the news cycle, this changing island stands in its own plurality welcoming visitors, and offering endless opportunities to teach us something new.

READ:

A Colombian Orphan Was Adopted By His Host Family And The Video Will Tug At Your Heart Strings

Things That Matter

A Colombian Orphan Was Adopted By His Host Family And The Video Will Tug At Your Heart Strings

Amanda Thiessen Barkey / Facebook

Sebastian is a young boy who was growing up in Colombia with no biological relatives. A program called Kidsave’s Summer Miracles connected Sebastian with the Barkey family for a summer. During that time, the family fell in love with Sebastian and they decided to secretly adopt him after the program ended and he flew back to Colombia.

The Barkey family fell in love with Sebastian after hosting him for a summer so they decided to adopt him.

Orphan Reunited With Family

After spending summer with the Barkey family in the U.S, Colombian orphan Sebastian has become a part of the family…👨‍👩‍👦

Posted by UNILAD on Thursday, January 30, 2020

The adoption was a true family affair. All of the Barkey children and their parents boarded a flight to Colombia to collect the newest member of their family. The reunion was caught on camera and it is a sweet and honest representation of modern families.

The moment Sebastian sees the Barkey family is an emotional experience for everyone in the room.

Credit: UNILAD / Facebook

Sebastian is walked through the hallways of the adoption agency and led into a room with the family he has grown to love. He is immediately surrounded by the Barkey family who smothers him in hugs. The feeling of excitement and love is palpable from the video.

Sebastian even signed the adoption papers using his new last name: Barkey.

Credit: UNILAD / Facebook

Congratulations, Sebastian. And well done, Barkey family. What a touching and sweet moment captured on camera.

READ: In The Middle Of National Adoption Awareness Month, This Movie Is Making A Statement

Camila Cabello’s Performance At The Grammys Made Everyone Cry As They Remembered Kobe Bryant And His Daughter

Entertainment

Camila Cabello’s Performance At The Grammys Made Everyone Cry As They Remembered Kobe Bryant And His Daughter

camila_cabello / Instagram

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards was filled with tributes to Kobe Bryant after his tragic and shocking death in a helicopter crash with his daughter in Calabasas. Artists included tributes to the basketball legend in their performances last night but one performance made everyone think about the father and daughter who died.

Camila Cabello sang her new single “First Man” about the love between and father and daughter and things became very emotional.

Cabello’s song “Frist Man” is a song dedicated to the love between a daughter and father. A special love that cannot be explained to those who have not experienced it. It is a bond filled with trust, safety, protection, and appreciation.

Cabello sang the song to her father, who was sitting in the front row, and he could not contain his emotions.

Latino fathers aren’t known for their public display of emotions. It isn’t because they don’t feel the emotions but it is just a common thing for Latino dads to stay stoic and strong. Seeing Cabello’s father crying while his daughter sings to him is a touching moment.

Her performance was bringing social media users to tears.

Credit: @ashley_dawn31 / Twitter

You can see the emotions in Cabello’s eyes as she sang her sweet song dedicated to the love and sacrifices of her dad. It is a special reminder that our parents have done so much to get us to where we are.

The song had a special meaning since it was the same day that Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant died in a helicopter crash.

Credit: @thekatiestevens / Twitter

On the morning of Jan. 26, 2020, before the Grammys, news broke that Kobe Bryant died when a helicopter crashed in Calabasas. The entertainment world was shocked when TMZ reported the crash. Bryant, who was 41, played for the L.A. Lakers for 20 years. His daughter was following in his footsteps and was part of the basketball community. In their rush to report the story, TMZ reported Bryant’s death before the family could be notified.

A mixture of the days’ events and the connection between fathers and daughters led to an emotional reaction from fans.

Credit: @GinnyBbadd / Twitter

There was a lot of build-up to the performance. Many speculated, based on the kind of hype the performance was getting, that Cabello might be singing a special song to Shawn Mendes. Mendes and Cabello fans are not-so-secretly hoping for the pair to become a couple.

Even parents felt the love in the song.

Credit: @DanLeach971 / Twitter

Who couldn’t text their parents or children after seeing this performance? The love between a child and their parent is something special. It is an unconditional love that comes with heartbreak when the child moves away. It is a bittersweet relationship filled with so many ups and downs but it is beautiful in its longevity.

The performance really hit home for some viewers who recently lost their own parents.

Credit: deblturner / Twitter

The loss of a parent is a hard moment in anyone’s life. They are the person who knows you best and has known you your entire life. Losing that kind of connection is tough and painful but a part of life.

So, take some time and call your parents today. They want to hear from you.

*cries in Spanish*

READ: Camila Cabello Has Apologized For Using The N-Word And Fans Are Pretty Messed Up About It