Culture

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

aruni_y_photography / Instagram

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:

Converse Is Putting Dominican Art On Their Shoes And Here’s How People Are Feeling About The Decision

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Converse Is Putting Dominican Art On Their Shoes And Here’s How People Are Feeling About The Decision

Influencer Ray Polanco Jr. and Converse have collaborated again for Latinx Heritage Month as a part of the “Converse by LatinX” collection. Polanco Jr. recruited artist Eric Narváez to hand draw and create a Chuck Taylor that featured coloring book style art of Dominican iconography. 

The collection also features work from tattoo artist Don Rimx, and Mexican and Colombian artist Paloma Montoya. Each of Polanco Jr.’s shoes will have a unique pattern of the cultural iconography — that means every pair is one of a kind. 

Ray Polanco Jr. Uses Dominican Upbringing As Inspiration

“Inspired by Ray Polanco Jr.’s experience growing up Dominican in New York City, the hand-drawn images encourage wearers to bring the design to life with color transforming the Chuck Taylor into a cultural coloring book for your feet. Make the “Puro Platano” story your own. Shout to Uptown,” the Converse description reads.

Puto Plátano

“What a feeling… meet my new @converse the “puro plátano 2”  — a cultural coloring book for your feet inspired by my experience growing up Dominican in NYC. I want the world to get to know us beyond flag colors, so I designed a visual story of pride. I left the hand-drawn images blank so YOU can collab with me. the reality is us LatinX come in all colors, so I want u to make these ur own,” Polanco Jr. wrote on Instagram. 

This isn’t the first time Polanco Jr. has brought Dominican pride to Chuck Taylors

Polanco Jr. collaborated with Converse on the Puro Plátano last year. It was a simple plátano green shoe with the words “puro platano” on the side in gold letters. 

“As a storyteller, I believe sneakers are the perfect canvas to communicate a message because we all wear some kind of footwear. Last year, I wanted to get the world to know more about Dominicans beyond just the colors of our flag and I thought food was the best way to do that, which led to transforming the Chuck Taylor into a Platano. This year, I wanted to connect on a deeper level with the ‘Puro Platano’ story by collaging distinct images from my experience growing up Dominican in New York City,” Polanco Jr. told Footwear News

This year he really amped up the Dominican iconography. There’s rolos, plátanos, bachata dancersandbottles of rum among other familiar images to anyone who grew up in The Bronx.

“A lot of the shoe is inspired by family: my dad playing dominoes at the bodega with his friends, my mom wearing rolos in her hair after the beauty salon, and things like that.” he said. “Shout out to my sister who would cop Chucks in every color on Fordham Road in the Bronx back in the day. Beyond my story, I feel like anyone who grew up in NYC will connect with at least one thing on the shoe and hopefully, other people in different cities can relate, too.” 

Polanco Jr. is not the only artist included in Converse’s LatinX collection.

Paloma Montoya

Mexican and Colombian artist Paloma Montoya’s artwork was inspired by Colombian culture, like its cafes, people, and vallenato musicians and singers.

“I was born from my father, a Mexican and my mother from #medellincolombia, but I was raised by my mother and maternal grandparents. All #antioqueños. I grew up on arepas, tamales and empanadas #colombianos , sancocho and natilla. I listened to Carlos Vives and know the lyrics (in Spanish) to Jaime R. Echavarría’s Serenata de Amor – Thanks Mamita,” Paloma wrote in her Instagram caption. 

“My grandparents bought the house in South Gate. I’ve been here all my life, I didn’t embrace my Mexican side from my father, I embraced it here with my friends who are Mexican and Mexican-American. Mexico and South Gate run through my blood, but I have generations and generations of Colombian blood in me. Maybe that’s why I think about going back often? Maybe that’s why when I went and met my relatives high up in the mountains of #antioquia – it felt like home. This pair is for you Mom, Mamita and Papito.” 

Don Rimx

Puerto Rican muralist and tattoo artist, Don Rimx also got a chance to make his own custom sneaker. The unique pattern mimics rosary beads and colorful feathers. 

“Muy honrado de poder colaborar con @converse en este proyecto para diseñar un patron para el Chuck Taylor dandole un giro personalizado con el estilo original de Don Rimx inspirado en su cultura y el camino por andar,” Rimx wrote on Instagram. 

The Converse by LatinX collection is available now. Shout out to Converse for hiring these independent Latinx artists as well! 

A Video Of A Woman Singing ‘Fallaste Corazón’ To Her Abuelo With Dementia Is Going Viral After He Remembered The Lyrics

Things That Matter

A Video Of A Woman Singing ‘Fallaste Corazón’ To Her Abuelo With Dementia Is Going Viral After He Remembered The Lyrics

We all know that growing old is inevitable in this life and that our days on Earth are numbered. Regardless of that truth, it’s human nature to either feel afraid of growing old or to feel melancholy when it comes to thinking of growing old. What can be even more painful is seeing our parents, our aunts and uncles, or our grandparents growing old and imagining a life without them in it. 

Last week, one woman on Twitter shared a video of her grandfather who has dementia singing along with her to “Fallaste Corazón” by Pedro Infante in a fleeting moment of lucidness. 

In the video, you can see the woman singing with such passion to her grandfather who is attentively watching her sing and who later begins to sing along to the lyrics as well.

 Dayis, on Twitter, shared that her “tata” doesn’t remember a lot of things due to his dementia but in an effort to help him with his dementia, she sings to him every day. 

“Today he remembered the song fallaste corazón and I swear I was trying so hard not to cry,” she writes. “This many is my life.”

According to Alzheimers.net, there are many reasons as to why music boosts brain activity.

According to the site, “musical aptitude and appreciation” are two of the last remaining abilities in dementia patients, music can bring emotional and physical closeness, music can shift moods and stimulate positive interactions, and it evokes emotions that bring back memories.

Since musical aptitude and appreciation are the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, “music is an excellent way to reach beyond the disease and reach the person.” In later stages of dementia, patients are also prone to losing the ability to share emotions with their caregivers or family members but through music, they can still reach that emotional and physical closeness they once had. Further, singing to and with dementia patients is engaging and it leads to patients “exercising more mind power than usual.” 

People who saw the touching video on social media were not only quick to share their reactions after watching it but they also shared their own personal experiences with family members and loved ones who had dementia. 

One Twitter user replied to @Dayannagmusic03 and shared that they couldn’t stop watching the video. 

The Twitter user went on to say that their grandfather also has dementia but notices sometimes that “something around him has triggered a memory” and to see that, they said, is the best feeling in the world. 

The woman who initially posted the video shared that her “tata” is currently on “stage 6” of dementia and although it’s been a long and rough battle, “he always seems to remember certain songs.”

“When he does, it warms my heart with joy,” she continued to write on Twitter. 

It’s safe to say the video had a lot of people in their feels and rightfully so.

We love to see raw and touching moments like these. 

The 0:50 mark made us ugly cry too.

This is right when her grandfather starts to faintly sing along with her and man, she sings with so much emotion too. 

Other folks on Twitter sent their blessings to her family and her grandfather.

We hope her grandfather continues to have more moments like this. 

People on Twitter also compared the heartwarming video to the movie Coco.

Remember the scene toward the end of the film when Miguel sings to Mamá Coco and she begins to remember? I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING. 

Others said what we’re all thinking… just thinking about our parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents getting old hurts a little bit more as we keep getting older ourselves. 

We’d like to keep believing their invincible and will live forever. 

Another Twitter user @missmalindakat tweeted that she had never seen anyone sing with more “heart and passion” than in that video.

One Twitter user shared her own video of her grandfather in a similar situation who also seemed to remember the lyrics to “El Rey” by Vicente Fernández when her great aunt sang it to him.

It’s touching to see other folks sharing their similar experiences and videos in an effort to support one another. This video has also amassed over 47,000 views on Twitter. 

Listen to “Fallaste Corazón” in full on YouTube below: