February 24, 2011
Safety & Security Offices, Dartmouth College
L: So Keysi, what does citizenship mean to you and how do you identify yourself in terms of citizenship?
K: Wow, I think I asked that question to a group.* [*Keysi is referring to the applicants we interviewed together for the Dominican Republic Alternative Spring Break trip that we are leading].
L: Yea, I wonder who that could be? (L and K laugh)
K: Well citizenship to me means to be part of and recognized as part of that group which forms your society, of the circle in which you live. And sort of being, carrying out stewardship, toward being a, a – I think that is something that is earned, so it’s earned by your actions – is that sense of belonging and that sense of being accepted. And doing it in the way that you carry yourself contributes to that society in which you live in. Therefore you could claim that you are a citizen of it, that you belong in it, and that you can be accepted and/or recognized as belonging to it, as being part of it because you’ve earned it, because you’ve contributed to it. And that could be manifested in big ways and it could be manifested in little ways. Like it could be manifested in little ways such as picking up garbage as you walk down the street.
L: How about for you, how is that manifested?
K: I think it is manifested as I try to be fruitful and contributing in any which way I can within the circle. I always try to be useful and helpful, if you will.
L: So what if I were to ask you about a more “conventional” view of citizenship of being “American” or “Dominican.” How do you feel you fit or don’t fit into that sort of national idea of citizenship?
K: Well, when it comes to issues of legality and then when it comes to issues of nationality or national identity or nationalism – which the spectrum sort of passes everything – but national identity is completely different from nationalism. Nationalism is this sort of zealous way of protecting what you think you are and why you don’t want others to sort of come in and taint or melt or sort of deteriorate, so that it’s sort of like a protective and sometimes aggressive type of nationalism. But in terms of the legal definition, that’s another aspect. I remember when I began working in this business, not being a quote end quote US citizen was of interest to me as a legal definition. Because one is able to make an arrest on the common law principle of “citizen’s arrest,” which means that when a crime is committed in your presence, you have the right to make a citizen’s arrest. But that was the legal definition, it’s like, but quote end quote I am not a citizen. That was actually changed in many many states and in the law and in the federal government. So whereas it used to say “citizen” before, it has been substituted for “a private person,” to divorce that from the idea of legal status of an individual. But that was interesting in terms of that legal definition. In terms of my definition, as a citizen, I think I’m an earthling. I’m a citizen of the globe, citizen of planet Earth. As a citizen otherwise, I have duel citizenship. I have a United States passport, which I use to travel. It’s very convenient. I will not get stopped as I used to before when I used to carry a Dominican passport. But I will maintain my Dominican citizenship because the Dominican constitution allows for one to have citizenship somewhere else without them considering that you have renounced your Dominican citizenship. So I have the privilege or the advantage of having that dual citizenship. And my passport for the United States says, “Citizenship: United States of America,” “Country of Origin: Dominican Republic.”
L: When did you get that?
K: Oh, I’m going to have to reveal my age. In the early ‘90s. Yep, I think became a United States citizen either in 1991 or in 1992. Tell you a funny story, though, about that. So when I went to take my citizenship examination, part of it was an English proficiency test, so I went down to the office in Brooklyn and, I kid you not, I think that he gave me a brown paper bag from where he had just had his lunch, and told me that he was going to give me a dictation.
L: To write on the brown bag?
K: Yea, that was my test. So he says, “Many come to America looking for freedom.” (Long pause). That was the test. And I was there like, Ok, I thought I was going to have to write like a seven page essay.
L: That’s funny, the sentence he chose too. “Many come to America looking for freedom.” So what did getting US citizenship mean to you, or what feelings did you have about that?
K: It’s interesting because coming from a developing country, which has had a mixed relationship with the United States, in which the United States has always been seen as the imperialist empire, I had mixed feelings about it, I must admit it. The best way I could say they manifested was perhaps my father was the last person I told that I had become a United States citizen because there was always that political resistance, if you will, to being part of the beast, if you will.
L: In what ways do you feel like you fit in or don’t fit in in the United States? And how, if at all, has that depended on where you’ve been living in the U.S., for example New York versus Hanover?
K: Interesting enough, I came to New York and pretty much in New York, I fit. There’s no question about it, it’s sort of like that very vibrant city with a very very high, I mean, my high school had people from 52 different nations, so that was a common factor. Then I went to grad school in the Midwest, Cincinnati, Ohio, and for the first time in my life I was asked point blank, whether I was white or black, so that was definitely a change. Then I moved to the Southwest, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and people looked at me and they recognized that I was Latino, Hispanic, or something thereof. However, when I opened up my mouth, and I spoke with this accent, which was of course unheard of, or unlike, the accents they are accustomed for a person with my looks to have, the follow-up question, even before what my name was, was where was I from? So that was interesting in that regard. And I’ve come to realize that because of my looks and because of my accent, I will say something to people and they will ask me to repeat even before I have finished my sentence. So that sometimes happens, and I feel like, snap out of it, or back up. Adjust your hearing aid. I have an accent. Or don’t adjust it, I just have an accent.
L: And do you think that, I don’t know, because the way I was thinking about this question of “how do you fit or don’t fit,” I was thinking more in terms of how do you feel? Like how do you feel like you belong? But maybe that is the same as how people have perceived you? Is that the same?
K: I’m going to tell you the biggest way that I could illustrate how do you feel. I don’t think I could illustrate this in a better way. In the Dominican Republic, I grew up there so I always felt comfortable and secure. I will go hunting, I will go fishing, and I will go just quote end quote trespass all throughout, and I know that I will come across someone and I will say who I am and the family that I belong to, and everything will be fine and dandy. Never fear. That in the United States is completely different, completely differently. I picture myself in the fields somewhere and an owner comes out and I open up my mouth, and I end up getting shot, no other questions asked, and they will get away with it. And that feeling, as a matter of fact, I never went hunting anywhere by myself. I will always go with somebody who is quote end quote from here, the only time that I would do that is when I was a police officer in New Mexico. So I would put my shotgun in my car and I would go and I would spend an afternoon shooting at birds or rabbits. But I had a badge and I had a gun, and I knew where I was going. So that fear I did not have, and it was sort of like a different, but again, even then, under those circumstances, that idea in the back of my mind that in any situation like that I will inevitably be seen as an outsider, as a foreigner, as an invader, as an alien.
L: How is that now living in the Upper Valley? I’m wondering if being in Hanover, in the Upper Valley changes any of those things?
K: One of the things I have found up in the Upper Valley is a little bit more curiosity than malice. Although I did once experience something that I thought that it was due to perhaps my accent. Which was, there was a recall for my vehicle, you have to take your vehicle to the dealer to change something, and I called the dealer and I was told that I needed to make an appointment and come back in a couple of weeks because they were all tied up, whereas a coworker here who had to do the same thing, called in a half an hour later and was told, “Oh you don’t need an appointment, you just show up.” And I thought that was extremely interesting, and I just got in my car, and I showed up, and they did it, no appointment. So I was forced to have thoughts about it, or I found it quite interesting.
L: Mhmm. Okay, on second. This time I’m trying to stick to my questions better. So what, um, I like this question. What do you feel like you’ve given up and what do you feel like you’ve gained by migrating?
L: Feel free to pause.
K: I’ve given up growing up with my father, or finishing growing up with my father. I’ve given up growing with my peers, my cousins, and I’ve given up the freedom that I knew I had. What I’ve gained, I think, is in contrast rather painful. When I go back to my hometown and I see the friends that I went to school with, and I see that they are literally stuck in that vicious circle where there is no way out, there’s no way out, it is really really painful. Especially when I come across classmates that we were in class together that I thought that they were bright and I thought they had such an amazing future ahead of them because they were really really smart, really smart. And going back and seeing them never finishing college or never even finishing college, don’t have a job, might have kids already, you talk to them and they have not cultured themselves, their vocabulary, their ideas and their view is circumscribed to very very small circle – that is so painful, that is so painful to see. And it is in contrast because I think it is what I think I’ve gained, and here it makes me okay, there it doesn’t make me that happy. So.
L: So do you think, I don’t know, I sort of hate this question and I didn’t actually write it down here [in my pre-interview questions] because of that, but in another past interview I was reading someone asked the question, do you have any regrets in migrating? Would you say that you have any regrets?
K: I don’t know if I have, I don’t think I have regrets per say. I think one should regret something that one knows is a mistake, that if given the opportunity to do it, one would not do it again. So given the opportunity to do it again in the way that I did it, I will inevitably, unhesitatingly do it again. But (pause) repeat the question again and let me see if I missed something.
L: I just asked if you had any regrets about migrating. Or I suppose it doesn’t have to be “Do you regret migrating itself,” but it could be about how you’ve lived out your migration or back and forth? This question is very sad and I don’t like thinking about regrets, so maybe we should move on from that?
K: Ok, cause I can’t… In general, I don’t think I have regrets about anything that I’ve done in my life up to this point. For anything I’ve done in my life up to this point, if I will not do it again in that way I will not regret having done it because I think I have learned from it, so therefore it has been a learning experience about how to go about it again. So the concept of regret is regretful. (L laughs).
L: When you talked about the things you’ve given up, you said “the freedom that I had there.” Could you expand on that?
K: It was the freedom of being where you belong and where you are not looked at as an outsider. Where you don’t need to be proving who you are constantly, if you will. And, growing up in a rural area and, again, going fishing – that’s one thing that I traditionally do when I go back to my hometown – my hometown has grown tremendously and sometimes I just get up from sitting in my father’s chair and I say “I’ll be back!” And I just go wandering around the town and inevitably I end up, cause my hometown is a little valley, it’s surrounded by mountains, and inevitably I end up on top of one of the mountains looking down, because as a child I used to do that a lot. We used to go on what we would call maroteando, that means that you’re going to go out and look for guayabas, guavas, or mangos, or whatever fruit is in season, and you’d sort of jump in people’s, you know, and you’d get chased by the bulls or by the cows or by the dogs or whatever, that sort of thing. But I also remember doing that as a child, and sort of having the freedom to do that. And I miss being able to do that, I think I relate that to being in high places, because I will do that in my hometown and then sort of be able to look at the whole little town from up in one of the mountains. I missed that in New York because there’s only two points in New York in which you can go and have a little view unless you are on top of a high scrape building. New York is very flat. I loved that about Cincinnati. Cincinnati’s topography is very much up and down, so you can go to different mounds and different parks amongst the mounds and have beautiful views, so I loved that very much about Cincinnati. I would do that, I would just ride my car and escape every once in awhile. So that’s sort of part of that freedom, and that way of being by myself and observing, I feel that in ways I sort of gave that up. And again, it’s the physical sensation of sort of feeling the breeze, but it’s beyond that. It’s the sheer ability of doing that in a fearless manner, without worry of getting shot!
L: So what, I mean you just touched on this by talking about going up on the hill tops in Cincinnati and that sort of thing, but what are some ways that you’ve been able to connect with your Domicanness here in the US?
K: My writing. It’s a solitary exercise. My first book of short stories is called Reminiscencias, reminiscences or remembrances. It is all stories of my childhood, either of characters or situations in my hometown. And I have a manuscript right now of poetry and the title of it is Allá, diario del transtierro, which will literally translate to There, Journal of, how would you translate transtierro? Transterra? You know, the idea of transatlantic is across the Atlantic, so transtierro is the idea of across the land. So yea, transterra. It is all poems that have to do, uh, it is divided in five chapters: my relationship with people, my relationships with my intimates or my prójimos, my fellows, my relationship with writing, my relationship with my journal and my relationship with the world.
L: Would there be any excerpts from this that you’d be willing to include on the wiki page?
K: Yes, I could give you one which is actually a poem that is already published. The title of this poem is Condición.
L: Do you want to tell me about this poem?
K: It’s about that condition of transtierro, which is a form of exile, but without the connotation of forced exile. So that’s what sort of transtierro is like. You’ve transported yourself from one land to the other, then you grow roots there, but you have the ability to sort of trans, back and forth. So the poem says [Keysi’s translation from the original Spanish*]: “I am condemned, I am sentenced, to this state. I hate the present which I must change, but I got disconnected from the past and I know too much now to go and re-live it, what will it be where? Santo Domingo is now like a set of nostalgic retrospectives, sometimes they are happy and sometimes they are of frustration. I am passionate about Europe. I am intrigued by South America, but my country is almost inadaptable. And I’m sick of New York. Therefore I must immigrate from transtierro, from this state, because of this state, and inevitably to this state of exile.” It’s like being an errant, because now inevitably one becomes that which, here I inevitably miss part of there. But when I’m there I never really miss part of there. So, I have thought about this: the perfect state of living would be a house there and a house here, living part here and part there. So inevitably that will always happen, where one will always be this nomad, if you will, living in this state of transtierro.
* [Original Spanish:
Estoy condenado al transtierro,
odio el presente que debo cambiar,
me desconecté del pasado y sé demasiado
para volverlo a vivir.
¿Qué será? ¿Dónde?
Sto. Dgo., me es ya como un conjunto de retrospectivos
nostálgicos y felices, a veces de frustración.
Me apasiona Europa,
me intriga América del Sur.
Mi país me es casi ya inadaptable,
y Nueva York me sabe a hastío.
Hay que emigrar del transtierro,
por el transtierro,
L: When did you write this?
K: That poem was written I think in the early ‘90s.
L: Do you think you’d write the same poem today or how has it changed?
K: I think it’s still very true, yep.
L: So do you think that you’re here to stay, then, or go back to the Dominican Republic? Do you have any plans or hopes in that regard?
K: Again, I know that it will be a part here, part there kind of thing. I know that I could not, I’ve always said that I could not live there full time. If I were to move there full time, six months tops I’ll be in jail or I’ll be dead, I know that.
K: I’m anal retentive. I believe in the rule of law. That’s one thing that I appreciate much about this country. That to a greater or lesser extent there is law that for the most part is applicable regardless. Not necessarily, well in the enforcement it is, in the dispersion of justice it might not be. I’m a firm believer that if you have money you will not do a day in jail in this country because you will never be convicted of anything, because if you have the resources you could bring reasonable doubt into any courtroom. With the resources I could get anybody, I could provide a jury with reasonable doubt for anything. But in terms of enforcement, you do it and you get arrested. Will you serve time beyond that, because you will be found guilty, that’s a different story. But at least in the enforcement, beginning part, it works. So having said that, things are too disorganized [in the Dominican Republic]. I don’t believe in giving anybody any money, I don’t believe in buying things – I believe in earning things. In order to survive there I will either have to give into that or fight it constantly. In the way that it is right now, I’m going to fight it constantly and I’m going to get killed. I’m going to get killed because I’m standing at a red light and the person behind me wants me to go through the red light because there’s no other car coming, or because I go through the green light and I go in the green light and there’s somebody who’s going across the green light that’s going to kill me, or because I’m going to argue with the civil employee about getting a signature for a certificate, getting a license to open up a business, or somebody’s going to – it’s going to be one of those things like that. Or I will get pulled over at the road and the police officer wants me to give him a bribe, and I’ll say fine me a violation and I’ll go and pay it but I ain’t going to give you a penny, and then from there it might go into a little tango dance and I’ll get shot – I don’t know! But I know that I am that type of person. On the other hand, if I had no shame I could be in the Dominican Republic working with the government, in a high position, making lots of money and I could probably be able to have two houses, one here and one there. But I could do that easily over here and be tax-exempt if I open up a religion. (L laughs)
L: It’s funny but sad that all of your stories culminate in you getting shot. (K and L laugh).
K: That might mean that I have a fear of death.
L: Or that you’ve been kind of a “police man” all my life.
K: I haven’t been a policeman all my life.
L: No, not a policeman, but involved in that kind of realm.
K: Yea, involved in that kind of world.
L: So how often do you go back to visit?
K: For a number of years now, since the, I will say, since the late ‘90s, I have been going back at least once a year. I went through a period of time, from the early ‘90s until the late ‘90s, in which three years will go by and I will not go back. I got to a point that I did not even want to hear news of the Dominican Republic. I was that disillusioned. In 1991, I told you that I was a member of a political party at age 14, in 1991 during the elections, the candidate that was from the party literally won the elections. There was mass fraud. The United Nations said that there was fraud, everybody said there was fraud – even the president that won by fraud admitted that there was fraud! The president of the party that won called the membership of the party to take up to the streets, call up in arms, make a revolution. They didn’t, simply because anybody who won as a senator, as a legislator, as a mayor of a town figured “I didn’t lose, I won! So why should I fight?” So they sold out. We did a protest and I remember like right now, we are protesting in front of the United Nations in New York City. I’m part of the protest, but I’m also taking pictures. So I go across the street – we were right across the United Nations, in a little plaza there protesting for United Nations intervention. I go across the street at the United Nations and there are diplomats coming out of the United Nations and they asked amongst each other, “What is going on?” And one taps me on the shoulder and he asks me, “What is that about?” And all of a sudden I asked myself, “Well what am I doing here, then? I mean, what is the point of this? We are here protesting so that you people do something about it and you have no clue what I’m doing over here. I’m wasting my time.” Packed up my camera, I didn’t even go across to say goodbye of my friends, I just walked up, went to the subway and left. Since that day, for years, I refused to read news or find out what the hell was going on. I was like, “It could burn up and go to hell, with my family included, I don’t want to hear it.” (Pause) But, after the late ‘90s I sort of, ultimately, there was a government change and political things began changing, and I went back and then I’ve sort of been going back every year. But I went through that period of disillusionment.
L: So was it that change in government, you think, that made you reengage, or what?
K: Well, I went back because I wanted my girlfriend at the time to meet my family and see where I came from, so that’s the reason that I went. But in going there, there had been a new government since 1996 and I saw a marked, very very marked difference. I became hopeful.
L: Do you want to say anything else about what it’s like when you go back?
K: In what sense?
L: Um, I don’t know, how you feel when you’re there or your favorite things to do, or favorite thing about being there, or how you connect with people, or ? Or like why keep going?
K: So I have a poem here that I wrote on December 2, 2002 and it was my last day on a trip there. So it says, Último día.
Hasta que vuelva no saludaré con un “¡Jeei!” al levantar la mano derecha
o abanicar adioses con la izquierda;
no más abrazos de “¡Cuánto tiempo muchacho!”
Será ya hasta la próxima.
El país sigue luchando a gritos.
Gritan los negocios con la música al tropel,
andan sordos los dueñitos de carros (o carritos) con música al tope;
se grita en el mercado, se grita en la guagua;
la gente está con el grito al cielo y el cielo ya no existe.
La esperanza es lo único que nos queda. Pues:
todavía suben la bandera en la escuela y los estudiantes de primaria
entonan el Himno Nacional. Se les oye, pero suenan a mal comidos
–en ayuna quizás (como en mis años).
¿O será que el constante ruido de los motores
-que no dejan de joder- los hace escuchar así?
Terminan su himno y dos profesoras se dan un saludo afectuoso de medio abrazo;
-abrazo de media manga- esos que se dan de lado, chocando las cinturas
y sólo se entrelazan entrambos antebrazos.
Salgo a ciudad Santo Domingo, me voy (último día).
K: So why do I go back? Well, I love seeing my people. I love hugging, talking to people, walking around town. I love seeing my family. I love eating, eating the food there. But it always pains me to see certain things that, the chaos, how things have completely changed. How in my house, my father’s house, I cannot read a book, I cannot watch a movie because the noise outside from the motorcycles or people going in cars with music blasting or the neighbors, the colmado down the street which sells cold beer has music blasting. If I sit at my father’s house I cannot leave, I either have to like the music or I have to live with that, or I have to get one that is louder than them, or I have to get the hell out. So it’s that sense. But you go back because if I don’t go back physically, I will go back mentally. It’s inavoidable, unavoidable.
L: Do you find yourself going back mentally, and on what kind of basis?
[Keysi searches in the word document of poetry he’s pulled up on his computer.]
L: Everything can be found in his poetry!
K: The first poem in this book, and it’s all poetry that comes from my journal, 1992:
He vuelto (me transporto)
por sus caras, a sus sueños
de querer pasar a la inmortalidad en el anonimato del “Tírame una foto.”
Estarán ahí –sin nombre- en mis álbumes;
es (para ellos) inconsciente.
A sus caras sucias (he vuelto)
por sus limpiabotas (a los cajones que se sepa).
He vuelto; me transportan su sol,
el mar y los ríos.
Me transporto consciente a la inmortalidad
de mi anonimato (igual).
En mis fotos los almendros seguirán ahí, e igual
anónimamente (a la glorieta del parque)
por el recuerdo.
K: It’s, you just go back. Can’t avoid it.
L: Well thank you for sharing…One last question, this sounds corny, are you ready for it? Can you tell me about your greatest achievement in this country? (Pause). Or in life, doesn’t have to be in this country. Anything you can think of that you’re proud of or excited about.
K: Well, I will say that, given my history and where I’ve come from, I’ve come a long ways. It’s been a long journey. So taking the totality of that, I would say that is an accomplishment that I should be proud of. Yet I think that my greatest accomplishment is yet to come. I don’t know what it’s going to be [but he actually does and so does Lauren], but it’s definitely yet to come.
[Shooting noises go off on Keysi’s computer]
L: Haha, this background. What is this? [L looks at the screen and it’s NYPD]
K: I got an alert from a terrorist arrest that was just made in Texas. I get things like that when things like that happen.
L: That’s a happy note to end on.
K: Yea, that’s a lot of shots!
L: No, not that! [L and K laugh]
L: Yea again, Keysi’s stories…
L and K: …culminating in shots fired!