By: M.Tony Peralta (@peraltaproject)
After a 5-year hiatus from the country, I returned back to the land where my parents are from, the Dominican Republic. Throughout 2010 I was toying with the idea of going back to DR. I felt the need to go back and reacquaint myself with the country. Like many first generation Dominicans, I’ve traveled to DR throughout my life numerous times. There was a point in my life that I would go every summer vacation. As a tween, I would have a ball going over and spending time with the family that I didn’t have back in the states. Playing marbles with my cousins, climbing mango trees, even working in the small colmado (bodega) that my uncle owned in the campo. Believe it or not, I was even sent there to live when I was 12 because I wasn’t behaving well in school and at home. Being sent back to the island is a threat that many parents from my mom’s generations would threaten us American born kids with when we misbehaved. My mom meant it.
As an adult, I didn’t really enjoy going much to DR. Like many, I would go to the resorts and spend sometime there but I would also go out to the towns and stay with my dad. The resorts are a great mask and represent a small percentage of how life in the island is for many. By nature, I am a very observant person and visiting the towns that my parents are from and seeing how many people lived troubled me, along with a few other things, which would make my trip not so enjoyable. After a couple of days, I was ready to come back to NYC. So this time around, I wanted to go with a whole new perspective. I wanted to try and go to different towns and try to meet other kinds of Dominicans, people more like myself, artist types. I’ve also had the idea that I would love to somehow exhibit my artwork there. So with camera in hand, I booked my trip for the beginning of 2011 and decided to start my year in the warm and beautiful island of “Quisqueya.”
I spent 18 days in the Dominican Republic. The longest time I’ve even spent in the island as an adult. This trip was so different then any other trip I’ve had. From the type of interaction I had with my dad and other family members, to meeting new and more artistic types of Dominicans. I think I hung out with every type of Dominican there is; rich, middle class, poor and super broke. I feasted my vision in the natural beauty of the island. The view of the mountains on my way to Constanza was absolutely breath taking. At one point, I felt like was on my way to visit God. From the post card perfect view of the beaches in Samana, to the picturesque vista of the city of Santiago from the top of El Monumento, DR is beautiful. But I also saw some of the ugly the country has to offer. The incredibly high crime rate via the evening news was disturbing, the kids begging in the street and the lawlessness that is rampant. Can’t forget the super corrupt Police. All I kept saying to myself was “you will never see that shit in the U.S.” Things that we take for granted in the United States like child labor laws just don’t exist there. Kids out working trying to make a living to help their family are a common sight. That’s crazy to me. I saw a little kid with a machete chopping a chicken – that blew me away. But at the end of the day, “it is, what it is.” That’s how life is over there and it doesn’t help that the government is corrupt as fuck. Funniest campaign slogan I saw was for the ex-president Hipolito Mejia who’s running again for president. The tag line reads “Llego Papa” which means “Daddy’s Home.” I couldn’t stop laughing, that’s some funny shit. Can you imagine Bill Clinton or Bush running for president and the campaign slogan being “Daddy’s Home”? Me either!
Overall, I went back to DR with a new perspective, an open mind and really enjoyed myself. I felt like my relationship with my dad went up a couple of notches as well. I met family members that I didn’t know and saw the ones that I love and haven’t seen in ages. I met some great and creative people and made some great connections. I ate some great natural and unhealthy food and drank Presidente’s like it was water. I soaked up as much sunrays as I could since it is the middle of winter in NYC. I came back to NY with a whole new appreciation for the country. I’m not going to wait another 5 years. Hopefully, I can go back and be able to exhibit my work there, working on that for sure. All in all, DR has its good, bad and ugly but I would not trade having my roots from there for any other country in the world. Remember, Christopher Columbus’ first permanent settlement was on the island of Hispaniola aka the Dominican Republic and Haiti aka THE NEW WORLD! ACT LIKE YOU KNOW!
For more pictures of my trip to the Dominican Republic click: here