Quote of the day: “History, for all its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Maya Angelou
I had the pleasure of being the leader of the day for one of the most incredible groups of students. I am so thankful for how lucky I am, and we are really starting to come together as one–although I think that getting through the complications at the beginning of our trip together definitely helped speed up the process.
We started off the day with some interactive seminars on culture and safety, as well as being the leader of the day. We set powerful norms for our group, and we made wishes for what we hope we will all get of the experience. We appreciate that Jorge and Irene made the seminars so interactive, and they got super competitive, and at one point I laughed so hard I cried.
After lunch, we went on a powerful tour of the city of San Juan, and we were moved so much by learning the history of the Dominican Republic. I appreciated that we started by learning of the indigenous people, or Taino. We learned about the chief, or Cacique (one of our words of the day), Caonabo. He fought against the Spanish colonization and oppression of the Taino people. Caonabo’s wife, Anacoana, was one of the island’s first feminists, fighting for fair treatment of women and against the Spanish oppression. We saw where she would sit on the rock at the exact center of the island.
We learned how Christopher Columbus and the rest of the Spanish began to colonize the island, killing almost all of the Taino population in the process. As the Taino were killed, the Spanish needed more labor, so they brought in African people as slaves. Since this time, the Dominican people have been fighting to have their independence and their story told–from gaining independence from Spain in 1822, only to be invaded by Haiti 9 weeks later, to the devastating impact of US involvement masqueraded as benevolent intervention. We learned about how the Dominican Republic was ruled by a terrible dictator, General Rafael Trujillo, who massacred over 35,000 Haitians because he wanted to “whiten” the country. This lead to a really deep conversation with our PCs about racism, discrimmination, and colorism both in the present day Dominician Republic and in the United States.
My favorite spot on the tour was definitely talking to Georgette Michellen, who let us into her home, the oldest in San Juan. She told us many stories of her memories growing up in the house, and many of us were so moved by her generosity that we stopped to give her big squeezes as we left.
One of my biggest takeaways from the day was thinking about whose history gets told, and how we challenge ourselves to discover the stories and legacies of those that have been oppressed by those in power. I thought a lot about the bravery by people like Orlando Martínez, who told the truth of what terrors were happening with President Joaquín Balaguer. I questioned whether we would have the bravery to discover and tell the truth if we witness something terrible. I hope we will as we carry the inspiration of these stories with us throughout this journey and the rest of our lives.
We finished our tour by tasting some yummy paletas, or ice cream pops, which I enjoyed so much that the students laughed that I had gotten it all over my face. After we returned, we all ran to the showers, as during the passing of the torch of the nightly meeting, we would officially begin living like a local. Because many people in the region regularly do not have electricity and water, we are going 24 hours without it ourselves. We are each given a half a bucket of water to bathe and flush the toilet, so we are all learning how to flush poop down using simply water and gravity, and we giggled as we walked around the hostel lighting up smiles with candles and flashlights. Wish us luck as we make it through the night with no fans to keep us cool, but we know when we work and bond with the locals tomorrow, we will feel all feel gratitude for this experience of building empathy through walking through their shoes.