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.

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An Abuelo Got A Hurtful Note From Bad Neighbors About His Decorations And Latino Twitter Came Into Comfort Him

Things That Matter

An Abuelo Got A Hurtful Note From Bad Neighbors About His Decorations And Latino Twitter Came Into Comfort Him

@goldenstef / Twitter

We are rarely more defensive than we are for our abuelos. The viejitos have always been there for us and seeing them treated unkindly is just heartbreaking. That is what one Twitter user experienced after her abuelo got a wretched note about his decorations outside his home.

This is the horrid letter left for @goldenstef’s abuelo by undesirable neighbors.

The letter, which is filled with misspelled words, calls the abuelo’s house an example of a “low class Mexican family.” The letter was written anonymously by neighbors and delivered to the abuelo in an attempt to shame him into changing his decorations. One of the most bizarre moments in the letter is when the angry author criticized the homeowner for having too many American flags claiming he isn’t patriotic and can’t fool the neighbors. Like, which one is it people?

The Twitter user followed up with photos of the house to show the decorations their abuelo has out front.

People flooded the Twitter post with comments supporting and sending love to the abuelo. Fellow Latinos are ready to stand with the abuelo and some just want the names of the people behind the letter so they can talk to them. Some people are stunned at how far the author was willing to go out of their way to be mean to an old man who just wants to decorate his home and front yard.

Latino Twitter wants to come together to let the abuelo know that his decorations are adorbs.

We need to come together to give her abuelo all of the wonderful decoration we love. Let’s turn his house and front yard into a showcase of all of the greatness that Latin America has to offer.

People are falling in love with this viejitos yard.

Honestly, this is a great yard. Who wouldn’t want a yard like this? This yard is original and adorable and worth all of the praise that we can muster. Thank you to people like this for making their yards something unique and worth seeing.

@goldenstef wants everyone to know just how much they appreciate the sweet messages about their abuelo’s yard.

It costs nothing to be kind. It is even better when you can be kind about something someone clearly cares so much about. Who cares if someone decorates their lawn a little too much. At least they are having fun with their lives and that is something we all need more of right now.

READ: Latinas Are Sharing Their Most Treasured Memories Of Their Abuelos And It’s Exactly What We Needed This Month

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Latinas Are Sharing Their Most Treasured Memories Of Their Abuelos And It’s Exactly What We Needed This Month

Fierce

Latinas Are Sharing Their Most Treasured Memories Of Their Abuelos And It’s Exactly What We Needed This Month

Buda Mendes / Getty

When it comes to celebrating our Latinidad, there’s no denying that Latinos need much more than a month to celebrate our accomplishments, cultures, and contributions. Still, since 1988, people across the country have used Hispanic Heritage Month to commemorate the contributions of Latin Americans in the United States. This month, just like every other month, we’re recognizing and celebrating our Latinidad by sharing stories and moments from our followers.

Recently we asked Latinas on FIERCE to share their memories of some of the most influential Latinos in their lives: their abuelos.

Check out their sweet stories below.

“Ayy mis abuelos; I truly believe they were my soulmates. So many favorite memories. From my grandpa waking up early to start praying and writing his devotionals, to them sitting on the back swing HE MADE praying the rosary, playing backyard baseball with him & my cousins, my grandma sitting outside watching while croquets, watching novelas with her, they were the loves of my life, the sunshine my soul always needed to be happy….I’ll never trade any of my amazing moments with them. My angels; Catalina y Felipe Sustaita.” –melannram

“My abuelito passed away almost 10 years ago now, he was sick ever since I could remember so I was never able to make memories with him. Earlier this year I got to visit the rancho in MX where he raised my dad and tios. A little back story, I have this belief and connection to white butterflies. Whenever I see them or they cross my path I am convinced it’s my abuelito telling me that he’s near or watching over me🤎 anyways, on our way to the ranchito which I had only visited once before when I was about 4, we were guided by these hand sized white butterflies, it was absolutely beautiful. My abuelito really lead us to his casita in the rancho. I could feel his presence and happiness that his grandchildren had the opportunity to visit his home 🤎 this is my favorite memory, this is the memory that I cherish,
– a memory that brings me joy.” –sandra_larios

“Seeing my grandpa make my grandma a cocktail when she came home from a long day at work. He would leave her cocktail for her on the kitchen counter, so it was the first thing she’d see when she walked through the door. They taught me it isn’t always grand gestures, but a lot of the small ones that count.allimae2011

“My abuela started losing her memory early on but she always remembered the story of how she met our Abo until the day she passed. I was the type of kid that kind of resisted learning spanish, but hearing her tell those stories in her beautiful Puerto Rican accent made me fall in love with the language in a way I had never before. I owe my love of spanish and story telling to her. She was a wonderful story teller and I’ll always hold the fondest memories of sitting in her terraza with her 70s furniture, drinking cafecito, and talking about the man who made her fall head over heels in love.” –
alfonsina_mj

“Hearing them talk in the kitchen, drinking their coffee while listening to boleros.”- mel_aguirre1

“Making homemade tortillas with my ama.” – alwaysdulcee

“My Cuban 🇨🇺 Abuelitos riding in the back seat of their Mercedes and watching Abuelo open the door for Abuela every time. My Mexican 🇲🇽 side was making tortillas with Abuela and Abuelo teaching me to drive his truck. At 7 years old!” – brigittecasaus

“Making tamales for us just because.” – angierivera4265

“Cruising with my grandpa, building a studio with grandpa, changing the oil, tire, battery and learning to pump gas with grandpa. But my favorite one, him teaching me to read a clock with a song.” – 2ev37

“Meeting my grandma for the first time when she came to visit us in the US. I was 4 years old! It was so exciting because I would only speak to her in the phone and to finally meet her was a blessing. She was such an amazing lady ! She passed away 7 years ago. I wished she and I could of seen each other more often.” –_lizzylivvy28

“I would sit down on the little old sofa in our living room with my abuelito. He would tell me stories about him when we was younger. I always loved it when he would tell me the story about how he met my abuelita.” –
emigandar

“My grandparents weren’t together anymore, but they we’re 2 special people. My grandpa would always call at the crack of dawn on my birthday. I hated it as a kid, but loved it as an adult. And I’ve missed them the last few years of his life. My grandma would make our birthday cards and send them via mail. When we’d get them they would always be different. I miss those A LOT. They were always personalized and she knew details about the things I was going through so she made them specific to that. It was so special the little things they did for us. We lost my grandma 7 years ago and my grandpa a year ago in July.” –e_bonita89

“They raised me so having coffee with both of them. Eating watermelon with my grandpa and then reading together. Watching old movies together then taking naps. My grandma and I love watching novelas and then talk about them. I still walk with her to 26th street (little Village) or to our nearest aldi.” –melyssa.1997

“Mi abuela used to wake me up on weekends. She would enter the room singing “buenos días su señoría mantantirulirula”. She used to give me a hair brush, and while she was opening the window she would say “brush your hair hija, so the sleep will go away. I opened the window for it to go”. I would brush my hair and convince myself that I got rid of my sleepiness. My grandma is 90 now, and she’s still magic like this.” – iamevyi

“In 7th grade I missed the bus, and I hated missing school, and I cried the entire day because I was scared my parents were going to yell at me, and my grandma stopped my dad before he came in and told him what happened and how it was her fault I missed the bus, because she accidentally unplugged my alarm, even though it wasn’t true.”-
tinnaafaceee

“When my daughter was 6, I took her to visit my grandparents in Mexico. We arrived to the airport at night. It was crowded, a little disoriented, my baby seemed nervous as we were going through customs & she asked me “what if Grandpa can’t find us?”, Just then I saw movement through the large window ahead of us, it was my Abuelito, elbowing his way through the crowd, waving and smiling at us. He was always there when I needed him.” –magpieinaz

“Abuelos? Don’t have them. (Bad joke) They passed before I ever got to meet them. My parents never really talk about them, I think it’s too painful. I often wonder if there are any traits I have from them or if I do anything that my parents might say, oh she got that from my mom/dad. I’m happy my son has all 4 grandparents; I take a billion pictures of him with them.” –_nancysalto

melannramAyy mis abuelos; I truly believe they were my soulmates. So many favorite memories. From my grandpa waking up early to start praying and writing his devotionals, to them sitting on the back swing HE MADE praying the rosary, playing backyard baseball with him & my cousins, my grandma sitting outside watching while croquets, watching novelas with her, they were the loves of my life, the sunshine my soul always needed to be happy….I’ll never trade any of my amazing moments with them. My angels; Catalina y Felipe Sustaita ❤️

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