Category Archives: dominican republic

Hairstories

In college, a white boy I once called a friend told me that I had hair like every Asian girl—long, straight, and black.  It was one of the most trivializing statements I have heard.  Needless to say, this comment marked a moment I began to drift away from this group of friends into a more intentionally developed group.  I started to identify with college activists of color.  I sat in the “black” section of the dining hall.  I had to confront my own ideas about classism and racism.  I’ve never told people this—but as many close friends as I had to sit with in that section, I always wondered if I was accepted and how I would be perceived in that space in the dining hall.  I knew though that there were too many similar struggles.  And I was not one to overlook the shared experiences we had of being silenced, erased, disrespected, and oppressed by the institution that we knew we were privileged to be at.  This point though is a story for another time.

My point is this—Asian Americans also have our own hair stories and our own hair traumas.  These hairstories are both political and non-political all at once.

After this happened, the next time I was in Oakland, I cut my hair into a short bob.  It looked horrible because my working-class consciousness only allowed me to go to the cheapest place I could find.  And, well, bringing a picture of Rihanna didn’t help my 70-year-old Asian male “hairstylist” any little bit either.  Luckily hair grows and so did I.

This short haircut marked an important period that I still believe has shaped the trajectory of the rest of my life.  I just finished taking a class on the Black Diaspora and was developing an internationalist perspective.  NAFTA and the WTO became terms in my back pocket.  I was building an academic relationship with a brilliant Leftist professor who would later advise me on my thesis.  I was becoming involved in political conversations in the 5-Colleges area about Asian American Studies.  I had my hair cut when I was in Oakland, just before I would fly to New York and catch a flight to the Dominican Republic.  I studied abroad there, which allowed me to visit Haiti and Cuba.  And on and on, the understanding and radicalism dug its roots deeper, and deeper still into me.

I kept my hair short and a year later, pierced my nose as a signifier of my politics.  There was no going back now.  The truth could not be unlearned.  It demanded that I lived it with integrity.  In my senior year, my advisor taught a class on Black Marxism, and we began a grueling (and self-imposed) timeline to research and write my senior thesis.  It still is one of the most focused years I have had in my life.  One I am proud of.

About a year after I got back to Oakland, I was thrust into a world of Vietnamese-American activism that I had never dreamed of.  My hair was cropped shorter. And shorter.

The politics and experiences continued to evolve.  To both my enjoyment and disappointment, my hair scared my parents into questioning my sexuality for a moment.  This is new because—to my parents—I am not a sexual being, and they will do anything to cling to that belief.  Also, I began teaching middle schoolers in Oakland and students commented on my short hair.  It didn’t bother me personally but made me ache to have more conversations about gender.  “Why is your hair like a boy’s?”  “Because I think this is beautiful too.  Because short hair can be woman’s hair.”

My own ideas about how to live my politics changed.  Every year could not be as intense as my last year in college.  I had been so angry the last few years of college.  And anger is important, but it was also deafening to ears that knew life was composed of other melodies.

Another point began to bug me.  Whose politics was I trying to live?  Was that white boy always going to live in this hair of mine?  What was I saying about the relationship between politics and presentation?  I was tired of carrying around a beehive of politics on my head.  I have nothing to prove to anyone, I thought.

Almost a year ago, I decided reluctantly that I would grow out my hair.  I thought to myself: the feminine doesn’t mean un-political, doesn’t mean conservative, doesn’t mean anti-revolutionary.  Neither does the feminine mean weak, timid, nor the other infinite words that exist to put-down women.  This was another choice I was making.  And free choices are revolutionary.  And breaking binaries is important.  And just another Asian girl with radical politics was here to shake things up.  Just another Asian girl and not just another Asian girl.

And as they tend to, these decisions coincided with moments of big change.  I was and am coming to consciousness about the ways that war, trauma, and family have affected me.  My earliest connections had taught me little or nothing about a functional, thriving love.  Granted, learning to survive, sacrifice, and act out of duty have my appreciation.  Yet it wasn’t and isn’t moving me nor my community forward.  The pain was over-flowing and impacting the decisions I was making about the people and relationships I was investing in.  So this time, I did not go home to the politics, it had already came home and roosted in me.  I had to begin healing.  I am working on this.  Remember, hair is growing and so am I.

So why these stories and why my long hair?  Because the white boy was right—I’m just like every Asian girl: too unique for him to understand. Because my identity and politics are stories that my hair alone cannot represent.  Because the next time some dude yells, “Me love you long time” out the back of a truck, I know it was never my fault, no matter the length of my hair.  Because femininity is more complex and messier than hair.  Because Asian Americans have our hair stories too.  Because—even though it may mark points in our development—hair is not the only signifier of our politics.  Because, really though, it is none of your business.

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Filed under amherst, asian americans, dominican republic, essays, gender, love, poems, race

The Reality of Racism

Obama- In case you live in a cave and didn’t realize this amazing man and amazing speech existed. “A More Perfect Union.” You can find a video on Youtube and one his site.

Tibet- I’m hoping for a boycotted 2008 China Olympics. If globalization is good for anything, it creates international pressure for human rights.

I promised I would write about racism in the Dominican Republic. I waited until after working on a few bateys and visiting Haiti, where I was this past Easter break.

I’ll start backwards. I went to Cap Haitien with 5 other CIEE students and my Haitian friend Karly. After crossing the border and going through both countries’ customs, we walked to the bus station and got on a guagua (a mini-bus). Though Karly’s passport had been checked twice by each country’s immigration office, the money collector insisted on checking it again. (A money collector or cobrador rides with the driver to help direct people, move luggage and collect ticket fees.) We get into our seats and some other guy comes and checks the passport of every black person on the bus. Then another one comes by to check. None of them were immigration officials nor military officials. They start making trouble with one Haitian and the two of them go outside behind the bus. I’m positive the Haitian man bribed the money collector so he wouldn’t be bothered anymore.

They say money whitens so think about this: 1) Karly uses his school ID instead of his passport. PUCMM as a top private school pulls some weight. 2) He and Kaylee, who’s blond and blue-eyed, are sitting together and talking during the ride. By the end of the ride the money collector calls Karly “moreno.” On an objective level, you would call Karly “negro” in Spanish to describe his dark skin. But he’s now moreno (a lighter black) because of his social position: being friends with 6 americans, a few of whom are “rubias” (white with light colored hair, objectively speaking).

Dominican racism and corruption go hand in hand. All the Haitians had to be ready to bribe their way out of things, which means that the movement of Haitians throughout the DR is limited by how much money one has. Haitians, Dominico-Haitians (Dominicans with Haitian backgrounds), or simply dark skinned people may be asked anywhere for their passport or documents. Even if one has everything in order or is even a Dominican citizen, that official, police officer, or soldier might just take it from you or make you bribe him so he’ll release you. And even though there are laws that say children born on Dominican soil have citizenship, racist nurses have been known to deny Haitian, Dominico-Haitian and dark Dominican parents birth certificates. Without these certificates, the right to schooling is denied (even there is a law that states one can go to grade school without all the necessary papers). If you try to apply for papers? The process is complicated, expensive, and rejection by racist officials may end your efforts to apply for a birth certificate or national ID. And deportation? Stories exist of dark Dominicans being deported to the other side of the border with nothing but the clothes on their back. Want to bring your case to court? Many judges are corrupted too.

Back to the guagua, I am fuming mad but trying to calm down. I know that in foreign countries, I am out of my realm and could be in danger in a matter of seconds if I’m not careful. The only thing protecting me? My US citizenship. Lucky me. I start staring down the money collector. He looks at me suspiciously for a while and then asks for my passport. HAH! I handed it to him, with the US seal facing up. He hands it right back to me without checking it. “Chequealo,” I demanded him. I could only be defiant because of that seal and its weight in the world. I don’t curse but believe me, I cursed on that bus ride back to the DR. And worse, I was finishing up reading for my Dominican-Haitian Relations class. Reading about a past of racist Dominican policies while you’re traveling back from Haiti doesn’t make that ride a very happy one.

We went through at least 5 military checkpoints after that, on a trip that runs about 2 hours without traffic. At the first stop, I watched from my window as the money collector slipped a bribe into the hands of a soldier so he wouldn’t check the bus.

Needless to say, after four days in Haiti I wasn’t happy about returning to the DR. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. It’s also home to some 9,000 UN peace officers. Ok, so the world knows that. What else is Haiti? It’s home to the amazing history of the first black republic, home to the Citadel which we hiked up to see, beautiful beaches that we visited, delicious (SPICY!) food that we ate, and Konpa (Haitian music) that we danced to. Karly was a different person in Haiti. He was so happy to be home. He’s moving to Canada because he can’t handle the BS he gets in the DR, including at PUCMM.

I was impressed by the people. I know there are problems that are unseen and unheard by me. I know I was there for less than four days and only in Cap Haitien. With that in mind, I still felt their strength. One evening, after dinner, we walked back to our hotel and passed a basketball court. The outdoor court was all cement, set before a backdrop of a crumbling building. And like you could find anywhere in the world, men in Jason Kidd and LeBron James jerseys were playing basketball like nobody’s business.

Nonetheless, the trip was bittersweet. It opened my eyes to the reality of corruption and racism, poverty, and the resilience of people. I feel horrible to even write about the strength of the Haitian people. They amazed me with their hope, but why do they need to exhibit that strength everyday? Their struggle makes their resilience visible and it’s not fair to have to be that strong daily.

If you’re interested, I’m linking a report from Human Rights Watch about Haitian rights in the DR. “Ilegal Peoples.”

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Filed under dominican republic, essays, haiti, news, prose, race, study abroad, third world

Sorpresas!

Surpises:

1) Speaking Spanish to a Chinese girl who works in a Pico Pollo restaurant. So confusing.

2) The existence of a place called Casa del Arte gives me hope. I went there a couple of nights ago. It’s a tiny art gallery and they have a space where they show cultural/educational movies. I saw a movie about a Cuban singer, Beni Moré last Tuesday. We’re going to a Fiesta de Palos tonight.

3) I’m starting to like rooftops a lot. At a friend’s party, some of us decided to climb his ladders to the roof. It was so peaceful. That same Dominican friend and I laid on the roof talking for a while, looking at the stars. I could have fallen in love with him right there… if I didn’t know we were just friends. The environment was too perfect.

4) Some of my best conversations have been with random people on the street. Usually it’ll start with them wondering if I’m Chinese, and now that I’m so tan, if I’m Filipino. Then when they hear that I’m Vietnamese, they start talking about the Vietnam War. This would upset me in the US, but I feel like there’s less control of information here so I let it go. And usually by the end of the conversation, I get some idea of that person’s political views and feel like I can actually communicate in Spanish.

5) I’m starting to recognize random people in the street. Like the guy on Calle del Sol that always hits on me and I say hi back. Or the guy from the store that helped my friend and me buy jeans… We had to go to the big girl section. Damn Dominican jeans are too small!!!

I guess life has definitely improved after I let go of my academic standards and just began accepting this experience for what it is: a chance to get to know another country, culture, people.

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Filed under dominican republic, education, prose, race, study abroad, third world

more politics and pictures

Someone was quoted in the NYTimes last week saying that this is the most exciting Presidential election in a LONG time. At least for me, I know that I read my Times and Washington Post emails to stay updated on how Clinton and Obama are doing in the primaries.

Obama’s political narrative

Asian America and Obama:
Obama’s Asian Problem?
Some response from Racialious

Speaking of politics, the Dominican Republic’s presidential election is in May. According to my Political Process professor, Dominicans are fanatics for their preferred candidate. There are street parties on Sundays that stop traffic to rally support in communities. I think that’s really cool. The only problem is that each party seems to have the same ideals and according to my professor none have proposed specific plans for the economy, improving politics, anything…

Referring back to my previous post where I mentioned liberal arts education, a friend from Amherst emailed me saying that the real problem is how those that can change the country leave. (BTW, I love responses and criticism so send some more.) I tried to figure out the number of Dominicans immigrating out of the DR but I don’t have anything from a reputable source. I’m sure immigration adds to the weakness of the economy though. My professor here defines the DR’s economy with 3 points: 1) tourism, 2) free trade zones (la zona francas), where foreign companies do not pay tariffs to the country for having factories or importing materials; and 3) remittances ($ from American relatives sent to the country). The communality: foreigners. The economy is controlled by outsiders.

The real point of debate with this friend comes down to a chicken and egg question. Change education first to change the people? Or change the people first, who can later change the education? It’s not so clear-cut for sure. I say we’re both right. But either way, the change has to come willingly from the people… And that is why more and more, I am convinced that gobalization does not benefit the Third World. How can the people truly decide for themselves when some of the strongest intellectual/cultural forces are from outsiders? The import of ideas can be a good thing, but the ideology and interests of capitalism is not good at all when countries are not ready for the pressures of global market.

Switching to socialism, Castro resigned. Whether or not it changes much from a new president, this makes Cuba an even more interesting case. I wonder how Castro has prepared the country for this? And particularly for me, Cuba interests me because of the ideas of 1) how can socialism work? 2) the incorporation of multiple facets of identities. Last night, I was talking to Jenny, an independent Canadian study abroad student about Cuban life. She spent her last semester in Cuba and was telling me how strong the Cuban celebration of AfroCaribbean roots are, ESPECIALLY compared to the DR. And I’m want to learn more about Cuba’s role in the world… I’ll get my chance soon.

Oh yes, more pics… ack. I need to do my HW….

This is a Methodist church (in a Catholic country). It was founded by former African American slaves who were invited to live in the country when Haiti controlled the entire island during Presdient Boyer in 1822. They still speak English in the region today.

We stayed at a ridiculous resort that trapped us in the role of tourists… not what I wanted. But the group did go whale watching… The whale is in this picture, I swear. Some of us also met this great Dominican biology student on the boat. Now me and the other two girls who talked to him must scheme to win his heart… haha we liked him a lot, ok? He might even be the Dominican feminist we all want.

seriously?

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Filed under dominican republic, news, pictures, race, study abroad, third world

FLU! – a slang espression for surprise

I feel much better than I did when I wrote my last post. I was having a frustrating day, obviously…

It drives me crazy to think about how this country is still colonized. There’s so much imported culture from the US: TV, music, clothes. Unsurprisingly the economy is dependent of foreign dollars. Cingular practically runs the country, except it’s called Orange here. Ideas about gender and race have not changed much. There has never been a racial civil rights movement, nor a women or gender movement. My Haitian friend told me straight up, “They all think they’re white but even if you’re Moreno you’re going to have a hard time finding a job.” I’m not surprised; this is “Latino exceptionalism” in action. And for me, a colonized society is much worse off when your education system doesn’t teach critical analysis of society and history. Yet I understand: how can you teach liberal arts when you have mouths to feed in a 3rd world country? (I hear Du Bois and Washington again…) So my main frustration in this country is this eternal cycle of colonialism… They are stuck. And worse… I don’t know how to change that… It’s so ingrained and static and I can’t do anything about it! I hate feeling powerless.

But let’s remember some positives. I know I will still be upset about certain things even when I leave. I trust though that I will learn from it regardless… But there are great things too.

Let’s start with this: I had a really great weekend. On Friday, we were on former land of Trujillo, the last dictator of the country (1930-61). It was our one-month meeting to talk about our experiences thus far and share advice on how to cope, if needed. I didn’t talk much but it was good to hear everyone’s experiences. After that a friend and I talked to our resident director about future trips. We’re figuring out how to go to Haití and another country that shall remain nameless because I bet the American government reads blogs (hello US official). When I got home, my host sister and cousins were playing. I am in love with my 3-year old host cousin. Que lindo! Then some other girls and I went to meet Edward, a friend of un “Estudiante de Apoyo” for coffee. I gave in after so many text messages from Edward. I was like ok, I’ll see you Friday, as friends. He had the benefit of the doubt because he was friends with one of my favorite Dominican student. He surprised me though by being opposite of a creep and when I told him I was going to bring friends, he was smart and brought one of his friends (yea, I’m a horrible date… but it’s SO necessary…). We had a really good time just chilling at this café near the university. Then that night, I had a really good conversation with my mom! The crazy thing is, I am convinced (and she thinks so too) that my Vietnamese is improving. I swear it’s because I’m using my brain in a different way to understand, respond, and change to and from English and Spanish. Also, Friday was full of sugar, coffee, whipped cream, American apple pie, chinola (passion fruit) juice, and abichuelas [frijoles] con dulce (a dessert people in this region of the country eat to welcome Lent). Let’s not talk about gaining weight…

Saturday, everyone went to the beach, Punta Rucia/Playa Ensenada. GORGEOUS! I went snorkeling! My only complaint is that climbing back onto the boat is never as graceful as it should be…

And good news! I got an interview for the Rockefeller’s! I just wish I didn’t feel so unsure about it though…

Well I’ll figure it out. Thanks everyone who’s been writing to me in some way. I’ll slowly start responding. I have a week full of midterm exams. Let’s hope no one speaks “asian” to me…

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Filed under dominican republic, education, prose, race, study abroad, third world

Ok I’m going to tell the truth and hopefully I will find some peace with it. I’ve been holding back my complaints because I’m overly critical and think complaints are a sign of weakness…

I know I will learn and become stronger from these things I don’t like here but I need to vent how I feel right NOW.
Things I hate.
when people talk “asian” to me. wtf is wrong with you?! and there are chinese-dominicans that live here. why are you so ignorant? i was speechless when this guy tries to speak to me in japanese and mandarin. if i was a guy i think he would have ended up with a bloody nose.
i feel like everyone wants to be on vacation BUT I DON’T WANT ONE! i miss Amherst (classes). i want a balanced experienced so i’m working but the entire system is frustrating… for example students cannot even explore the library stacks because someone “qualified” has to get my books for me.
things are so disorganized in classes and we never analyze or discuss anything. i’m fed up…
i hate have to be conscious when i go anywhere that i am a woman. the way women here are expected to look and carry themselves. the safety issues. the piropos.
and also, if you’re reading this now, i probably miss you.
(i feel better…)

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Filed under amherst, dominican republic, race, study abroad

Stuff

There’s so much to write about I don’t know where to start.

1) Santiago is the host of the Caribbean Baseball Series. The Santiago team (Aguilas) are also national champs. Apparently Miguel Tejada played this season with the Aguilas! I saw him play!!! =]

2) February is Carnaval!

3) To return to stateside, I’m upset right now that the Asian Student Association is not listed as a sponsor of the “Community Discussion” at Amherst. There are no other words that that is FUCKED UP. Way to continue overlooking us.

4) We went to a rooftop party Saturday night. Shout out to the Haitians who throw the best parties.

5) More than I thought I’d be, I’m so tired of having the same conversation about being a Chinese girl. I’m not Chinese! And me being as identity conscious as I am, I would never settle for someone identifying me as simply Vietnamese. For the perpetual foreigners of American society, the hyphenated “-American” is crucial to recognizing who we are. I’m tired of explaining.

6) There’s more, but I have tons of research to do for my history of dominican lit class.

Nos vemos luego.

en el campo with a family. we volunteered there two weekends ago. all the kids were orphans but adopted by a canadian woman. she also runs two free schools and a community store, selling cheap used clothes. they were the sweetest kids.

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Filed under dominican republic, prose, race, study abroad, third world