I grew up in an immigrant household. My parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic about twenty five years ago. Being that they both grew up in this country, they have a very specific way of viewing life. They brought their culture and traditions to this country and made it a point to immerse me and my brother in it. They raised us with the intentions of teaching us our history. My father used to make me read books on the formation and birth of the Dominican Republic. My mother made it a point to teach us how to read, write, and speak Spanish, the native language. They raised us listening to merengue, bachata and salsa, and taught us to dance. They sent us to visit our family members in the Dominican Republic every summer.
Despite all the beautiful traditions my country has introduced me to, they also have introduced me to a lot of hate. They have a habit of perpetuating an anti-black agenda. This definitely is a result of a dictatorship by Rafael Trujillo. He rose to power by pushing a “re-Dominicanization” agenda, including getting rid of Haitian citizens, since he viewed Haitian immigration as “ruining Dominican identity.” In 1937, Trujillo oversaw the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Haitians. This was referred to as the Parsley Massacre. Troops would ask individuals to say the word perejil, which is the spanish word for parsley, and whoever said the word without the “proper” inflection would be killed. Trujillo also tried “whitening” up the country by introducing more European immigrants, including Jewish refugees and exiles from the Spanish Civil War. Trujillo and his administration banned expressions of Africanity, including Santeria, a religion developed by African slaves in the Spanish empire. These acts of anti-blackness have helped to develop the mindset that unfortunately still exists today, one that is Eurocentric and rejects blackness, regardless of the fact that most Dominicans, more than 85% to be exact, were found to be descendants of Africa while only 4% claim to be black on the National Census. That means that 81% of Afro-Dominicans reject their blackness.
My home country also has a way of disagreeing with homosexuality. The Dominican Republic has a national religion of Catholicism, which condemns homosexuality. While homosexuality is not illegal in the DR, it is definitely still frowned upon. There are no laws protecting the LGBTQ+ community from harassment or discrimination. They do not recognize same sex couples under the law, and these couples are not awarded the same rights as those opposite sex couples. Same sex marriage is illegal and under a constitutional ban that was placed in 2010. Most Dominicans have a negative attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community. There is a heavy homophobic public attitude. They will use slurs like maricon/maricona, pato/pata, pajaro/pajara to refer to these people. The police will even use sexual orientation a basis for arresting individuals.
The country where I come from condemned homosexuality, and that’s one of the reasons why I struggled so much in accepting myself. My whole life I had been told this was wrong and I would go to hell if I felt that way, so when I started to feel that way, I was terrified. I saw how my parents and other family members would react to homosexuality, and I felt like I was doing something wrong. I tried my hardest to repress it, the same way I repressed my blackness. I would swear up and down I was not black, that I was Dominican and that was different. I would straighten out my curls, and hide from the sun so I wouldn’t tan and get darker in the summer.
I am thankful for the personal growth I have done. I am now a proud queer Afro-Latina woman. I not only recognize my blackness, and my queerness, but also embrace these two important aspects of myself. It shows me how much I’ve grown as a person. It’s really hard to shake off the ideas you were raised in. But college, specifically the UAlbany campus, really helped me in this process. Being surrounded by such diversity made me appreciate my African roots. Being independent from my parents’ views helped me find my own path and discover what was so important to my self identification. I wasn’t scared to experiment with my identity anymore because I felt free on this campus. Free from the judgment that had been instilled in me from such a young age based off my home country.
It’s good to recognize all the areas in which my country needs improvement. It’s also important to acknowledge the strides they are making to change this. I recently visited the Dominican Republic over winter break 2016-2017. I remember having conversations about my blackness to my family members, family who once would reject the concept for completely, now understanding and acknowledging that we are black. A lot of my cousins started to undergo the natural hair process, the same ones that would always encourage me to perm my own curls.
I had a conversation that really stood out to me during this trip. When visiting my family in the capital, my aunt asked me about my love life. Her exact words were “How are the boyfriends? Girlfriends? We don’t care as long as you’re happy.” It really put a huge smile on my face that they were even open to the idea of me not being straight. There are several nongovernmental organizations in the Dominican Republic that are fighting for LGBTQ+ rights, such as Amigos Siempre Amigos and Diversidad Dominicana. In addition to this, in 2016, a penal code was drafted which included banning hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation and implementation of a penalty of 30-60 years of jail time for anyone found guilty of this crime.
I hope that with time, my country in all of its greatness will overall become more tolerant with these issues. I hope Afro-Dominican girls like me can grow up with more love for their black roots, instead of being taught to hate where their roots lie. I hope all LGBTQ+ Dominicans can exist and not fear for their lives or fear discrimination and unjust treatment.