“I’m not ready to go back,” I confess while advising Juana, whose wizened hands masterfully craft the petrified cocoa seeds and emblem made from bullhorn I’ve selected into an artful, organic necklace. Yet, I’m not gloomy about returning. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my identity as a leader and the intersections shared between Dominican and U.S. American culture.
I just want to spend more time encountering daily life.
“Thankfully, I no longer depend on one country’s looking-glass to define me.”
I want to experience living in batays like the ladies in Benerito, where people undergo daily strife yet relish the simple joys of life within the island’s poorest communities.
A little more time in Santa Barbara de Samaná might help me and 90-year-old teacher Mrs. Martha Wilmore Johnson devise a plan to protect Samaná’s rich cultural traditions from Eurocentric usurpation. Samaná — an English-speaking community — is one of the first established by free, African American slaves. This culture is endangered; its history latent, unspoken by Dominican educators.
A few days spent alongside manager Hector Prestille at the Manny Acta neighborhood baseball school would facilitate a comprehensive analysis of males’ yearning to achieve the American Dream by excelling in beísbal — an ambition analogous to basketball, football and rap music contracts for American men of color.
Working with International Justice Mission staff for a week might allow a thorough investigation into the decline of child sex trafficking cases, from 120 cases in 2017 to one this year. The result might support a method for combating corruption.
Interminably, the Dominican Republic wrestles with problems similar to those in the United States, including inefficient plumbing and insufficient water treatment which compels Islanders to drink bottled water — like people in Flint, Michigan and the Mississippi Delta region. Plastic bottles and uncontained trash clutter the island as if garbage men are derelict in their duties.
Three-thousand miles from home externals deeply affect my internally-faced experience — who am I and what do I offer? Intersections of an intellectual woman of color mingle with those of a non-traditional, visually impaired student, easily provoking thoughtful introspection.
This Global Leadership and Diversity Identities course informed me about similarities and differences between Dominican and U.S. American culture, economic and sociopolitical issues. My worldview matured from experiencing those conditions first-hand.
Moreover, mirroring the footsteps of African slaves at Diego Caballero Sugar Mills, circa 1512, I contemplated; “We are social and interdependent creatures. No one survives life alone.”
Accepting islander benevolence, I created my own journey.
Warily, I navigated spaces unaccompanied. Periods of reflective solitude cultivated a sensory-based mode of self-expression, attuned to the metaphorical orchestrations of my surroundings — an enlivening ritual for someone like me. Miraculously recovered from multiple organ failure to wholeheartedly participate in every endeavor — a leader only follows the pack until their own path is evident.
Mostly, I learned that compassionately integrating my looking-glass self — the person society tells me I am — with my ideal-self — the self I want to be — produces me: a delightfully courageous yet vulnerable leader who embraces contextual identities and welcomes opportunities for growth through cross-cultural exchange.
Random items left along my journey:
- Blood, after I became briefly entangled in bamboo thorns; It dripped from my leg onto El Higo hiking trail — a fundamental component of my being remains in the tranquil forest.
- Pool shoes full of sand left at Bahia Principe resort — I knew those shoes weren’t coming back.
- A shower sponge and used bar soap — why promote 12 hours of mildew amidst clothes in my suitcase?
- Three-hundred-eighty-dollars for un-subsidized meals, souvenir trinkets and sundries— mostly meals, between 1500-2000 pesos ($30-$40) per meal. What?! Enjoying Dominican food was integral to my 2-week birthday celebration!
Lastly, while boarding the chartered bus back to SDQ, I toss a worn, sentimental, yarn-bracelet high into the air; fashioned around my wrist spring semester during the close of AChA’s last meeting — the spirit of the gesture feels more profound than the lifeless wastebasket option.
Departing, I take much home. I return from a country that recognizes my U.S. citizenship—wholly and unhyphenated — to a country that expresses ambiguous apprehension toward my intersectional identity. Thankfully, I no longer depend on one country’s looking-glass to define me. I have grown to represent a global leader: a well-educated U.S. American woman with a passport and all of the social responsibility my privilege entails.
Salida: República Dominicana.
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.
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