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4 posts from January 2011

01/17/2011

I Am Not Who YOu Think I Am

Lila blog pic

This past weekend our group took a trip to the capital city, Santo Domingo. Once there were introduced to Eulalia Jimenez, a historian and civil rights advocate for the women’s group called “Movimiento por la mujer afro”. What surprised me about Eulalia is that she is one of the few dark-skinned people I have met who calls herself “black”, or “negra”, rather than “India”, the common name used to describe someone with dark skin in the Dominican Republic. She told me that she daily has fight to maintain connection with her African roots  (from the way she dresses to the way she wears her hair), since being “black” here typically means "ugly", “stupid” or "Haitian".

 Talking to Eulalia sparked many thoughts about my own identity. I find it ironic that, while Eulalia fights every day to make others accept her race, I instinctively try to hide my own. The truth is that I am, appearance-wise, the opposite of Eulalia. With 6 feet of height, blonde hair and blue eyes, I stick out wherever I go. The uncomfortable truth is that Dominicans view white people as rich and elite. Although I wish I could say this is untrue, in comparison to the majority of Dominicans, I do come from a place of privilege; I am healthy, I go to school, and I can travel anywhere in the world.

 What does this say about me? Coming to this country has made me much more aware of how my identity is tied to me ancestry, my birthplace, my appearance. I am from cold New England, from public and private school, from a big family of tall people, from a small town of fair-skinned people. Although I wouldn’t count these factors to be the most important parts of who I am, they are facts about my identity that I am unable to change.

 I am coming to realize that every time I am treated differently here in the Dominican Republic I am being seen through the broad lens of my race—through a lens of privilege. The question I am left with, therefore, is this: does my outward identity have to fit with what I feel I am inside? And, possibly more importantly, is it better to accept my perceived identity or is it better to fight it, as does Eulalia does by embracing her African roots and rejecting the shame and racism that comes from a long history of slavery?

Lila Trowbridge

Clark University

Friend or Foe

 Celia pic

 

No One Wants To BE Black Here!

Race is a big deal in this country—probably because it’s so ambiguous, and everyone wants to be what society tells them is best. The idea that Spaniards were better than Africans was forced into the minds of slaves during colonization and has been passed down. It is still present in today’s society. It is a part of the culture. There has been and still is a ‘need’ for Dominicans to adelantar la raza (better the race) by having children with lighter skinned people. Most people in the country today have ancestry of each of the groups of people who lived on the island—Spanish, African and Taino (indigenous group which mostly died off during the era). Probably because everyone really has blood from each group and so a specific ancestral nationality cannot be discerned, race is determined by other factors here—skin color, eye color, hair texture—one’s overall appearance. Various races are white; Mulatto; Indio (literally means Indian but a lot of Dominicans procure the name to mean—Not black!); Moreno (Literally means brown, and used for the same reason as Indio); and black (most times for very dark skin, and given to Haitians).

Here, most often I am considered to be Morena (brown). At first, I liked that. At home in the states, I am considered African American, or Black. I feel like the use of the words black and white for people when there aren’t hardly any real “white” or “black” people causes more separation, for people may think of blacks and whites as opposites as they do others—an idea which may have effects on the relationships between the two. I liked the use of the various “in-between” names, because I felt like they allowed people who have influences of both races to be recognized. I liked this, until I realized that it was not only for people to be recognized, but rather a fleeing of everyone from being regarded as black! NO ONE wants to be black here. There are few who will even admit it. Most often only Haitian people are called black. While I thought that only the U.S.’s strict rule of ‘either black or white’ was the most racist color system I had heard of, I learned that the Dominican is just as harsh—If not worse. Both racial systems are unjust. Living in a country where racism has been prevalent and studying in one in which the same issue exists, cause me to wonder why race is ever a social factor for people. What would life be like without racism? My guess is that there will always be something for people to differentiate themselves. There will always be competition, and so there will always be unjust societies, somehow.

Marla Goins

Johnson C. Smith University

01/05/2011

WELCOME

CIEE Santiago, DR Service Learning Blog

!Bienvenidos!  Our blog is a joint collaboration incorporating contributions from staff and students.  We hope it will serve as a forum to share the learning, critiquing and transformative experiences of our students. All student blog posts will embody one or more of the principles our service-learning program addresses:

ENGAGEMENT - REFLECTION - RECIPROCITY - PUBLIC DISSEMINATION

It is based off of these principles that we will  share our experiences to a wider audience so they too, may take part in this journey.