A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How I Lost My Accent

I can't tell when it happened, yet the realization that it did smacked me across the face. Like a sudden accusation made by an invisible finger. "I recognize that accent", I told myself. The first time I noticed that Dominicans too have a distinguishable way of speaking Spanish was while sitting with my mom in our old green couch back in Santiago watching "Don Francisco Presenta". Jackie Guerrido was being interviewed this one time, and she started imitating different accents during the interview. She did Colombian, Cuban and other accents then announced that she was going to speak in a Dominican accent. I remember that I immediately laughed, "Dominicans don't have an accent!" I said. But they did and on that day I found that out after hearing Guerrido's transition from country to country and recognizing the one  that I undoubtedly sounded like. However, in that moment, it wasn't really an accent to me, but rather a part of my culture--it was completely natural.

Now an invisible finger is pointing at me asking me where my accent is. Now, I can only really hear it in others and though it warms my heart and takes me home, it no longer emanates from my garganta as it once used to. My "bolsas" moved on from meaning "balls" (yes, testicles) to bags. My laziness went from "haraganería" to "pereza". And at my job I've been told that I sound like I'm from Central America or somewhere indistinguishable. I leave Spanish speakers whom I meet for the first time confused in my Afro-Latino features yet unaccented speak.

I lost my accent. It was lost somewhere between the many times when I made sure to add "s" at the end of plural worlds and rolled r's in words like "comer". It was lost behind the shame of knowing that somehow every word that I spoke devalued me in the ears of those who've been taught that we can be defined by how hard we pronounce our "z".  It was lost in the shame of knowing that my value could be defined by how soft my "y" is when I say "yo". I lost my accent while trying to assimilate in a society where Spanish comes in second but Dominican Spanish, with it's afro-roots and refranes campesinos, can easily come in last. I lost my accent the moment that I started seeing it as an accent and not simply the way in which I speak... just like when being Dominican became something to identify with.

And yet, when I'm in pain I beg "Ay dio, quítame e'te dolor". When I'm sufriendo de mal de amores I beg para que el asfixie se me quite. When I hit myself, the words "la creta"slip out of my mouth as if I can only feel pain in the language that I spoke while feeling my first heartbreak, my first moment of despair, my first fall as a child that was always followed by an adult saying "no llores, eso e' pa crecer" ("don't cry, that's so you can grow"). My Dominican Spanish can be found in the club coming out of my lips as I mouth a bachata song, in my lamentable "ay" when I'm feeling worry. It resonates behind the "ha!" sound when I say "cahrro" instead of "carro".

Those are moments that I can't control where my native tongue sings in beautiful resistance. And yet when I speak intently and with every sentence preceded by an idea, I'm filled with regret in realizing that somehow I might no longer think in Dominican Spanish. 
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Monday, January 20, 2014

The strength in letting go

Sometimes we confuse practicing self-care with practicing strength. Or at least I do. Whenever I recognize that I'm at an emotional low, I immediately go into rejection mode: I think of practicing self-care as sitting down and writing more goals, as fantasizing about a better future, as drilling into my brain that I am a strong and independent woman who doesn't need anyone to validate her worth.

And every time that I react that way, I ultimately end up resorting to some sort of short-term solution for my pain: anxiety, eating too much, physically escaping by leaving the situation, etc..

One of my friends sent me a quote by bell hooks in hopes of making me feel better: "Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape." Well, no. I tried being alone for a couple of minutes. I sat on my bed, staring at the quote. "I don't wanna use my friends as an escape," I thought. Then the tears really came pouring down. And so I decided, or rather recognized that I didn't want tough love. I didn't want to be "strong" and handle this on my own. I needed people. So I reached out and before I knew it, I had built for myself a support group of friends to remind me that I'm worthy of love.

And that's pretty much where the failure was for me in the past: I felt that in letting myself actually feel sorrow, I'd become less worthy of love. I ignored my needs in order to not have to share feelings that I was ashamed of, and I somehow felt that keeping things inside was the strongest thing to do.

But there's so much strength in realizing that we're human and, even though we may be ashamed of our own emotions, even if we find ourselves not being able to fully lift our heads, we are always worthy of love.

So today I'm practicing self-care by sharing those things that I consider weak-emotions with close friends and by having patience with myself. Also by recognizing that letting go of pressure to be good all the time and allowing myself this space is an act of resistance in a society that shuns those who dare say "No, I'm not good."

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." -audre lorde

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Friday, January 3, 2014

In Defense of Dominican Sovereignty

Haga clic aqui para la version traducida.

Junot Diaz, Julia Alvarez, Mark Kurlansky, and Edwidge Danticat wrote a letter to The New York Times in which they firmly stood against Ruling 168-13 where all Dominicans born to undocumented parents are to be stripped of their citizenship. Junot Diaz was later caught telling cameras that Dominican politicians are corrupt. Dominican official Jose Santana then proceeded to write an email to Diaz calling him a “pseudo intellectual”. He later wrote a letter to Latino Rebels regarding his email to Junot Diaz, and he stated that the sovereignty of the Dominican Republic is under attack. 

This is actually not the first time that I hear the argument in "defense of Dominican sovereignty". One of my childhood friends recently posted a picture on Instagram where she attended a rally by the Red Nacional por la Defensa de la Soberanía Dominicana in support of Ruling 168-13. Different folks cosigned her position, stating "This isn't about race, it's about sovereignty". 

Santana writes in his email "Dominican sovereignty is the scapegoat that France and the United States intend to sacrifice in order to get rid of the ‘bad conscience’ representing the Haitian tragedy, and the anti-Dominicans of the media in our country assist them with enthusiasm in this ominous feast." Santana goes on to paint a false picture between Dominican Republic and immigrants of Haitian descent. He describes the relationship as one of solidarity when, aside from recent show of solidarity during natural disasters, a close look at the history of the Dominican-Haitian relationship proves quite the opposite. Nonetheless, I won't dwell into that right now. First, I'm going to point out the real irony of this letter and the overall argument that a critique—by whomever—of the 168-13 ruling is an attack on Dominican Sovereignty. 

The Dominican Republic ranks last in the World Economic Forum when it comes to government waste.  Most Dominicans see the government as corrupt, and although this may not be true of every single Dominican official, threats like Santana’s to legally challenge Junot Diaz for speaking publicly of this corruption are what truly take away from freedom of speech, investigative journalism and sovereignty of the Dominican people.  Protests in 2012 against the so-called  "Paquetazo" actually demanded a decrease in government expenditure rather than the proposed increase on sales taxes and taxes on fuel; especially after it was revealed that government salaries were increasing, for example Education Minister Josefina Pimentel's salary was being raised from $4,660 per month to $7,500. Numbers speak for themselves, as was stated in an article on The Economist during these protests: 

The state hires too many people for non-essential jobs—it has more diplomats in the United States than Brazil and the seven Central American countries combined—and pays them generously. The country’s central-bank president earns 32% more than Ben Bernanke of the United States’ Federal Reserve.

There's even a term in the country called "Trabajo Botella" which can be defined as government jobs where folks get paid simply for the title but they essentially do nothing. So, to Mr. Santana and others attacking Junot Diaz for calling out the government's corruption, remember that Dominicans, LOS DOMINICANOS, as Santana differentiated with bold and capital fonts in his letter, were actually in La Plaza de La Bandera in 2012, chanting "¡Ladrón, ladrón, ladrón, ladroncito, ladronazo, ladronazazaso!"; Is Santana going to legally challenge them as well? 

Furthermore, Santana's letter actually does reveal some truths: The United States and France are largely guilty for the poverty in Haiti. But remember that the U.S. is also culpable for the situation in the Dominican Republic. The United States has intervened in the Dominican Republic several times, the latest forced intervention was to take Juan Bosch off presidency due to his leftist ideals—Juan Bosch being the first democratically elected president after the Rafael L. Trujillo dictatorship. 

The World Bank states that the Dominican Republic has been one of the fastest growing economies lately, yet 40% of its population is poor. 40 PERCENT. Where is all that money from the booming economy going? Why is the Dominican Republic one of the few countries in Latin America where income inequality has actually increased over the last ten years? If it wasn't because the government has such a strong choke on its own people and because the United States has such a strong relationship with the Dominican Republic, then I bet those numbers would change. A report by RT shows that foreign investment is at almost every economic sector in the Caribbean. The real faithful server of the United States is the Dominican government, the U.S. being the country's most important partner. This shows not just in the economic relationship between both, but also in the number of Dominicans speaking English online and in the streets, the number of American restaurants in central parts of town, and the music playing on some radio stations.

If anything, this ruling is an example of further Americanization of the country by Americanizing its laws and its border. A recent article in The Nation exposed the presence of U.S. border patrol in the Dominican Republic. Dominicans are being trained by U.S. agents. So further reinforcement of border patrol is actually something that the United States is exporting, therefore this law is not something that the American government would oppose. In fact, with the cheap labor of Haitian immigrants in different sectors, for example in Banana plantations, I would argue that corporations are the ones that should be regulated for abusing their buying power, systematically forcing Dominican banana plantation owners to pay their workers less. Just like in the United States with undocumented workers here, Haitian workers are exploited and Ruling 168-13 will allow room for more discrimination to happen. This border patrol situation actually proves the U.S.'s interest in keeping citizens of poor countries from migrating as was stated in The Nation:

It’s all about Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the planet. It is a response to fears of the mass movement of desperate, often hungry, people in the U.S. sphere of dominance. It is the manifestation of a new vision of global geopolitics in which human beings in need are to be corralled, their free movement criminalized, and their labor exploited.
By imposing this ruling, the Dominican Republic is actually giving up its sovereignty to choose to solidarize itself with Haitian immigrants, who like the millions of Dominican immigrants in the United States and Puerto Rico (like myself and perhaps Junot Diaz’ family), are seeking better lives. As Mr. Santana pointed out, yes France and the U.S. are to be blamed for Haiti’s prevalent poverty, but aligning itself with these imperialist nations is not the answer when the Dominican Republic is still an exploited, developing country.

Furthermore, the Dominican Republic is a country with a culture of self-discrimination and low self-esteem. Dominicans have lost faith in their government, which over the last few years has changed into a two-party system, especially since the deaths of Joaquin Balaguer and Juan Bosch, and the (much-needed) decline in popularity of Balaguer's Partido Reformista Social Cristiano. In his poem, Hay Un Pais en el Mundo, Pedro Mir wrote about corruption, about thieves of the land, and he states that "Faltan hombres" who can revive that land. Decades later, that poem can still be applied.

Other Latin American countries are already moving towards more progressive governments. In Chile, Michelle Bachelet just got reelected; In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff of the Worker's Party has been president since 2011; In Ecuador, Rafael Correa made headlines for stating that if the U.S. wants to have a military base there, then Ecuador must be allowed to have a military base in Miami; Bolivia's current leader is Evo Morales, a cocalero activist; amongst others. Where are the men and women of Pedro Mir's poem who will finally revive the power of our beautiful land? When will the Dominican Republic finally see an alternative to the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana and Partido Revolucionario Dominicano? 

Arundhati Roy writes in her essay Democracy: Who is She When She is at Home? about the rise of fascism in India. She states that "historically, fascist movements have been fueled by feelings of national disillusionment". Ruling 168-13 is an example of this. At the end of 2012, Dominicans were protesting for change and in 2013 they were met with a distraction. 

To say that a law that retroactively strips people of their citizenship –I repeat: retroactively—is not somehow tied to the racism that has become inherent in Dominican society is delusional. On February 27th, 1844 the Dominican Republic did not gain independence from Spain, as many believe, it gained independence from Haiti. Haitians imposed heavy taxes on Dominicans, freed the remaining slaves, and disallowed white elites from owning land which made many of them move to Puerto Rico. Thus, since the moment of it's independence in 1844, the relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti has been complicated: both countries were victims of larger colonizers—Spain who tried reoccupying the Dominican Republic, and France who imposed a very heavy fee on Haitians for their freedom. To this list we may add the massacre during the Trujillo dictatorship on October 1937. Overall, there is a hatred of negritude in the Dominican Republic. Being called "haitian" for being dark skinned, for example, is considered an insult. I recently wrote the following on my blog:

One time, when I was probably around 11 years old, I was walking down a busy street in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic with my mother when we saw a Haitian man being dragged by the arm by several men. He was sweaty, scared, and clearly trying to run away. If I recall correctly, I believe that he was wearing no shoes and his chest was showing. I asked my mother what was happening, and she replied nonchalantly "oh, he probably tried to steal something".

I was later told that he might be beaten up or even raped by those men. Ruling 168-13 is racist and it relies on racist fear, racist believes, and a feeling of self-discrimination that Dominicans have for their own blackness. If the Dominican government wants to fight for sovereignty, why not fight for a kind of sovereignty that will give more room to social reform, better education programs, and  better protection for workers? Why is sovereignty tied to redefining nationality rather than reforming society?

Lastly, calling someone anti-Dominican for disagreeing with the government is a form of political bullying, so to those calling Junot Diaz et al anti-Dominican: check yourselves. 

And since y'all love quotes so much, I'll leave you with this: 

"We are a small country, we can only grow by love, by virtue, by culture, by kindness." -Juan Bosch

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