Life is a bag of Doritos

I guess most people have some sort of “life philosophy” in one way or another, whether it is of their own meditation, or through the lessons of a particular role model. Blame it on the pathological need to find an explanation, a theory for why “bad” things happen sometimes, or why things don’t always go the way we plan.

As the title probably spoiled it already, my “theory” about life is that “Life is a Bag of Doritos”. Simple as that. Now, don’t give up on me just yet, I promise you this is not as cheesy as it may sound (see what I did there? So clever).

I have shared this “theory” with some of my friends before, and they reacted the same way that you probably did: thinking I was full of sh*t. And I don’t blame you…. Because how on Earth could “life” even begin to resemble “a bad of Doritos”. Nevertheless, this is just pretty much a sketch in my effort to start compiling all my various “theories” about life, humans, and the universe in general, so it is open to amendments. And hopefully, as the years go by, I will even be able to add a couple of corollaries to it with further implications. You know, for extra enlightenment.

I came up with this theory after a realization I had a couple of years ago. It was around September, which means that I was undergoing that end-of-summer blues most college students should know about. It comes about when you realize that you have four months until your next vacation, and that before then you will at least have 3 hell weeks (one for midterms, one for finals, and an extra one for a week that you have a lot of papers to hand in), and that (given that I was in Montreal) it will probably start snowing by the end of the month, and it won’t stop until probably May of the following year. And you think about how amazing your vacations were, all the fun times with all your friends, all the trips, the concerts, the parties, and wonder how long it’s going to be until you have that much fun again. And you think of how many classes, reading, assignments, group projects, papers, quizes, and exam are in between now and then… Yeah, that feeling.

It’s that moment when you feel the wheels spinning again, slowly pulling to bring you back into your same-old routine. Yes, soon enough you’ll be doing the same groceries every week, walking the same route to school at the same time every day, getting coffee at the same, most convenient coffee shop on your way. You’ll be stressing about the same subjects, over (or under) studying for the same exams, struggling to find the same place at the library in the high season, and complaining about the same #firstworldproblems, or #undergradproblems on social media. You’ll be paying the same bills, freaking out about how the same mobile company overcharged you for something yet again, using the same laundry machines, and spending countless hours of your life pairing the same pairs of socks.

And then I realized how, almost ironically, all that “stuff” in the way, that same-ness that constitutes the less-exciting logistics of living… were sort of necessary, and how that end-of-summer blues was actually a good thing.

You see, I believe that we human beings are creatures of relatives, and not absolutes (This is another theory of mine, although it falls on another category. There’s probably a study somewhere about it). And, as much as it makes me a douchebag to say this, I don’t think that we would  be on a constant state of happiness if things were ideal 100% of the time. I mean, think of it, how many times have you compared yourself to another person to gauge your own level of happiness or wellbeing? Ok, maybe your’re better than that: How many times have you compared your present sent to your past self in order to assess your personal self’s level of happiness or wellbeing?

Let me give you an overused example. Think of the Dominican Republic. How hot is it during the summer? Around 35ish degrees Celsius. How hot is it during the winter? What winter? It’s a one-season country (Although, it does get chilly at nights in December, it’s even a thing, we call it “la brisita de Navidad” –the tiny Christmas breeze).

Now, let’s head a bit North. Think of Canada. Montreal, to be specific. How hot is it during the summer? Probably around 23-28ish degrees Celsius. How cold is it during the winter? Well, I would say that on average, anywhere between -10 to -20ish degrees Celsius, although you have some crazy days where it can go from -20 to -30.

So, naturally, do you think Dominicans (in the DR) are in any particular rush to go outdoors when it’s sunny and warm out? Hell no.

But what about Montrealers, on that very first day in either March, April, or May (it depends, apparently this year winter decided to stay a bit longer), when it is finally warm-ish enough outside? Oh they will all be all out on the streets, on the parks, you will see the joggers, the barbequers, the freesbiers, the bikers, the rollerbladers, the tam-tamneers, and the mere walkers. Why? Because, having been through those awful and seemingly endless months of winter does make you more appreciative of warmth and sunshine.

And don’t even get me started on what this “relativeness” means for relationships, or personal or material achievements. It’s that whole “you can’t appreciate what you have until you lose it” cliché all over again: You would not feel as miserable having little if you had not had a lot previously (there’s a slight chance I screwed up my tenses in that last sentence, but comments are welcome). However, I also believe that it works the other way around, as in fact, you do enjoy some experiences even more only after you put them in perspective.

Ok but enough with the introductions, I have now to explain how this Life is a Bag of Doritos works. So here it goes:

 

Think about when you are out, and you suddenly want to buy a bag of Doritos. It may be while you’re waiting in line at the supermarket, or when you want to have a snack at work or school, or even something that you just randomly decided to pick at a vending machine somewhere.

Now, you have your Doritos bag in your hands, looking forward to dig in, and you open it and see what?

…YOU KNOW WHAT! THERE’S ONLY LIKE 1/3 OF DORITOS IN THE BAG, AND THE REST IS EMPTY… JUST AIR.

And every time is the same, there’s always that disappointment that there are less Doritos in the bag than what you imagined (I know I am generalizing here, most people don’t tend to overanalyse the bag of Doritos they just purchased. I’ll probably just talk in the first person from now on then). Thing is, I didn’t pay for 1/3 Doritos and 2/3 oxygen, I wanted at least the majority of the volume of the bag to be filled with the snack. But whatever, I mean: Am I just going to throw my unconsummated bag of Doritos away because of my unmet high expectations?

 Naah, I’ll probably just eat it anyways. And I get over it. I do. And by the end… Do I regret having bought it in the first place (health/caloric considerations aside)? Not really. Would I buy another bag of Doritos if I want to snack again sometime (and have no other health/caloric considerations)? Probably yes. In fact, I could even make the case that the scarcity of Doritos that was generated by the presence of a higher-than-expected volume of air inside the bag has made me value each Dorito even more.

So… that’s life right there. I’m sure my metaphor is crystal clear by now. It is almost certain that you won’t be able to get that full bag of Doritos that you would like to. There is always going to be some air that needs to fill it (I mean, they can’t vacuum-pack chips, can they?).

And for most if us, that “air” are those daily routines and struggles that keep us going. It’s getting from A to B because of the destination, not the journey. It’s paying the bills or passing the classes. It’s the alarm snoozes and the coffee-fixes, the xls, the ppts, and the pdfs. Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with whether you love or not what you do. Because, even if you are in love with what you are doing, which to some may imply that “you will not have to work a single day in your life”, you are still not immune to the logistics of life. And sure, some may consider themselves lucky that their profession does not enslave them into a 9-to-5, so that they do not live under a “routine” like the rest of us mere mortals do. But still, whatever your everyday, I-got-to-pay-the-bills normal is, that’s your baseline. That’s the air.

Which is why, when you finally get to the actual Doritos of life: the vacations, the travels, the fun night outs, the weddings, the graduations, the reunions, the catching-ups, the visits, the events, the concerts, etc etc etc, they feel so special and memorable. It’s the stuff you want to take pictures of or write about, it’s what you tell stories about, what you look forward to ex-ante and are nostalgic about ex-post. And yet, for the most part, these experiences are meaningful to us only because we tend to put them in perspective with the rest of the “air” on our lives.

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“Truño” Face

We Dominicans are pretty interesting creatures when it comes to air travel. If you have ever been in a flight to or from Santo Domingo you probably know what I mean. You see, we are the people that have yet to come to terms with the notion that you board the plane “by groups”, and that there is no point in elbowing your way to the front of the line if your group hasn’t been called yet. We also have no idea what “travelling light” stands for, we firmly believe that it is necessary to clap once the plane has landed (hey, you can’t blame us for trying to express our admiration and gratitude to the airplane crew), and, if a plane full of Dominicans were to make an emergency landing in the ocean (like the one they always show in the security video), I’m pretty sure we would all inflate our life jackets inside of the plane.

While I was studying abroad, I was flying back home around three times a year, so you could say that I got almost used to the folklore of those New York-Santo Domingo, or those Miami-Santo Domingo flights. Sure, they were always delayed, and took forever to board, and more than once, when someone was struggling to stick they carry-ons in the overhead compartment someone would yell “É que tiene que sacá lo plátano!” (You have to take the plantains out of the suitcase). I also realized that we Dominicans were probably the friendliest and most sociable people on Earth, never missing an opportunity to strike a conversation with the person sitting next to us on the plane. Of course, by “we Dominicans” I mean: “Most Dominicans other than me”, which probably officially makes me the only Dominican that: a) Can’t dance Merengue and b) Doesn’t really like small-talk with strangers sitting next to them. However, this last part is apparently not obvious to most people, and, as I would discover on that 7 hour Madrid-Santo Domingo flight I took in summer of 2012: It even makes people question my true nationality.

It was one of those “end of vacation” flights (You know, the ones you take when you go from a fun and exciting place back to your usual routine, and you think that you kind of have to wait until December for your next vacation. So you’re nostalgic, and a bit tired, and 80% of the time, you’re probably still hungover too). As I take my seat in the plane I start to realize that it’s probably going to be a long flight.  I do the mental math of how I will potentially divide my time between the sleeping, the magazines I just bought, and the book I’m trying to finish. I aim for a very ambitious 3.5 hours of sleep, which I know probably will not happen because I have known myself for 19 years (back then).

Anyways, as my group was among the first ones to board, I get to enjoy the perks of watching the majority of the passengers get on the plane. It really is a treat. In fact, from my (still limited) traveling experience I have even formulated a new theory. I have yet to come up with a name for it, but it will probably be something along the lines of: “The Airline Magazine Postulate”. Basically, there are two types of people that get on a plane: B-types, and A-types. The B-types are those that, as soon as they sit down, start looking at the airline magazines. The A-types are those that don’t. You see, my theory predicts that if we ever went under a Zombie attack, the A-types would be the ones to get killed first. They are just not prepared. Because if they were, you would see that instead of opening up the airline magazine, they would keep reading their books, or any other magazine they bought in advance, or even just listen to their iPhones, or work in their tablets… I don’t know, they would have made an effort to bring something, ANYTHING that will keep them entertained for 7 hours (Of course, you always have “the blessed ones”, who are able to sleep on a plane for 7 hours straight and therefore don’t need any of these gadgets that we, mere mortals, depend on. But these guys are outliers).

The plane is pretty much filling up and I notice that the seat to my right is still empty. I am by the window seat, so there’s just that one seat next to me, then the hallway, and then the center row of the plane. I see that there are also a couple of children and babies within a 4-seat ratio, so chances are they will be loud at least once or twice on any given seven-hour interval. Finally, a confused-looking woman stands in front of the seat next to me. She’s dragging an over-sized carry-on, and one of those Felix-the-Cat handbags (you know, the ones where you know you could find pretty much anything, from a lipstick to an extra pair of heels). She repeatedly tries to fit her carry-on on the overhead compartment until the man standing behind her decides to give her a hand. Finally, she sits down, puts her oversized purse in her laps, and takes the Airline magazine from the seat in front of her. B-type alert.

Not even two minutes after she took her seat she started looking around. Now, anyone without the previous field experience would have just assumed that she was distressed. Oh no, but not me, I have seen that expression before, and it certainly does not stand up for “distress”, that’s actually her looking-for-someone-to-make-conversation with face. You know, looking around, trying to catch a glimpse of the demographics on board and looking for her target audience. She starts staring at the woman on the other side of the hall, looking as if she’s juust about to go test the waters:

Tu ere dominicana?” (Are you Dominican?)

To which the woman across the hallway replies:

SIIIII! How do you know?” (I mean, come on, it’s not like we’re flying to Santo Domingo today).

“Ay yo también! But I have been living so long in Madrid that I am practically an Española by now! In fact, I even brought a BO-CA-TA with me!” As she said this she took out a foot-long sandwich from her purse (see, told you you could find anything in there) and dove right in. Then she pointed it at her (apparently) newly found friend:

“Quiere?” (Want some?)

“No, gracias. Ay, I should have brought something, que la comida aquí e tan desabría”

 They start bonding over the usual small-talk. Y’know… the usual: whether they are living in Madrid or were just visiting, the current location of every one of their children, the purpose of this particular flight, if they are traveling somewhere else in the DR or just staying in Santo Domingo etc etc etc. I try to fall asleep as we take off, only to wake up later to realize that only 20 minutes had passed.

I see that the two women are still talking and that the one sitting next to me (#1) is trying to dig up something from her purse, but can’t seem to find it. The woman across the hallway (#2) is staring in suspense, and now even I would like to see what is it that woman #1 is going to take out of her purse next…

“Ajá! Aquí está”

Woman #1 takes out a plastic bag that, to my surprise, has 6 different nail polishes. She offers them to Woman #2: “You see, I cannot go for seven hours without finding something to do, so I like to paint my nails. Here, I’ll paint yours” (Huh, so do this make her an A-type then? I have to revise my theory…). I wondered why I had never seen anyone painting her nails before in an airplane. I mean, it is a pretty legit way to pass the time, and since you won’t be moving around and using your hands much you run a lower risk of ruining it. Hmm…Perhaps it’s not so common because people sometimes try to be considerate towards those around them… you know… because nail polish smells… a lot. And… it’s a pressurized vessel, so… you can’t really open the windows…

But I let that pass, and I didn’t about the smell when she opened the bottle of nail polish, I just quietly observed while woman #2 extended her arm across the hallway in order for woman #1 to paint her nails. I even restrain myself from making any sarcastic comment whenever someone attempted to walk down to the bathroom and had to cross this new (wo)man-made barrier. This proved to be, in fact, a challenge, and I realized that the smell of nail polish and the loud conversations just next to me were not making my hangover that much better. But I decide that it’s probably best if I just ignore her. She’s not really bothering me, I’m probably just shocked because the whole nail-polish-on-an-airplane-thing is new to me. So I’ll just go on to read my book, and try to fall asleep again.

We go on most of the flight without making making conversation. She was already besties with woman #2, and really good buddies to the other woman sitting behind me, who was traveling with her two kids. Heck, she even played with one of the kids on one occasion. At one point the food arrived so as they were handing us our trays, and it almost looked as if she was going to say something to me, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

It was only near the end of the flight that we actually got a chance to talk. The crew had just handed over the immigration forms for us to fill, and as I was reaching for my bag I noticed that she was sort of… observing me. I knew immediately what was going on: she was waiting to see my passport. She had not made conversation to with me yet, and I was sitting right next to her, but now was her chance… finally. And then, as soon as I put my passport on the table, she asks me:

“Tu ere dominicana?!?!”

“Yes I am “. Then she turns quickly to woman #2: “Tu vé! Te lo dije, ella e dominicana!!!” (You see, I told you so, she’s Dominican).

She turns back to me and goes:

“It’s just that we have been debating on whether or not you were Dominican, but I told her that you could NOT possibly be Dominican. DON’T ASK ME WHY.”

And of course, since there is only one way to react to that question, I ask her:

Why?”

And she quickly goes:

“Ay é que tu tiene esa cara de truño!” (It’s just that you have that truño face. It vaguely means something like: You look angry/pissed) “Why can’t you just cheer up?”

 “Perdón doña, but to be honest, I’m reaaaally hungover, and I was just trying to sleep a bit, or read my book… I wasn’t trying to be rude…”

 Of course, she did not want my excuses, and she had just got the golden ticket she had waited for 6 and a half hours:

So what were you doing in Spain?”

“I was… on vacation…”

“Do you live in Santo Domingo?”

“No, actually, I live in Canada, but I have to make a stop in Santo Domingo”

 “Canada?”

 “Yes ma’am”

“Is it cold there?”

“Well, definitely more than in Santo Domingo”

“What do you do in Canada?”

“I study”

 “AHHHH How nice! So THAT’S why you seemed to be so concentrated before! Well, keep up the good work, pero cambia esa cara”

I smile back and think: Of course, that’s why I had my truño face.

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Monkey-Mind Syndrome

So my first final is two days from today, and then I have two other consecutive finals a week from then, and then my next exam is on the… when is it again? I have to double-check.

I open yet another tab in the browser, and search: “lse exam calendar”. Ok, so my finals are: the 28th of May, 3rd, 4th, 12th, and 13th of June. Check.

I can go back to studying now.

Actually, let me just write the dates down in my wall calendar. Where’s my Sharpie? It’s probably on my “School Supplies Box”. I have to stand up for that. Might as well though, if I keep sitting any longer I might get another case of bad study knees…

There’s dust on the shelf. That’s not nice. What if there’s so much dust in the apartment that I actually get a flu… during finals. I go by my trusted ally Mr. Murphy, and he says that if anything bad can happen, it will happen. So I cannot let this dust escalate into a flu that will escalate into a fever that will escalate into me missing my finals and having to go a pedí cacao to some academic body to take my exams at a later date. This will interfere with my vacations, which are already planned, of course. So I dust the shelves, the books, the top of the doors, the lamps, and the posters on the wall. Then I take an AntiFlu-Des “just in case”.

Where was I? Right. The Sharpie. I get it and finally go write the dates on my calendar, which is on the kitchen door. I can’t help to stare at the freezer… Did I take out that chicken breast that I was going to cook for lunch? I open the fridge…. Ok I did. How am I going to cook it though? Should I go all Martha Stewart and actually make an Instagram-worthy dish? Or do I really NOT want to bother? Hm, let’s look at some cooking blogs and see if a lightbulb comes on…

But first, let me check my Facebook, it’s been 25 minutes since the last time already.

I scroll down an eclectic feed of Entertainment-industry news, Music news, posts from my favourite TV shows, overused clichés that some facebook friends decided to post in this particular day. Ah! A post about the new X-Men movie! I really liked the movie so I wonder what they have to say about it. I open the link and start reading. It’s a ranking of all the X-Men movies. I try to remember if I have seen all of them. The ranking includes the Wolverine spinoff saga, which I have yet to see (or not, according to this acticle), and I do remember when I went to see X-Men First Class. I also remember watching the very first X-Men movie, back in the day, on VHS. But what about the other two? No I can’t remember… so I go on Youtube to look for the trailers. But then of course, I catch a glimpse of the videos Youtube recommends to me. Huh, another viral clip from Jimmy Fallon, let’s take a look…

Oh wait, someone just liked a post of mine… it’s someone from my program, which reminds me… I was just about to start studying.

Oh my God, I wasn’t like this before. I remember that when I was doing my undergrad in Montreal, I could study for hours on straight. Or could I? I reminisce a little: yes, back then I always studied at the Library, but sometimes I would get distracted looking at the people around me. But I definitely have more distractions now at home. Yes, but at the library, every bathroom or meal break would take longer, so I would also waste more time with logistics back then. But now I’m following way more pages in Facebook, and I have Instagram, and that also makes it harder to stay focused. Yes, but that’s just because I like to think that I am a bit more knowledgeable and cultured now than I was back then, so I’m going to have more interests. Yes, but maybe back then,  because you had less interests,  you devoted more time to each interest, whereas now that you have more interests, maybe the only difference is that your time/interest ratio has fallen remarkably. This means that you are, in fact, less centered. Hm, maybe I can take time/interest, or time/activity and make it an actual thing to measure a certain condition. Heck, maybe it can even be my thing, and they can name the condition after me…. Maybe this could actually put the whole Economics Major-Psychology Minor to good use. But is it really what I want to do? Let’s see… what are my other career options. Oh, there I am, wandering off again. Sh*t.

I remember this quote a friend of mine once shared with me: “Your mind is a monkey, you have to learn how to tame it” (one of her professors shared it with her, it’s not like she has a Yoda complex). Maybe that’s what’s going on. I can’t tame my mind! I can’t get it to focus on just one thing! I have to constantly be aware of EVERYTHING that’s going on, otherwise… well who knows? I have yet to try to stop trying to be so well-informed all the time. But I guess it’s one of those things that you have to take baby steps in order to get over them. So here we go… I’m going to try to be centered. Starting… now.

…Actually, is the “Monkey Mind” really a thing? Like, is it a well-known metaphor that people use? Is this its right context then? I guess I can Google it. Actually, screw Google, I think I can even write about it myself… Let’s call it “Monkey-Mind Syndrome” for now.

…is it ok to hyphenate that? I know there’s a rule for it. For hyphenation, I mean. Well, I guess I could Google that up too while I’m at it…

 

 

 

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A society in diapers

To all my fellow Dominicans….

 

I really enjoy watching Neil deGrasse Tyson interviews on Youtube. If you do not know who I am talking about, Dr. deGrasse Tyson is the guy that makes astrophysics seem like the sexiest career path there ever was. Not only is he full of wisdom, but also, his evident passion towards the universe and scientific discovery is more than just inspiring: it is contagious.

Recently, I watched this video of a debate Neil was participating in, where he was pointing out how religious texts should not be taken as the access point to understand the natural world:

“There is no compelling reason to just say: “Well, God did it”, and then sort of give up (on finding the scientific explanation of things) and move on to other problems (…) My issue is that, if you feel that way, you should not be writing the science curriculum of a classroom. Because if you do, you are undermining the very process science is about. If you undermine that foundation, you undermine the ability of your nation to compete technologically in the 21st century”

 Huh. Makes sense. Sad though, how the whole “what-should-be-our-science-curriculum debate” seems more like a luxury of more developed societies. Never, in my 9 years reading the Dominican press (I calculate that I started reading newspapers around the time I started high school, which was also around the time I started drinking coffee in the mornings. Probably not a coincidence) have I come across an even similar issue. This probably comes to no surprise, as the whole education-policy-thing progresses in baby steps: we have spent the last couple of years advocating to even get the legally-stipulated government budget amount directed at public education, surely we have not even began questioning the competence of our science program.

And I do think that our attitude towards scientific endeavour, and our lack of concern for the scientific progress that we are NOT achieving says a lot about us as a nation. I like to joke around and blame it on our indigenous predecessors, the taínos. If you are not Dominican, there is no reason why you should have come across the taínos at any point in your studies. Usually, the culturally-acceptable minimum knowledge of Latin American indigenous peoples involves only the three “mainstream” tribes: the Mayan, the Aztecs, and the Incas. But you know about them for a reason, I mean, these guys were the true geeks of indigenous peoples, and were all, for the most part, very science-oriented (in their own spiritual, holistic way).

How else do you explain their still-astounding achievements? The Mayans developed their (in)famous calendar, which was, for the most part, pretty damn accurate (we can all now leave that whole 2012-end-of-the-world moment of irrationality behind us). They also had pyramids. The Aztecs pretty much built their capital city on top of a lake, which probably required some tricky engineering work. They also had pyramids. The Incas were the ones with the most unfortunate geography, but hey, they did not let that stop them, and they built a pretty impressive road system, and developed very sophisticated agricultural techniques to cultivate on the hillsides.

You want to know what the taínos’ greatest achievement was? Well, my friends, they invented… THE HAMMOCK. That’s right. Because our indigenous people had their priorities straight, and everyone knows that you cannot go back to work without first having your siesta. You’re welcome, western civilization. (I’m half-joking here, of course. There’s very little taíno DNA in the Dominican blood, as the race pretty much saw its extinction with the arrival of the Spanish colonizers).

But jokes and historical rants aside, I do see a problem. To me, the virtues of science go beyond the results. It is not only that we are able to expand the frontiers of knowledge, invent new devices, or figure out cures for diseases. It is also the fact that it all starts with a question: Why? Or: How? Or: What if? If compels us to look into pre-existing explanations only as a starting point, to then figure out new ways to come up with evidence that will add to previous knowledge, or contradict it. Science is the greenhouse of curiosity, and well, there is an evident lack of curiosity in my country.

Obviously, there are outliers. I once read in one of my textbooks how a Dominican scientist discovered a new breed of the common fly! Good for him! But see? No one really cares (Sadly). We have no science museum the children can go to, and get inspired, and realize that they too, want to discover “stuff” in the future. We have no rigorous lab requirements in high-school, we have no competitive “physics”, or “chemistry”, or “biology” university career option. In fact neither one of my classmates went into “science” after finishing high school. I mean, you have engineering, where there’s applied physics, and medicine, where there’s applied biology and chemistry. But no science “for science sake”. We are too practical for that. We are too materialistic for that. We find absolutely no joy in discovery (apparently, as I like to believe that actions speak louder than words). And this is a problem, because I sometimes ask myself whether we even know what science means, or what it can do for us.

There is the very cliché saying: “Ignorance is bliss”. While this may apply at the individual level (because it does), I do believe that, at the national level, ignorance is doom. I guess it is one of the things that struck me the most coming back to Santo Domingo from studying abroad, how we Dominicans tend to hold tight to whatever “truths” someone with apparent knowledge of power throws your way. But we are not, as the foreign media sometimes portrays us “relatively conservative”, we are just uniformed. Uniformed because our citizens have had very limited exposure to the scientific methodology. And by this, I now move from the specific field of just “science”, as I believe that the scientific methodology pretty much applies to any exercise in analytical thinking that a person undertakes. I mean the ability to actually question what is given to you, and to find and use evidence in the world around you to prove your point. But no, we look for the “truths” from someone or something (religion, mostly) and never ever dare to find them on our own.

And it annoys me because these shortcomings also leave our potential social progress unrealized. Any issue under debate is quickly vetoed under the flag of controversiality. And why is it controversial? “Well… because the BIBLE says…” And because, anything new or different will OBVIOUSLY undermine the well-cherished values of our society (Apparently, discussions about human rights, gay rights, women’s rights, and reproductive rights are indeed a luxury for better-educated societies. We less educated societies have a more limited media-attention span, which is mostly at capacity with issues related to corruption). And yes, there are ultra-religious people in every country of the world, and they are, honestly, a mediatic pain in the a** sometimes, but in more developed nations, they comment because the issue is open for debate. In this case, there is no current national debate going on (heck, debate requires a minimum of logic on both sides, and the ability to support your argument for at least a couple of rounds of cross-examination), and these comments are what is keeping the issue from ever reaching that dialogue stage.

The fact that we live in a traditional machista society does not help much. Why else would Dominican women never challenge the notion of the glass ceiling? Why have Dominican women taken the obvious harassment they face probably at a daily basis, whenever they go to the streets or to most public places for granted? Why has no one questioned whether this is OK? Why are we not debating about this, and finding solutions?

So my point is: our scientific illiteracy shows. And it’s not only that we have to get our sh*t together and start teaching kids in elementary and high school what science can do for them, so that we can ever actually make a contribution to this technology-driven world; but we also have to learn to start to think. To actually think by ourselves without having “the truths” spelled out to us. Because true ignorance is just a lack of curiosity, and until we learn the value of justified skepticism, until we are genuinely captivated by the possibility of discovery, and until we exercise those logic and reasoning muscles that are somewhere under those rolos, we will be a society in diapers.

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…on Communism and my first fencing instructor

My first fencing instructor was Cuban. This should come to no surprise to someone with enough imagination to probably figure out that fencing instructors are in short supply in the Dominican Republic. In fact, the sport itself is not exactly “popular”, as the country’s attention span is, for the most part, limited to everything baseball-related (the Roland Garros final will probably get one column in the last page of the sports section, but if David Ortiz strains his shoulder, oh believe me, it will make the front page of the paper).

Anyways, back to my Cuban instructor: he was an… interesting  fella. Had a bit of a tough time with the whole smiling thing, and for the longest time I could not figure out whether I was just terrible at fencing, or whether it was actually physically impossible for him to point out whenever I would correctly perform an action. But don’t get me wrong, I learned a great deal from the man, and it was probably thanks to his incessant brainwashing attempts that I ever became so disciplined in sports.

He was sent to the Dominican Republic (in my understanding) by  some agreement that someone from my government made with someone from his government, which basically meant that he was on a sort of “sports-diplomatic duty”. He was representing the Cuban government and the Cuban people, and had a very specific mandate in this “mission”. I wish I had more of an insider’s scoop on what they were or were not allowed to do, or how, actually, they were selected in Cuba, but one of the things I did find out was that they, under no circumstances, should undertake another paid job somewhere else.

Now, I know I mentioned the whole “representing the Cuban people” as sort of a hyperbole, but he sure seemed to take this role seriously. I mean, he would not waste one single opportunity to point out what was wrong with us Dominican people. Every time one of my fellow team-mates was late for practice, he would just go:

“You Dominicans can NEVER be on time. You see, in Cuba…

Or whenever something “went missing” from the equipment room:

“You Dominicans have the BAD HABITS of stealing. You see, in Cuba…”

Or whenever he yelled at us for doing something wrong, and we tried to explain:

“You Dominicans always want to JUSTIFY YOURSELVES for everything. Why do you always have to find an excuse? You see, in Cuba…”

So yes, he was THAT guy. Always implying how Cuba was somehow “morally superior” to the Dominican Republic. He seemed so eager in proving to us how their country’s regime made them such great individuals, and how we Dominicans should try to learn more from them. We would sometimes even get into discussions about it, and I was really curious just to see how Cubans who are actually on the side of the government (technically, as he was in a sort of government mission, like I mentioned before) thought about certain issues. In the most memorable discussion we had, he went on a twenty minute rant explaining why garbage collectors should have the same salary as doctors.

“BECAUSE THEY ARE DOING THE JOB THAT NOBODY IN SOCIETY WANTS TO DO!! THEY ARE THE ONES DEALING WITH THE GARBAGE!! SURGEONS, THEY’RE PRETTY COMFORTABLE, THEY ARE NOT THE ONES GETTING THEIR HANDS DIRTY, ANYONE COULD WORK LIKE THAT.”

I was a little shocked by his logic:

 “So you’re saying that anyone can do a surgeon’s job? That you don’t have to go to college, and then get your pre-med, and then get your medical degree, and then do internships, and then get a specialty, all while sacrificing most of your relationships with your loved ones for your career. And still, go into operations that last for hours, where there is a risk that the patient won’t even make it, to then go back home and pretend you did not just see someone die…. Is easier than being a garbage collector?” (No offense to garbage collectors, I do appreciate your contribution to society, but I also think a little perspective never hurt anyone).

But he would just go in circles:

 “BUT THE GARBAGE COLLECTORS HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE FILTH OF SOCIETY. THAT IS ACTUALLY THE HARDEST JOB!”

(Alright, no point in wasting my time trying to convince this guy).

And it’s funny, you see, because Cuba and the Dominican Republic are really similar. In fact, you could almost take the introduction of Communism in Cuba, and the “democracy” in the Dominican Republic as a natural experiment to how regime type can affect a country’s development. (Econometricians reading this, and I know there’s a lot of you, don’t freak out, I know this would be pretty tricky, inaccurate, and most of the results would probably be greatly biased anyways. But my point is, if Cuba had not become Communist, we probably would have a lot in common. I mean, you can’t really predict how history will go, but let’s just stick to that assumption for the purpose of this blog post). Other than the whole regime thing, we’re both islands in the Caribbean, we were both colonized by the Spanish, and they pretty much brought the extinction of the indigenous population on both of our islands, so we are today, for the most part, mulattoes. We both speak Spanish, and have that Caribbean accent that make other Spanish-speaking nations wonder what the hell is it that we’re trying to say.

Now, a small parenthesis on that point. I am aware that Dominican Spanish is a sacrilege to the “proper Spanish”. How I explain it to my non-Spanish speaking friends is: “Well, you know Mexican Spanish?” (I find that most American/Canadians are more familiar with that particular breed of Spanish). “Think of Mexican Spanish as a pop song, and then Dominican Spanish would be sort of like… a RAP song”. I also find that stand-up comedian Anjelah Johnson has a brilliant way of putting it: “You see, to me when I hear Puerto-Ricans speak Spanish, it sounds like they have water in their mouth… and they don’t want it to spill… you know what I mean? Like… óla cómo tá ké kiere komé…. Oié ké tá pasando?” (So Caribbean Spanish in general is similar-ish). End of parenthesis.

Back to the comparisons: we also both have a soft spot for fried food, we both had sugar plantation economies, and we both are crazy about béisbol (which is directly a consequence of the sugar plantation economies, but that’s a story I’ll leave for later). Tourism is our main export, and we have also a reputation with Rum and Cigars (although the whole US-embargo thing has somehow worked to put Cuban cigars on a pedestal… they’re not normatively better than Dominican cigars, they’re just forbidden so you get that whole badass vibe going for you if you claim to be smoking one). We both have similar music and dance styles (men dance with their hips, which I have realized that some non-latinos find it hard to wrap their heads around the fact), and so we could go on with the similarities…

And yet, objectively, even though I would probably want it to be otherwise, Cuba can kick the DR’s a** in every education indicator. Hell, most of my most brilliant and memorable teachers in high school were from Cuba. You will not see Cuban university students struggle with their grammar, and for sure, if they had access to internet and online press, I can bet they would not make sure embarrassing spelling mistakes in every comment they leave. They can also kick our a** in most Olympics sports. I mean, there are exceptions to the rules, obviously, and you cannot make generalizations, and we do have excellent athletes in the DR etc etc etc… But the numbers speak by themselves. I mean, Cuba has won 208 Olympic medals, that is 18.8 medals per million people. The DR was won 6 Olympic medals, which is 0.59 medals per million people. It is also a known fact that Cuba has a stellar crew of Doctors, which they seem to deploy (similar to the fencing instructors) to other countries as well, or put at the disposition of diplomatic missions. Another known fact is the government’s competence in disaster preparation and reliefs efforts. In fact, their low number of casualties and death in response to hurricanes or tropical storms can put the Dominican government to shame.

But what do Olympic medals, great teachers, competent disaster relief and doctors tell you about a nation? Well, although by any economic standard Cuba may look very third-worldy, by most health and education standards they are outliers in the region, standing shoulder to shoulder with other developed nations. And they are great athletes too, which is always a plus.

Ah yes… my instructor would always point out to me how Cuban fencers were so dedicated that, even if they were out of weapons, they would scrap something together from sticks or something like that (ironically, I couldn’t understand the process he was trying to explain to me because of his accent). Unfortunately (actually, fortunately) I went abroad for college, and so that marked the end of that trainer-trainee bond. I never saw him again, and it was only after asking one of my team-mates that I found out what became of him…

My mother advised me once to “never spit to the sky” (obviously, doing so would make the spit fall straight into your eye. The phrase has a better ring to it in Spanish, trust me on this one). And I think this phrase summarizes perfectly what became of my old instructor. You see, for all that is worth, all the wellbeing and the “moral superiority” thing he was so adamant about (for the record, he never explicitly said that Cubans were morally superior to Dominicans, but to me it was implicit in his attitude), he chose to broke the terms of his contract and now cannot go back to Cuba. I learned that, after I left, he took a job as an aerobics instructor for a resort or a gym (or both), and was also kind of making a business of selling injury relief creams.

So why then, were all the perks of a healthy, educated society not enough? While there are a handful of explanations in every social science of why communism doesn’t work, and why you see repression in these regimes, and why their incentive system is so messed up etc etc etc,  I just wanted to humbly go back to one of them: lack of choice.  You see, we humans need choice, because it makes us believe that we are somehow in control of our lives. And apparently, choice is so important to us that we are even willing to sacrifice returning to a regime we once so eagerly stood up for. Of course, I do like to believe that there are diminishing marginal returns to choice. (Economists love to talk about “marginal returns”, I know, but once you get familiarized with the concept, it’s hard to keep yourself from using it as your go-to-explanation for anything that it could apply to). Anyways, for non-Economists out there, diminishing marginal returns is why the first bite of your meal is always the tastier, and why going from your first to your second beer makes you happier than going from your eight to your ninth. It also explains why having a 108th brand of cookies is not going to make Americans any happier, but why even selling another brand of anything in Cuba can make such a difference .

Another Cuban professor of mine liked to tell us the story of how, when they arrived to the Dominican Republic, they were the most impressed at the ice-cream shops. You see, in Cuba they only have the original trinity (chocolate-strawberry-vanilla), but in the DR, as they walked into the ice-cream shop, they couldn’t help to be amazed at “all the colors”. So I just find it interesting, how choice seems so relevant after you have your basics sorted (you know, education, health, etc…), whereas for us Dominicans (and for most of the western world) it is something we take for granted, and we currently struggle to sort our basics…

Sorry if I disappoint the reader with my lack of a conclusion, but I did not intend to make a political statement here, I just wanted to tell a story, and maybe have its political implications resonate with the reader depending on their own experience. I guess I do like to wonder off comparing Cuba with the Dominican Republic sometimes, and wonder about the “what ifs”. The fact is that our geography and our people are so alike that we would mostly be competing in every possible international arena. Or hey, maybe our history would be different if Cuba had not become communist: maybe the US government would not have been so scared of the communist threat in the region and would not have helped depose the most progressive and democratic president we had at the time (and probably ever, in our history as a nation). But, bottom line is, sometimes regimes can get so stuck up on an “ideal” that they lose sight of what really matters for their people. And sometimes we would like to think that Utopias where everyone has the same, and collaborates, and no one exploits anyone is possible can make everyone happy. But history has proven for it to be otherwise. Because at the end of the day, ideologies and Utopias cannot contradict human nature, and what once was seemed like the solution, can be a mere anachronism today. Because while health and education are necessary but not sufficient for the progress and wellbeing of a nation; and because “isms” can quickly turn into the concept mummies that haunts and hinders our very human instinct to adapt to the times, for the sake of our own people.

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So you want to get your driver’s permit?

It was a Wednesday morning in the beginning of July in Santo Domingo, and for some reason it seemed like the perfect time for me to finally go get my driver’s permit. I was 21 at the time, so yes, it kind of took me a long time to finally get that sorted, but hey, I lived abroad for four years in a city with a more-than-decent public transport system, so it’s not like I ever had the need to…

Anyways, it was probably the living abroad thing that completely spoiled me. Blame the fact that I was so used to Canadian bureaucracy that was kind of expecting a near-competent treatment from its Dominican counterpart. So, in the eve of my visit to the Transport Office, I looked up in their website (very naïve of me, in retrospect) which documents I needed to bring with me. I needed 2 2×2 photos (check), a copy of my ID (check), and the receipt of the payment of the corresponding taxes (check).

I arrived to the reception, only after receiving the “up and down stare” from every “officer” in the vicinity (the “up and down stare” is pretty much a custom among uneducated Dominican males, as they feel it is their legitimate right to violently observe every women that crosses their way, and their duty to shout at them any compliment that, in their view, is both clever and flattering).

“Buenas, I am here to get my driver’s permit”

 “Did you pay the tax?”

“Yes I did” (Amalia: 1 – DGTT:0)

“Did you bring a copy of your ID?”

“Yes I did” (Amalia:2 – DGTT:0)

“Did you bring your photo?”

“Yes I did” (Amalia: 3 – DGTT:0)

 “Did you bring your certificate of good behaviour?”

 “My WHAT?!”

 “CERTIFICATE-OF-GOOD-BEHAVIOUR” (Amalia: 3 – DGTT: 1)

“Yeah… I understood, but in the website… it didn’t say I needed one” (Again: NAÏVE)

“Well, nobody ever checks or updates the website anyways. But you do need one, you can get one at that booth over there to your left. It’s 150 pesos. “

“C*ño” I thought to myself. I headed over to where the receptionist pointed me, and struggled to find where exactly it was that I had to line up. You see, I firmly believe that practices like “making a line”, or “raising your hand to speak”, or “taking the right side if you’re standing up on electrical escalators” are specific to some cultures and not others, and well, I guess Dominican culture falls within the latter. I make my way to the front of the… bunch, and ask the guy at the other side of the window where was the line (Naïve). He told me to just hand him the papers, and that they would call my name when my papers were ready. Fair enough. I do so, and go to sit down.

If we Dominicans were not so creative at naming our offspring, that hour and-a-half that I waited for my certificate of good behaviour would have probably felt like 5 hours instead of 3 and a half. I tried to keep myself from laughing at hearing through the loudspeakers:

“HUGOBERTO DÍAZ. HUU-GO-BEEERTO DÍAZ”

or

“DAYNERIS MENCIÓN. DAY-NEE-RIS MENCIÓN”

or, my personal favourite:

“DESVALIDO PÉREZ. DEES-VA-LII-DO PÉREZ”

I also was somewhat amused at the guys who actually got nervous about whether they would actually qualify to get a paper of good conduct. I heard this one guy ask the window-man:

“Ey, amigo, so… if I have one teeny–tiny record in deportations, can I still get my license?”

The window-man just stared at him, but said that it was no problem. Finally, my name is called, I get my certificate, and move on to the next stage. So, in a nutshell: I had to go to the registration desk, where they get my documentation, and send me to get my eye exam. My eye exam consists of repeating three letters that were in a poster on the wall. I get a card that says that I have 20/20 vision, even though I was clearly wearing glasses. I then go to get tested for my blood type, to finally receive my “driver’s manual”, and sit on the waiting room for the infamous 45-minute long “educational video”.

By the time I walked into the classroom where the video was going to be projected, I had been in that building for almost 3 hours, and was at least one hour away from doing the actual test. It was Santo Domingo in the summer, so it was pretty hot, and it was a government building, so there was obviously no AC. The room starts packing up with others in my same situation. It was a very heterogeneous group: you had the 17 and 18-year old students, you had older ladies who finally decided it was about time to start driving legally, you had the truck drivers, motorcyclists, university students…. A fairly good sample of the Dominican ecosystem. Then, right after the room is at capacity two older ladies walk in, and the instructor asks if someone can give them their seat. Well, Dominicans are pretty good at not shutting up, but I can assure you, at this point, I heard crickets. All the guys just stared at the celing, one even complaining:

“I ain’t giving no one my seat”

or

“You have to move fast, otherwise people come and try to take your seat from you”.

Chivalry, my friends, is dead.

The video starts, and although it was only 45 minutes, it is as if the heat makes everything move slower. Every time the instructors would walk back into the room to check on us, someone would complain:

“Qué caloraso!”

or

“Así no se puede”

or

“Turn on a fan or something que no vamo’ a morí”

or, my all-time favourite:

“We’re going to suffocate in here from all the carbon MONOXIDE” (hey, you can’t blame the guy for having an automobile-complex).

It only got worse after the video ended and the instructor walked back into the room. At that point, she was so kindly giving us some of the answers to questions that may appear on the test. In fact, she even made us repeat them: kindergarden-style:

“SE-REBASA-POR-LA-IZQUIERDA”

or

“YOU-SLOW-DOWN-WHEN-THE-LIGHT-IS-YELLOW”

At one point she even tried to spice it up, and instead of having us repeat the statements, she would ask yes/no questions:

“Do you stand half a meter apart from a motorcycle?”

“NO”

“Do you stand a meter and a half apart from a motorcycle?”

“YES!!!”

(Apparently, she knew what she was doing, everyone around me was really getting into this “game”)

I finally go and take my exam. No fun stories there. I pass the exam (surprise, surprise), and finally, start to see the light at the end of the tunnel as I go to another booth to get my photo taken, get my card, and get the hell out of that office. (I was also starting to get hangry. Yes, hAngry). I make yet-another line for my picture, wait like 20 more minutes until I finally get to the counter. This guy sees my papers, asks for my weight, height, and all the other crap they have to put in your card. He takes my picture, I start to feel tears of joy coming, and then:

“It says here you have a restriction”

 “A WHAT now?!”

 “A restriction, because when you issued your previous permit you were underage.”

 “Yes, but I did not went through all the stages as if I was renewing it, I started from SCRATCH.”

“Yes, but you have to get that removed”

“Well, remove it then”

“I can’t do that. You have to go to another booth…”

“ANOTHER BOOTH? LISTEN, I HAVE BEEN HERE FOR NEARLY FIVE HOURS. I HAVE BEEN TO EVERY SINGLE BOOTH IN THIS BUILDING, AND NOBODY EVER MENTIONED ANYTHING ABOUT A RESTRICTION. THE GUY WHO FIRST TOOK A LOOK AT MY PAPERS IN RECEPTION SAW MY RECORD, AND HE DID NOT SAY A THING, AND NOW YOU’RE TELLING ME THAT I HAVE TO GO SEE ANOTHER OFFICER TO GET THIS STUPID RESTRICTION REMOVED” (It may sound lame in print, but it was a pretty intimidating explosion, trust me on this). The guy got a little scared, and the sight of my bright red face was probably not helping much.

“It will only take a second, I promise. And you won’t have to line up when you come back”

I had no other choice, so I walk to the opposite end of the building, storm through every door that I had to storm, and pretty much answer in bark-form to every question that requires a yes/no answer. That last stage is a mere blur just now, but I remember that I had to go to one office to get a piece of paper, then take that piece of paper to someone else in another office to stamp, then take the stamped paper for someone else to sign, and then get that person’s signature signed over by her supervisor. They all noticed I was mad and tired (and if they were any clever, they would have realized that I was hangry too). So they were all like “No te quille” (don’t get mad, in Dominican slang). Or, “cambia esa cara, que tu eres muy linda” (Change that face because your pretty, a prime example of Dominican logic at work. Also, apparently is ok for workers in government office to say this to you). Or, “Que te pasa? No te preocupes, eso no es nada” (What’s going on? It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.

I go back, cut the line, and stare at the window-man that was going to give me my card straight in the eye. He takes my papers from me and says that it will only take a minute. I go sit down for the (hopefully final) wait. At that time, the two guys sitting next to me probably realized how mad I was (I would be surprised if there was no steam coming out of my head). So, he though it would make it all better to go for a round of compliments. This one was even more interesting, as he was not complimenting me directly, but rather talking to his friend next to me about me. Smooth guy. I wonder what could have been…

“Ella ta’ como killá” (She looks like she’s kinda mad)

“Eso é polque ella fea… pero a la inversa” (It’s because she’s ugly… but in inverse.)

Again, I’m not sure why I had never heard that brilliant piece of compliment before, but I encourage everyone to start using it: “She is ugly, but in inverse”.

Finally, yes FINALLY, my name is called; I get my card and shove it so quickly in my purse that I don’t even get a chance to look at it. 6-and-a-half hours later, I had my driver’s permit.

 

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What the international press is missing about Dominican-Haitian relations

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Last week, the Dominican Senate unanimously approved a bill that grants citizenship to Dominican-born sons of immigrants that are in the Civil Registry. The law was sent to Congress by President Medina after the disastrous international response to the Tribunal Constitucional’s ruling that stripped all offspring of immigrant parent’s off their Dominican citizenships, plunging them into a constitutional, legal and administrative vacuum. Now, just to get the numbers out of the way, according to an immigration census carried in 2013, there are around half a million Haitians in the Dominican Republic, which represents 87.3% of all immigrants, and 5.4% of the total population in the country.

 

However, it is not my intention to get into the details of either of these rulings, or their implications for the Dominican or the Haitian people. Instead, I am more concerned with the national and international reception of the news, and how these have (once again) re-sparked the debate about what “ideal” relations between the Dominican Republic and Haiti would look like, and whether the Dominican Republic should have a more flexible immigration policy towards their Haitian neighbors. On the one hand, the ultra-nationalists claim that Haitians want to invade our country and unify the island, and that we should stand by the ideals of our patriots and “defend” our sovereignty. On the other hand, the international press thinks that the Dominican Republic has systematically committed violations against the rights of Haitian people, that our immigration policies are guided by racism and disdain for the Haitians, and that there is a certain lack of solidarity from our part, as maybe, we are just not doing enough for our neighbors.

 

Well, the truth is that this is not a “good country/bad country” story, and that it may be time for all of us (Haitians, Dominicans, international press) to swallow the bitter pill: yes, there definitely are some issues between Dominican and Haitians, and they will probably will not be solved by a law passed by congress. This is because we are dealing with a case of historic resentment here, resentment that unfortunately has been continuously fed by authoritarian leaders on both sides of the border, resentment that has led to mass killings, resentment that has led to a racism embedded in an entire nation, resentment that has led to stereotypes, misconceptions, and insults.

 

There are no analogies here. It is not a “US-Mexico” scenario, it is not a “Eastern Europe-Western Europe” scenario, or any other current immigration scenario under debate. No, the fact is that because some Spanish colonizers a few hundred years ago left the West of the island for the French to take, now we have two completely different nations cohabiting a 29,530 sq-miles territory. To make matters more complicated, it is not that Dominicans and Haitians were  “part of the same people separated by some arbitrary border”. No, what the international community seems to miss is that Dominicans and Haitians are racially and culturally very different. Interestingly, this racial difference demonstrates how the French colonizers differed from the Spanish colonizers. You see, even though both imported African slaves to work the plantations on their sides of the island, the Spanish colonizers would “mix” with their African slaves, bringing a race of mulatto descendants, while the French colonizers would not “mix” with their slaves, and so the majority of their population would remain black (the white minority would be mostly kicked out with the Haitian independence).

 

As for tales of Independence, I had been taught in high school that after we got our Independence from Spain, the Haitians (already independent from France) would invade our country, and occupy it for 22 years. It somewhat surprises some of my non-Dominican friends when I tell them that the day we commemorate as our independence day is not the day we got our independence from Spain, but the day we got it from Haiti. Yes, it seems hard to believe that any country would have to go to war to get their independence from what today is the poorest country in the hemisphere.

 

And yet, while talking to some Haitian friends, I learned THEIR version of the story. They were not “invading” us, they were “protecting” us from Spain, and eradicating slavery on this side of the island. We Dominicans, as ungrateful as we are, kicked them back to their side (only to then be sold again to Spain, but that’s another story). In many comments in international papers and magazines about the topic I have seen Haitians explain how they were taught that the island of “Hispaniola” is one and indivisible. Try mentioning that to any Dominican you see walking on the street and see how he reacts. See the historical resentment brewing?

 

So yes, Dominicans and Haitians got off to a rocky start, and it did not get better after that. Anti-Haitianism became somewhat embedded in our identity, and the battle for Dominicaness moved to a new battlefield: “race”. I dare you to find a Dominican who admits to being black. It is impossible; because the Haitians are black, and Dominicans and Haitians are different people, so a Dominican cannot be black. He may be a darker shade of mulatto, but never black, obviously.

 

And yes, diplomatic relations have not been the greatest either, with both nations (still) striking whenever they get the chance. The fact that in 1937 our dictator ordered a mass killing of Haitians probably did not help this historical resentment from both sides, but hey, any educated Dominican will tell you that she/he is not proud of it either. Point is, we have to take things for what they are. We have two ethnically-different, developing nation cohabiting a small island in the middle of the Caribbean. Immigration flows from West to East, as there are presumably more economic opportunities in the Dominican Republic than in Haiti.

 

Pro-Haitian groups will quickly highlight the fact that the Haitians are a vital economic force in the country, being the majority of the sugar plantation and construction workers, and that acknowledging their legal presence has obvious implications for the economic growth of our country. Anti-Haitian groups will highlight the fact that a significant portion of the public health budget goes towards attending Haitian women that “come to the country to give birth under better conditions”. Pro-haitians will point out that most Dominican-born Haitians are already assimilated into Dominican culture, and do not even know how to speak French or creole. Anti-Haitians will point out that it is not in most Haitians’ interest to “assimilate” into Dominican culture, and that what is going on is a “new invasion” of our side of the island. And so arguments go on, and on, and on…

 

As for the international community, the relevant news is the Dominican Republic’s shortcomings in legislating a solution to this immigration issue. But, to be fair, immigration is a recurrent debate in many developED nations in the world. Nations that by most indicators fare better than the Dominican Republic in terms of education, governance, and wellbeing, and they still have yet to devise a solution to their immigration issues. Now, I’m not attempting to atone the DR’s policy-makers, and as I mentioned before, I do not think we can draw analogies from one immigration scenario to another, but I do want to put things in perspective to show that there are, in fact, no easy solutions to immigration issues.

 

So, why can’t we all just get along? Until we get past our historical resentment, we will continue to see ourselves as antagonists, rather than brothers. Until we get past that resentment, we Dominicans will turn to racism as our primed mechanism of defense against whatever threat Haitians may represent to us. Until we get past that resentment, we will keep telling two sides of the same story, and amending it to our convenience with each further diplomatic crisis. Until we get past that resentment, we will feel trapped in island that seems to claustrophobic for the both of us. Until we get past that resentment, we will continue to attempt to exploit the other side to our advantage, taking advantage of their cheap labour or their slightly more efficient services. Until we get past that resentment, we will not be able to see that the prosperity on our side does not need to come at the expense of the misery on the other side, and that cooperation would in fact, make us both better off. Until then, every debate on the issue will only result in extremisms, every piece of legislation is going to be perceived as a new threat, and every wrongdoing is going to be blamed on the other side.

 

 

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