“I need you,” newfound friend Javi asserts.
“Why do you need me?” I demand.
Javi: “Para cuidarte, amarte y estar a tu lado” — to take care of you, love you and be by your side. His words sound lovely but remarkably familiar. They come directly from music lyrics.
Tinged with sexism, many of my conversations with Dominican males took a — romantic turn. Out of nowhere, men love me, need me and miss me. One suggested that I make him “feel brand new” — straight from a 1973 Stylistics hit song. We listen to merengue and bachata music, traveling to daily excursions on our chartered bus. Sometimes, the lyrics are in English, unmistakable. Hence, I know the source of Javi’s quixotic lines.
Music profoundly impacts Dominican discourse.
“When it’s time for spontaneous Spanish communication my physiological response affects my brain’s blood supply. I feel my pulse rate increase, my muscles tighten, and sweat beads roll down my face.”
As for my Spanish, I’m not fluent after two semesters. I’m not clueless either. However, something peculiar happens when I converse with Dominican men; we dialogue, sort of. My Spanish improves exponentially, tripping from my tongue, while male discourse seems directly extricated from Spotify. Thus, I can predict almost every word before it’s spoken which offers me a linguistic aid. The assist facilitates my grasp of Spanish, learning and conversing in a non-threatening communicative environment.
Let me share what constitutes a hostile communication environment: Other times I speak Spanish — and that’s often. There are times when I can prepare, gather my thoughts, form the words I want to express and anticipate a response. Those occasions are a not as angst-provoking as when I unexpectedly need something.
When it’s time for spontaneous Spanish communication my physiological response affects my brain’s blood supply. I feel my pulse rate increase, my muscles tighten, and sweat beads roll down my face. Additionally, I might hold my breath because when I’m finished speaking I gasp for air. This lack of adequate circulation certainly prevents oxygen from effectively saturating my brain which causes, well, language constipation — the meaning I intend refuses to come forth, no matter how hard I push.
The hostility is self-inflicted. I pressure myself; especially when Spanish-speaking Latina classmates are nearby, listening — judging. They don’t intervene though. The ladies let me flounder. Honestly, I wish they’d intervene at times, but mostly I’m grateful that we don’t share a co-dependent relationship.
“I have to practice,” I advise myself.
Our class stopped at the Ágora mall for lunch. I headed to Wendy’s for a taste of home. After ordering, the cashier asked me, “¿Como es tu nombre? Now, here is some context: our group had just received a lecture warning about sharing our phone numbers with strangers; “They will blow up all of your devices.” So, when I heard “nombre,” I immediately recalled the warning.
“No, no me gusta un nombre. No nombre,” I insisted.
Finally, the cashier gave me a look, tore the receipt from the register and was about to hand it to me when a coworker walked behind him, headed to the next register. He spoke to her, “Ella no sabe su nombre,” I heard, as they giggled conspiratorially. What was so funny?
Then it hit me— nombre— not number! Hurriedly, I interjected, “Nombre Lorise! Mi nombre es Lorise.” Smiling, the cashier wrote my name on the receipt and handed it to me. I tried to act nonchalant as I moved aside, waiting for my food.
On Sundays, people in Zona Colonia gather outside to dance to the rhythms of Grupo Bonyé. Our class was fortunate to receive a private dance lesson. An experienced instructor taught us the merengue and bachata. Asked to find dance partners, a few women stood without a male so someone suggested, “I’ll just dance with another girl.” Our instructor shook his head; “At a party — don’t dance with another woman. Wait for a man to ask you to dance. The dance is a conversation between a man and a woman.”
The instructor invited me to demonstrate for the class. We struck a pose, and then he pressed my arm down, on top of his. I resisted, lifting my arm away from his with a shout; “I don’t…” Suddenly, a thought dawned — learning culturally appropriate behavior is why I’m here.
“OK,” I acquiesced.
Resting my arm atop his we merengued — a wordless tête-à-tête.
Lorise A. Diamond is a fourth-year communication major, double minoring in sociology and honors interdisciplinary studies. She is on a 16-day adventure with the College of Extended Studies program Global Leadership and Diversity Identities in Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic.