Coming from a diverse country like the United States and being a first generation Mexican American, I would have thought that I would have been fully prepared for today and that everything that I would learn is something that I have already experienced with my immediate family. However, today honestly opened my eyes and brought me out of the bubble that the US is the only country that faces immigration issues.
We started off our day with a wonderful breakfast followed by an educational seminar where we talked about the controversy between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As a warm up, or icebreaker as we like to call it here, we had a partner discussion about where our names come from and how it shows the process of migration from past. I got to know the history of one of my great friends, Ariela, and got the chance to learn a lot more about where she came from. One thing that she said that really stuck to me was that she identifies herself as mixed, not one race or another, really embracing both of her cultures.
We then headed to a small community about two hours from Bonao called Batey Libertad which initially served as a residence for migrant Haitians who came to the DR to work in sugar cane fields. When we got there, we did a quick circle of introduction and got to know many of the Yspaniola staff and committee, which was great. We got divided into groups and left with our host families to have some delicious meals. During this time, we got to know more about our host families and about the difficulties of living in the Dominican Republic of Haitian descent, especially in a place like Batey Libertad. Talking to Rosalina, one of the committee members was personally one of my highlights. Seeing a girl so young and active in her community with the little resources really inspired me. Rosalina also talked about some other personal stories. Although she is not Haitian or of Haitian descent herself, she states that she knows people who have been stopped and threatened and hurt by the police because they “look” Haitian. She elaborated more and then got to the point that no one who looks Haitian is safe. After having a small Q&A with all of the community members, we then had the chance to actually interact and have fun with the little kids. Seeing kids happy is my weakness and I wish that you guys could see how genuinely happy these children are without many materialistic privileges. There was one kid in particular, Alex that melted my heart. As Lider del Dia, we have to wear a cape around the whole time and as soon as I got there he instantly ran up to me because he thought I was a superhero. He grabbed my hand and started swinging me around and was so happy to see me. I had to leave to go on the tour but as soon as I got back, he came up to me again and sat on my lap asking me if I would read a book to him. I did, of course and he was so excited. As soon as I pulled out my camera, he wanted to take a picture and when I showed it to him, he gave me that great cheesy smile again. Earlier, we saw another young kid who had made a toy car out of a water bottle and bottle caps. If you were able to see the smile that he had on his face as he walked around with his bottle cap car you would have been able to share in the same joy that I experienced! It is crazy, again, to see that no matter how limited some resources are, these kids will make it happen!
We said our goodbyes and headed back to Bonao to have dinner. Today was Emiliano’s birthday so after dinner, we sang las mananitas and lit the cake! To be honest, we were so loud but thinking about all the loudness now has reminded me of how close we have gotten as a group. As we sang, all of the guys around him were patting his head. We were literally screaming at the top our lungs and taking so many pictures that he didn’t even know which way he should look. I had so much fun and the room was full of such great vibes.
There are four days left on this trip and although I was very homesick in the beginning, I do not think that I am ready to leave just yet. I have learned so much, and not to sound cliche, I have honestly made so many friendships that I know will last a lifetime. I told my roommates that no matter what, we will always be close because we spent so much time together and have gone through so much to let go of everything that we have formed and all of the laughs we have created. I can truly say that I love every single member of this delegation and that this is just the beginning to our great journey of life.
I know this is a very very long blog, but I hope you guys enjoyed it! By the way, for those who may not know, they call me Mama G for various reasons but that would take too long to explain. On behalf of the other glimpsers, we miss our families so much and excited to see you guys!
Ma y Pa, los extrano mucho pero no se preocupen ya mero llego para seguir dandoles la luz que necessitan haha. Los quiero y cuidense! Ivan, I know you are dying but I’ll be home soon. Alberto, I miss you so much and hang in there!