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?