A Spectacle with Rhythm
After sharing that I’m going to live in the D.R. for one year, comments from my friends, mentors, family, and community leaders often sounded something like this:
“Oh you’re going to enjoy the beaches there.”
“Make sure you bring yourself back a fine Dominican man.”
“Oh, I’ve been there, I love Punta Cana!”
“You better have a good hook up with one of those EXOTIC Dominicans while you’re there.”
“Girl, the all-inclusive resorts are AMAZING!”
”Bring me back one of your friend’s older brothers why don’t you.”
“Find yourself a husband.”
Spoiler Alert #1: To all of the lovely people who offered similar advice or comments prior to my departure, I have been here about three months and to the beach only once, never been to Punta Cana, never stayed in an all-inclusive resort, haven’t found a fine Dominican man, and I am for damn sure NOT getting married anytime soon. Life is seemingly pretty boring, I know.
I would often thank people for their input or reviews of the country, even if I knew the “exotic” Dominican Republic they have probably seen, dreamed of, or experienced is not at ALL what I would experience. My living situation is not tough, but I am absolutely not living in any resort or fairytale land.
I am an English teacher living on a government stipend, negotiating a city where I’m too dark to be from the U.S. but too gringo sounding to be from Santo Domingo.
I am a student struggling to find truth in difficult places; investigating the history of a nation that has been rewritten thousands of times by foreigners and Dominicans alike only to find that colonialism really is a bitch and can indoctrinate people in ways that they may never fully grasp.
I am a single, middle class, Black, U.S. American woman, who enjoys male company, good conversation, a challenge, long runs in the park, and people with rhythm. I quickly concluded, after spending a few weeks in the capital city, that my complex intersection of identities does not result in many romantic pursuits in this space. Maybe that’s why I know very few U.S. Black women who are living here; it’s the antithesis to Chocolate City (D.C.), Black women having brunch on Saturday afternoon type of living.
Now, a woman’s plans to live abroad are certainly not dictated by her opportunities to find love, but sometimes by an opportunity to seek and find specs of home in new spaces and people. Other than one Black woman at the embassy, one in my program, one from a hotel I visited, and one Spelman little sis studying abroad, I am constantly questioning where are the U.S. Black American women (Spelman pedagogy persists). There’s no way I can accept that all U.S. Black women just go to Punta Cana or other resort cities and don’t step foot into Santo Domingo! However, the more I look around, the more I am beginning to think that is true.
So, why aren’t Black women traveling here? Black women have progressively become one of the most educated and well-traveled minority groups in the states, and the capital of the D.R. is a hop and a skip away, so what is keeping us from coming here? I hypothesize that sometimes as Black women we are seeking in our travels a space free from the discrimination and prejudice we have grown up with and desire something different, unexplainable, and possibly “exotic” (often positioning us in a place of power, the same position that oppresses us in the U.S.). Oddly, that is not at all how we perceive the REAL D.R. outside of Punta Cana and the beaches. Many of us have engaged Dominican Americans or Dominicans living in the U.S. and once we get past any language barrier that may exist, we realize that Black U.S. Americans have an affinity for most Dominicans and vice versa. We walk the same walk, talk the same talk, interact similarly, and often have a similar way of performing our identity, which has provided many of the millions of Dominicans living in the states with social capital to negotiate Black spaces. As much as I blend here, Dominicans can blend and assimilate into U.S. American cultures without much objection as well. We are typically comfortable in each other’s spaces yet, divisions in class can quickly break this unspoken social contract.
I have perceived that being a middle class, Black, educated, U.S. American woman in the D.R. allows me access spaces of overt wealth. Interestingly, the Dominican faces that occupy those spaces seldom look like me. I am a spectacle in my yoga class, at my fancy cycling studio, and at posh restaurants on Friday nights. Quickly, a space where I thought I would be able to blend, I am “othered” in the blink of an eye. So, I struggle when hearing that racism and classism don’t operate simultaneously and don’t exist in the D.R.
Being a Dominican woman, middle class, engineer or lawyer, brown skin, from Santo Domingo often equates to having a small, older and crowded apartment in a black or brown area of a U.S. city, a job in the public services field that you are overqualified for, and the struggle to make ends meet from day to day in the "land of the free". Where you may have come from privilege and segregated from the “barrio” of Santo Domingo, you have transitioned into a perceived state of poverty surrounded by other black and brown people from all backgrounds and walks of life. So, please don’t tell me that racism, classism, and immigrant subjugation don’t exist transnationally and don’t impact our global lived experiences.
For U.S. educated Black women today, it is no secret that finding ideal relationships can be an uphill battle. Class, compounded with race, in a space like the D.R., leaves women like me with few prospects and little room to date without the expectation of immediate sex or marriage. While that has been my reality living in Santo Domingo, it doesn’t disappoint me or concern me, because I am not living overseas to pursue romance. My pursuit of traveling has never been to search for and find romantic love, attention, sex, or marriage. Every time I am encouraged to seek these things when I travel, I feel as if I have been challenged to experience something exotic, liberating, and different from what we experience in the U.S. My time abroad is perceived as simply a permissible moment free from maintaining my core values, morals, and principles because that is what is expected in this crazy life abroad. I yearn to talk about my falling in love with the way the streets curve and bend to help with drainage, the colmados becoming a place of comfort for me late at night on a dark street, and the taxi drivers waiting at my door to make sure I enter safely…but I’ve realized nobody wants to listen to those stories.
Spoiler Alert #2: My life here, may not actually be as boring as it is perceived and, unfortunately, those looking for some type of physically liberating experience in my narrative may never be satisfied.
I am an English Teacher. I am a Student struggling to find truth. I am a single, Black, Middle Class American woman, who has no desire to lose myself or my values in some pursuit of some fantasized, fabricated, erotic, exotic, foreign love. And to all my other Black sistas who go abroad;
Spoiler Alert # 3: That’s what is expected of you. You are from the U.S. AND you’re Black…that is like some odd, horny, rare, wild thing that of course is visiting this foreign country to have unforgivable, unconnected, relentless sex.
I am simply not here for it. I respect you if that is your decision, but the impact of that one decision leaves an impressionable mark on the butts, hips, thighs, lips, hearts and souls of us all.
Spoiler Alert #4: We, Black women travelers, are not sex raging animals. We deserve equal and non-sexualized, non-patriarchal, and non-self-deprecating respect, as well as encouragement, advice, and an open ear when we share our decisions to move and live abroad.
Spoiler Alert #5: Sometimes falling in love and maintaining love for yourself when you’re abroad is your biggest feat. So, tell me again, why don’t you want to hear about that?