Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Location: New Hampshire Hall, Dartmouth College
MS: (refers to box frame) It actually is some piece of work that I had…it’s a particular type of work done with transparent paper, so I have a frame where the light comes in from particular sides of the frame. I think it is called a box frame. So it has this young girl in a forest receiving stars from the sky. I had found it in a Waldorf book. Are you familiar with Waldorf?
MYY: No, I’m not.
MS: Well, once you see it, you will see what I mean. That was my preamble to taking that leap in ’98.
MYY: So to continue with the conversation from yesterday, we talked about your adjustment to the United States and your migration experiences. When you left the Dominican Republic, did you have any plans to return to the DR at all?
MS: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. As a child, I had it in my mind. My idea was to get an education, obtain a profession, and return to the Dominican Republic, which I did. Yeah.
MYY: What were your goals coming here?
MS: I’m not sure I was clear about my goals other than what I mentioned, you know. Get an education, learn the language, and return back to the Dominican Republic—those were my goals.
MYY: Did you have any conception of when you would be returning or…?
MS: No, I knew that I would complete high school…I did bring my passport, by the way, so that you can see it. You know, I knew I needed to complete high school and go to college; it was a matter of how soon I would have to do it. It was sooner than I imagined, I had to say. But yeah, yeah. Initially the goal, as I mentioned in our last meeting, was to goal to medical school. I really wanted to fulfill the requirements and go to medical school. Given that that was not the case, I returned to the Dominican Republic sooner than I anticipated.
MYY: Right. And you also mentioned last time that you had a husband that was American?
MYY: What were your expectations coming here? Did you think that you would develop a relationship with someone who was American?
MS: No, I had no conception of that at that time. You know, when you’re that age, at 14 and 15, there were a lot of crushes, so that developed in my own culture. I didn’t have that as a goal; I didn’t have that as an intent. I think that there were ways in which the attractions in the US were almost like a surprise to me because it was not on my mind. Initially the community I was in on 81st Street was a primarily Jewish community in the 60s, and as a teenager, I was meeting kids in school, but I wasn’t really searching for that. I wasn’t searching for a match. I don’t think I was ever really searching for a match. So, and um….you know, I meet John, who is my husband one year before I had already considered moving to the Dominican Republic. So the year before I’m meeting John, so you know, we meet, and we had a wonderful time, and I had met many other colleagues and peers. It was a wild time in this country because of the cultural changes that were going on and the war and the rebellion that was happening in my age group. I wasn’t really a part of that. I was a witness to it, but a willing witness because many times I found myself in situations that I didn’t quite understand—I didn’t really understand all the background history to what was happening, and I was truly a foreigner in a foreign land. And I had peers in my age group and participated in a lot of things with them, but not because I understood all of what was going on. So it was the same in having boyfriends or meeting people—it was all very foreign to me, especially the way men and women related here. I came from a very traditional background; although there was an emphasis by the nuns—they inculcated early on that education was very important, um, the role of the women in my country was a very traditional role, even though you had an education…was to – was to establish your home; it was to marry, to establish your home, and have children and be a support to your husband. So coming to this culture, and just seeing a lot of different models. And anyway, a year before moving to the Dominican Republic, I’m meeting John, so I, by the end of ’72, I think I made a trip in ’72, and by the end of ’72, I think I had made the decision I was getting a job there. I return in ’72 and inform John that I was getting a job and moving into the Dominican Republic and pretty much packing everything and changing-changing venues. By that point, I had already been in nursing for two years, and already had an associate’s degree. I felt that at that time I had certainly the credentials and basic skills to work in my country. So I did go down in 1973; I had only at that point been in the US nine years.
MYY: Wow, that’s actually a pretty long time!
MS: At that point, it seemed like a really long time, but in retrospect, it didn’t seem so long after all.
MYY: So you talked a lot about how in your country, there are traditional gender roles you would have to conform to. Coming here, how do you think that’s changed for you as a migrant?
MS: I’m not sure I understand your question? So what changed?
MYY: The conception of traditional gender roles—how do you think that has been different?
MS: I think I understand. So I began to integrate both spectrums of the culture, and uh, to rake them together into who I was becoming. So essentially I had the basic constructs from the Dominican Republic. I then was getting exposed and managed to work in as a professional where women my age were very independent and free to choose and very mobile. And I had already enjoyed some of that mobility—I was now living at home, I was traveling; I was doing things I was interested in doing and making decisions about my future independent of my family, independent of anyone else. So it was interesting to go to the Dominican Republic and see myself through those lens—the fact that I had integrated two cultures and tried to live under that framework in my country was unrealistic. It was absolutely unrealistic. In my country, at that time in the 1960s, it was—you just didn’t have a young woman, age 23, living in the neighborhood in a home by herself. And I wasn’t living alone; I was living in a home with two other women who were teachers—we rented a home together—in a community, but that was unheard of in my country. I think before that, we may have rented rooms until I was able to rent with these other two women. The community who knew me didn’t relate to me very well because I was too independent, so that was interesting. And I think there were ways in which I felt very empowered after I graduated, even those it was an Associate’s degree program. I felt so empowered, in fact, really at that time, was, I believe I was first-generation—my mother had third-grade education, my brothers did not finish high school, and I was the one venturing out and going into college and earning a college degree. So there was something empowering about that that deceptively allowed me to think that I could manage fairly well in my country, erroneously I should say, I could manage pretty well in my country. I could manage professionally and skills level and my level of intelligence, but not culturally—I could no longer integrate; I could no longer adapt myself to their expectations.
MYY: So going from there, I know you mentioned earlier that you have a daughter. How have your expectations for your daughter changed given your status or your expectations of a migrant or immigrant?
MS: I don’t know if it’s changed. The expectations have continued evolving; they’ve continued…there was a greater understanding of how they both interfaced, how they both could work. With my daughter, I don’t think I imposed too much to that culture, but I did commit myself to take them to my country shortly after, you know, they were mobile. So she’s visited my country since age 18 months, and from there on, both visiting fairly regularly. At that time, in the 80s, I was just focused for them to see a different face of life—to witness poverty first-hand, you know, to witness it, not necessarily live it, because you know, they were with us, but to witness poverty, to witness struggling communities, and they certainly got a dose of that. But in terms of my relationship with her—you know, if you spoke with her, you’ll see that she’s got a combination of…it’s almost like synthesizing two cultures, and finding aspects of each, and using that as a parent…so that the rigidity with which girls were raised in my country—that might have come out in my raising her, but I am certain ways that were not 100%. There are ways in my country that you are expected to sit, expected to speak, expected to behave—I know some of those things because I feel they are valuable anywhere you are, um, to you know, be courteous, to be discreet, to sit in a particular way, to not, you know, act like you…act like you’re one of the guys, because you’re not. It’s a deception if you treat yourself like one of the women like you are one of the guys because you’re not. It’s a lie to-to yourself. So um, there were some of those messages that I conveyed to her, and anyway, there is this great feedback that you can get from her. But I raised her with her brother—her brother was a year older—and uh, I was just looking at some pictures today of when they were toddlers, and he would dress as a cowboy and she would dress as a cowgirl. And so it meant that whatever he was doing, she also did. But she did it as a little girl, and he did it as a little boy—anything. Riding horses, I have pictures of them riding horses as toddlers—probably not as toddlers…in more four-year-old, five-year-old—but you know, one rode one horse, and one rode the other. So in that sense I don’t feel that I created the…in some ways, the difficult distinction that my country creates between boy and girls. So I’m making her be a domestic, for example.
MYY: Can you tell me a little bit more about your children? Where are they right now?
MS: Both very independent human beings, and uh, I feel at this point, in their mid-twenties, carving their ways and finding themselves in the world and their relationships to the world, and uh, you know, both grew up with professional parents, so there were high stresses. But we were careful not to impose any of our own expectations of what they could be, but certainly would communicate the messages about their capabilities and to reach high because they were very capable; they were both very capable. So we would encourage them to reach high; that was important in their own success. Not necessarily financial success, but feelings successful as human beings in what they could do. And, uh, my son is 28; and he graduated from St. Lawrence University after spending a gap year at a private school in northern Maine. He went to Hanover High School, just like my daughter did. They both were born at the Old Hospital—that’s what we call it now, the Old Hospital—but it is where the dorms are now, by Maynard. In fact, my daughter was in one of those dorms while she was at Dartmouth, so it would be very cute she would look out in the courtyard and that was where she was born. So my daughter lives in Boston and works in education and certainly got turned on to education during her time here at Dartmouth and loves working with children from under-resourced communities and in many ways, academically at risk. She works for a charter school system and is very competent and I feel that very successful in what she does right now, and still…she is only 26, and she has other things to do and other things to accomplish, but it is certainly on her own time—it is not on my time or on my expectation. I certainly in this culture saw different models. I came from a culture where my mother told me: “If you want to go to college, you better get to work.” So by age 16, I’m working part-time while I’m still in high school and continue all the way through to get myself to college. But with my children, I didn’t create limitations and I didn’t set rigid expectations—because your dad is a doctor, you have to be a doctor; I’m a nurse, so you have to be a nurse—it’s where your interests lie and where you are the most capable, and go for that. Um, and um, my son is very athletic. Of course, growing up in this community, they were both very athletic. And Elysa played hockey and was in crew, and coming into Dartmouth, her first year of crew at Dartmouth. Then was a goalie at high school, a ice hockey goalie. She then was the goalie for the men’s club. She chose it in the club. And had a great time during her time here with her sports. So she’s had a lot available to them and has taken advantage of it. Jonathan is quite athletic, both mountain biking and skiing and as an independent human being as he is, does not like to go through the trails that are already there. So he frequently in the winter creates trails and he does that for biking as well—helping create trails and right now, he’s working more freelance, doing more work on the computer, and designing for the computer. So that’s who they are…and Jonathan is in Stowe.
MYY: In Stowe, Vermont?
MS: Mmmhmm mmhmm.
MYY: So do you feel like your children have in some ways conceptualized….how do you feel like your children have conceptualized their identities as second generation immigrants and do you feel like they embrace the Dominican culture right now?
MS: Huh, it’s interesting. I don’t think either one of them embrace the Dominican culture, or would identify themselves as Dominican. This is an interesting community where they were born and raised. I know my daughter embraces her mother’s migrant experience very fully and of being of mixed race—she certainly embraces that very fully. And certainly, in any situation where um, you know, the topic of conversation may be the Latino experience or the Dominican experience, she will have things to say and will become part of that experience. She’s met Juno Diaz and will find ways to become a part of that conversation. Elysa speaks 4 languages. She learned French and Italian here, and Spanish of course. I don’t take a lot of credit for that…I think it was her abilities; her abilities were very strong in the languages. I don’t know how strong she is now because she has been using them. She’s been primarily using Spanish because of the communities she’s working with. So, my sense with Jonathan is that there was a rebellion and rejection of his part of being a mixed race, and I think in part because guys wanted to fit in, and if you didn’t raise the question, nobody would know he was of Latino culture because of his looks—he looks very much like his dad. His dad was born in Nashua, was raised in New York, of New England families…you know, so, Jonathan doesn’t have that appearance, but at least Elysa has very much of a Latino profile and presentation in her looks.
MYY: They sounds like fantastic people. I’ll love to meet them! (laughs)
MS: I’ll show you pictures.
MYY: You mentioned that you would go back to the DR with your children and then for DR Projects…how often do you go back?
MS: I would go back about 3 times a year. Initially, when I arrived in ’64—I was looking at my passport—it looked like I went down 5 years later and then a couple of years later. The frequency varied depending on what was coming up in what I wanted to do. As I became more and more interested in the culture in the 90s, the frequency of my visits increased. Certainly, my family, after the kids were born, we were visiting about once a year or about once every other year—it was a family vacation in the Dominican Republic.
MYY: So, how did you maintain ties or connections with people back in the DR besides traveling there?
MS: That really is amazing to me that…and I may have mentioned it the last time we met; because I lived in Cotui and didn’t leave until about age 14 and a half, that’s where I developed my strongest friendships and ties and those people are there. They’re there today. Not all, but a number of them, to the extent that those that are just being to get acquainted to the fact that I’m there are frequently calling me by my nickname, which I haven’t used since I was a young girl. But that’s how they know me, is by my old nickname. So those connections in my teenage years were very strong. I had a wide circle of friends—both guys and girls—you know, it was a wonderful circle of friends and we did a lot of things together. There wasn’t a lot to do in the community other than getting together, so we just got together a lot and we talked and laughed, and there wasn’t much drinking then, and the town had a power plant and the power would be turned off at a particular time, and that would be a big joke to us because the power would be turned off and we’ll still be hanging out. And we had candles, so we had, you know…I don’t even know if we had flashlights. We just walked in the dark back to the house. And it was relatively safe back then in the 60s. So, how I maintain ties? Those folks who were middle school and high school friends are in that town are today’s doctors, lawyers, bankers, business owners, and they’re running the infrastructure of this town. So that, in many ways, served my efforts, and have served my efforts quite well…it’s been a wonderful fit. I have found myself in the position of navigating all social strata in the town…right, I was raised in very very low income (subsistence farming); I’ve had all these teenage friends who are now professionals; and run the infrastructure of the town; and I’m now an older professional, so I’m finding myself navigating all the social structures there. In sort of frighteningly seamless ways. The governor will invite me to the office—it’s now a female governor—so I would be sitting next to her and I’m asked to also speak and that kind of um, recognition that is now offered to me…and I think it’s more because of my age and my education in the US, and the work that I obviously do there—humanitarian work that I do. So the ties have in many ways been very easy to maintain. My seventh grade friends, we’re still friends…that’s a very long time! It’s been nearly 50 years! My friends from when I was 13 or 14—I am still in touch with them. Uh, and many of them are in the town.
MYY: So would you say that you maintain connections or keep in touch with most of your friends or the majority of them?
MS: Most of them, yeah. You know, in my trips every four or five months or so, 3 times a year, I see a lot of them. Sure! And we get together…obviously we have different lives and are committed to different things…yeah.
MYY: Before you started the non-profit, did you send anything back to the people there…to friends and family?
MS: No, not really, my mother was here, so I had no reason to…you mean like, remittances?
MS: No, no, I wasn’t really involved in that aspect of the migrant experience until you know, after the last eight years since I’ve been working with the Women’s Cooperative. Once I’ve developed that, it wasn’t really a straightforward remittance, but paying them for their bags and compensating for them with benefits for their effort. So it wasn’t a straight remittance. And yes, there is remittance with my mother now…she has been there…I think she has been in the Dominican Republic since the late 70s or late 80s, so periodically, I have some money to send to her to help her with her medicine or help her with her costs. It’s not a….as I said, it wasn’t apart of my immigrant experience early on.
MYY: Your mother sent everything back from here to the Dominican Republic?
MS: Not that I know of…it wasn’t a dominant piece for us, you know. For her, the remittances probably happened in the 60s before I arrived here. And she was sending money to make sure that I was fed, and sending money to ensure that I would get my visa to come to the United States, so it was that kind of exchange.
MYY: When you returned to the Dominican Republic, did you have a feeling that it was different for you? How did you feel just returning for the first time?
MS: To the Dominican Republic? Tremendous elation and joy is all I can say. And that didn’t start now; it was the 60s…you know, I arrived in ’64. I was…that was in ’69 when I went back for the first time. It was tremendous elation and joy—my entire being saying, “yes, this feels right!”—it being 95 degrees and I was like “yes, this feels right!” It could be 80% humidity and I would be like, “this is my culture, this is my environment.” In the Dominican Republic, different um, in different situations, you’ll find it’s a very chaotic life, very challenging, very chaotic for those who are eking out a living. Sort of challenging for those who are in the grey…in the middle class. Everybody’s sort of working…physicians—some physicians have 3 jobs; some nurses—if they could have 2 jobs, they would have them. People striving to succeed and survive in a lot of different levels. So I see the chaos, but the chaos, maybe because I already had the nursing experience here. There are social values you begin to develop in health care here in the US. Seeing chaos was something that overwhelmed me and it may have been my Latino experiences as well in my country and here, except seeing chaos did not feel like an obstacle to me to proceed with or accomplish whatever you had to accomplish; it was you accomplish in the midst of the chaos. That was life. So I see that all the time and it does not…it really was not something that fazes me. There are times when it’s nice to take breaks; I started meditating when I think I was 21, and I continued to be a meditator on and off for a number of years, and very consistent for a number of years. And you know, that becomes safe refuge for me, so when I step into the chaos, so-be-it; I’m in the midst of the chaos and there are things I need to accomplish.
MYY: So what would you consider home right now? Would you be the US or the Dominican Republic?
MS: I feel that I am bicultural. And transnational in many ways. Um, both are my home. I love my home in Norwich; I love the beautiful environment I’ve created. I love nature, so that’s a beautiful home to come into. And I love my home when I arrive in the Dominican Republic; there’s no set place that’s home the way it is in Norwich, but the country is home.
MYY: What is your definition of home?
MS: Hmmm. Where you experience yourself happy and at peace with where you are. That’s uh, that’s a very spontaneous response, ‘cause I haven’t really thought about it. It’s where you feel a right match with your life experience. Where it touches you…the experience of what you all home touches you at many different levels and it welcomes you and you welcome yourself. If you are able to welcome yourself in that environment, that is home.
MYY: Can you also tell me a little bit more about why you decided to start DR Projects?
MS: I haven’t really thought of it as an evolutionary process, but it clearly was an evolution for me. It’s now as I look at it in retrospect 15 years back, I’m beginning to tease out what led me in that direction and I cannot say it was a definite moment in time when I made a conscious decision to proceed in that direction, although there was a precipitating factor, and that was the hurricane, and the hurricane really shook things up in my country. And because I hold that central region of the country dear to my heart in part because it taught me how to survive, it um, I feel that the environment there contributed to my capacity development, to who I am, uh, because that was dear to me, they had been impacted by the hurricane. So that movement to take some steps. I didn’t know my degree of influence at that time, let’s say ’96 to ’98; I believe the hurricane occurred in ’98, but I really didn’t know the degree of influence that I would have though this. I hadn’t envisioned what would happen other than…with good heart, appealing to the community I lived In for assistance. I looked for organizations to take it on, to accept the relief donations that I was collecting—it was 35 very large boxes. So I looked to international organizations—the Red Cross, there’s an organization through the United Church of Christ Conference. I was looking for ways for them to handle what I had collected and transport it. But I also wanted to designate where it would go and it became a major obstacle to any organization accepting it, because I wanted to designate it for that particular town. And I do that in part because the town will receive something—the villages, actually, it wasn’t very much a town—so the villages will receive some assistance, but also because I know the level of how challenging…um, how challenging the systems are in my country. You know, there is a lot of self-interest; there is corruption like anywhere else. There was self-interest and corruption. If you don’t designate where those boxes go; they could go anywhere—to someone who needs it but it could be their next-door neighbor and not someone who I wanted it to go to. I was very invested in that the people in the villages in Cotui would be the ones receiving it. So to that end, having learned that no organization would accept it, if I wanted to designate it, I then took it on. And, um, you know, up to that time, I didn’t think I knew I was capable of rallying that amount of support and effort. So it wasn’t that difficult to do—to the rally the school and the community and the you know, the Women’s’ Club, and the Women’s Fellowship at the Church—to support what needed to happen and get a shipping company in the area. Shipping company…I think it was a shipping company in New Jersey that was willing to accept it and take it directly to that town.
MYY: What has really motivated you to continue with this project? You’ve been working on it for over a decade already!
MS: It was rewarding. There was something rewarding about contributing…you know, there are so many negative things going on in struggling communities, that getting engaged with them in accomplishing a goal together felt like I was putting my part in-in contributing to a sense of hope. That is not all dismal, that in the midst of the chaos they lived in, and the challenges they lived in, there still is the possibility of hope. So I think that has been a motivating force all along—seeing that turning into something that is long-lasting for the community—that they themselves became the instrument for that.
MYY: Can you talk about your job right now and how you manage the organization with your current daytime job?
MS: My daytime job has been flexible and maybe nine years ago now, I’ve made the conscious decision to be per diem, which I’m informed when I’m needed and I let them know when I’ll be available, so that has worked out really well. You know, I have the great privilege of being able to do that—not everyone can do that. So , um, what would you like to know about your job?
MYY: What do you do in your job right now?
MS: I have for a number of years now, probably since 2007, been doing care coordination in nursing, which involves looking at a patient’s situation and having a conversation with a patient or family about what life will be like at home after their hospitalization and what services can best meet their needs and how to continue using the services available to them—be it in the community or the hospital. It also involved a fair amount of advocacy, because it involved either those that are disabled or elderly, and advocating for their needs and their rights. Not unlike what I do in the Dominican Republic and it’s been a very interesting match.
MYY: I notice on the DRP website that you have some cooperation with DHMC. Can you talk a little bit more about how you integrate the work in the Dominican Republic with the work you are doing right now?
MS: There isn’t a formal collaboration with Dartmouth-Hitchcock. What has happened is because of the fact I practice nursing there, what I do has become a magnet for others to contact me and to send me emails and to want to know how can they get involved. So that I have become a vehicle for that. I’m not sure it was my intention from the onset to recruit nurses or doctors. I don’t really have to recruit because so many people write to me about how they can be involved or how they can participate. And that also happens in my community outside of the hospital that people hear or read about the work in the community so they will support it or participate. I end up taking community members with me all the time, for a number of years now. So the relationship with Hitchcock continues because I am a nurse there and I have a flexible schedule and because it allows me to take blocks of time that I can dedicate to the work I can do.
MYY: So did you suggest having the per diem schedule because you wanted to work with the nonprofit organization?
MS: I requested, or was offered the per diem as a way to maintain a flexible schedule at that time and it fit very well with where I was a few years ago and what I needed.
MYY: How much of your time would you say you usually dedicate to working with the nonprofit?
MS: The DR Projects—too much time, too much time. I make jokes of myself and I tell friends I return from my executive volunteer job—the unpaid executive job. It’s a lot of time, and you know, there’s a passion there; there’s a dedication there that I’ve discovered in me. I know that it won’t go on forever. When that mission first developed in 2006, when the first mission and vision was developed for the organization, which by the way is nonprofit because it is under the Norwich Congregational Church—it’s not a freestanding nonprofit—I made a conscious decision not to do that here in this country. There’s a freestanding nonprofit in the Dominican Republic. But the goal has been all along is to create sustainable….to foster sustainable development that is self-sustaining, that is not dependent on me or any one person. That the community itself rises to develop what they envision, be supported—receive support, which in some ways for me, through navigating the social structure, through a gain in advocacy, through gaining loans, uhh, but in each project, once it was accomplished, I could step aside. And it has been my goal every time. And certainly, the landmark project for that was the clinic—the rural clinic—because that was certainly a wonderful collaboration of institutions and the town, as well as nationally, where I helped spearhead that and it was created. I brought people to build the clinic. We had entire community involvement building this clinic—this was a village of about 900 residents. And then through the Peace Corps volunteer who is there, we are appealing to the Health Ministry, who takes and makes the decision to assume full responsibility for furnishing it, staffing it, and maintaining it. And how easy was it for them! They had some costs, but certainly not the cost they would have had if they were to start from scratch. And we’ve had tremendous contribution from the Peace Corps to make it happen, including their engineers, who helped with design for the base of the rural clinics. That is a perfect example. Now I visit and the entire community knows me well. But I’m a visitor; they’re the clinic. So they’re responsible for it; they run it; they maintain it; and I love it! I love being able to do that—be a catalyst to change, help something happen, and then step aside and leave the ownership to those who are impacted by the change and have created the change.
MYY: And how often would you say you go back to the Projects?
MS: To the Projects? It’s about three times a year that I go back down.
MYY: So what is your vision for the remaining couple of years for the organization?
MS: The last couple of years it has been developing and establishing that NGO there and giving it recognition, so right now in these three years, it’s establishing it’s financial basis. We’re working really hard to establishing its financial base. That I’m seeing for the next couple of years. I’m not anticipating another major project, like you know, as you know, we’ve built a house this year for that family. That was an unusual business cause I’m not in the business of building homes, but the opportunity presented itself and the fundraising opportunities there, so I took it on, you know…so that is what I anticipated. Really building in a financial base in the next five years; it takes that long to build a financial base to support the nonprofit organization, and then look at what projects we can address hereon forward.
MYY: Can you talk a little bit more about what you generally do for fun and maybe some things you have brought back from the DR?
MS: From the DR—what I gained there as child was the love for music and dance. I gained that there, and as a teenager was very much into dancing and loved it. I remember taking modern dance—I forget if that was in college when I took modern dance—and I failed miserably, cause it wasn’t something that could be structured and defined as I would very early on in this country discovered that it couldn’t be structured or defined dance—it had to be free-flowing dance. Um, so I love dancing. I can dance to a lot of different forms. Um, and I mentioned my dedication to my disciplines of meditation and yoga so that’s something that’s not necessarily for fun, but it really for restoration and spiritual nourishment, so I very much enjoy that. I very much enjoy my extracurricular. I have been in a committee here at Dartmouth since 1994, and that committee is called the Holistic Nursing Committee, and we set up workshops twice a year for nurses from around New England on topics pertinent to integrative care—but really any holistic, complementary-type of approaches that are being practiced. We bring speakers from around the world to present. So I’ve been very involved in that for an extended period of time now, and it’s been a good…I don’t know how many years. So the other things that I enjoy: walking—so I have been a walker for a long time; I enjoy hiking very much, but I haven’t done that for a very long time—so those things I would do for fun—you know, the hiking, the walking…uh, are things I do for fun; being with people—my culture is very people-oriented, very relationship-oriented—and I am a social being; I enjoy being with people. And I enjoy very much…you know, for fun, is discovering…you know, I’m very curious—of discovering new things, um, and ehh, very few things, unlike they are too esoteric, prevent me from pursuing them. I love traveling, and uh, I know my husband and our children—we’ve traveled a fair amount to other cultures, to other countries. And I love meeting people from other cultures, from different environments, just being in a new country. And I mentioned to you the transparency that I’ve created…the transparency of color-paper design that I’ve created—was also another way of expressing my creativity. And that’s interesting—that’s something I should mention is that creativity in my country in the 50s and 60s was very much squelched by the dictatorship; you weren’t really allowed to have free thought or free expression. People would do this, and I’m sure we have artists and poets from that time, but there was a lot done under closed doors, because it was such a oppressed environment, that the free expression of the individual was repressed. So I am a product of that culture from the 50s and um, I know that I when I came to this country and up until not too long ago, I really did not think of myself as a creative person, which is why this frame that I wanted to show you says so much to me, because until that time 1966, I didn’t have an appreciation for my ability to be creative. But creativity expresses itself in dance as well.
MYY: Were you a dancer back in the DR?
MS: Oh absolutely! As a teenager, that was our form of recreation—dancing. There wasn’t a whole lot more to do. There wasn’t music, there wasn’t TV. I don’t know how many TVs were in the town, but you could count how many TVs. So there was one TV in a, sort of the “worker’s social club,” you know, the blue-collar worker social club, they had a TV, so I would go there and watch TV. I would watch Bonanza, and I would watch…I don’t remember all of the programs, I just remember Bonanza…and maybe the Lone Ranger? Those were the two programs that I would go and watch on their TV. The house I was in didn’t even have a radio, so, yeah.
MYY: I know you mentioned this in your first interview about the nuns, but I’m also interested in learning more about religion and whether or not religion was big in your country? Are people religious at all?
MS: Yeah, it’s very often employed. And it still is for people in my country. It’s a large percentage who are practicing in my country. And the other percentage who doesn’t live it or practice it, I’m sure feels the imposition from Catholicism. For me, it was key in my development as a child, clearly to develop values that were religious values. And I showed you one photograph yesterday probably as a seven year old with my white uniform and white cap on and that was from my religious school. And you dressed that way—probably you dressed that way to march. And we would have parades or marches, and marches would probably be when an important general was in town. So, in retrospect, I see the um, infiltration of the religion with politics, which I didn’t see then as a child. But it was very important for me, in terms of the values I would develop—that is the belief in something greater than myself—the belief in kindness, the value of kindness, the value of compassion, the value of humility—those were all developed with—and I’m sure it was the nuns who were instrumental in that. And of course, with the, perhaps the qualities I had as a child…I wanted to become involved in change very early on, so you know, of course later on in the town, I become one of the youth leaders for youth groups, religious groups; when I arrived in New York City, I once again got very involved in the church, in my community in Washington Heights. Coincidentally, the name of the church was the same name of the church in La Romana.
MYY: Oh, wow.
MS: It really was astonishing to me, it was the same name: “Santa Rosa de Lima” and so that was in New York City in Washington Heights. I think that was maybe 165th Street and I was very active there, and you know, the priests knew me, everybody knew me; I was a youth leader, I was very involved. The parting with that happened as I began to learn more about the sciences and the scientific methodology and as I got more involved in school, in college, I think that’s when a parting of the ways began to happen, although when my husband and I met, we had similar interests, and in some ways, interestingly, somewhat similar backgrounds in terms of our religious practices, that is, attending church, and being apart of youth groups. So we did marry in a church.
MYY: Would you still consider yourself as someone who is religious?
MS: Well, I am part of a religious community in this community and in fact, right now, I’m Senior Deacon in my church, and have been in their Board’s mission for a number of years, and these are committees that look at social justice and social mission around the world. I know that through my efforts, I have been able to influence some things that have gone on in the church and certainly rally support for the work that I was doing. I feel that it is a vital part of our life in Norwich.
MYY: You mentioned being in two different New York communities and then moving to Vermont; what has been your experience as a Latino immigrant integrating into these communities? Were there other communities you developed connections with? How integrated did you feel with the communities you were living in?
MS: Hmmm, there’s…you’re asking several questions, so you may have to remind me of the last question. The, uh…it’s interesting when I look back at my so-called Latino experience as an immigrant because very early on; I would say those first 5 years, there was definitely a very low sense of self-worth that was fed by…it was the environment that contributed to that. The educational system contributed to that. That I was something that was too unknown or not familiar enough for them to know how o value me. The kids that I was in school with were those that had come from families in Cuba that had come during Batista time. So I was meeting kids who obviously had a lot more education than I had, and not from the social backgrounds that I had in the Dominican Republic. I came from…those three years certainly very down and out situations. I didn’t feel particularly integrated for the first few years. I was in a foreign land and felt very much a stranger. The kids in the neighborhood on 81st Street were primarily Jewish, and while I had no identification with them whatsoever, we became friends, and in fact, they helped me learn English. I began to learn English that way because I didn’t have many Spanish-speaking friends. When we moved to Washington Heights in ’65..it was probably ’65…we first moved uptown…by the Cloisters in New York City, and then came down to 163rd Street in Washington Heights. Washington Heights really didn’t have…you wouldn’t see the restaurants right now with the Dominican names. It was primarily a Dominican neighborhood. It had three or four Dominican families and we all stuck together. I can think now…let’s see—(counts out loud) one, two, three, four—yeah, probably four Dominican families. It was clear that the community was becoming more and more Dominican for that block—just the block. We weren’t talking about all the other streets. And there were certain sections tat were pockets of Dominican in other places. But you drive through there now and it’s like you might as well be in some other part of the Dominican Republic, with all the bodegas and all the restaurants with Dominican names…that time, in that block, in 163rd Street, so I’m thinking, it might have been ’65 to 1970 that I was there, so that 5 years, it was just 5 years in that community, that block of 163rd Street. There were friendships and so there was a greater sense of identity living in that community with other Dominican young people. And here, the music, and dancing, and dancing to the music again. But my mother was still raised as a very traditional person in the way she was imagining…so, uh, I don’t know, in terms of integration and how I felt integrated, I don’t think I…I was thinking about being integrating…integrating myself into the communities. As you may notice, my accent is a lot less than people I meet from my generation who learned English in this country, so I have less of an accent and I’ve integrated more into the New England culture than I’ve expected I would. My style, traditional style I was being raised in, seemed to fit more with a New England style.
MYY: How do you feel about this community? Can you tell me about integration here and what you feel about it?
MS: It’s interesting…it might have been growing up too, but I’m not sure in my awareness, I was distinguishing between communities and separating people and categorizing and compartmentalizing people in cultures and to this day, I believe that this happens to me here; I’m just apart of the environment, apart of the community, so I find ways to navigate it as situations present themselves. I certainly, one thing I haven’t mentioned to you in terms of the self-worth piece early on in New York City is that there was a period of time when I distinctly recall rejecting my own culture, so I did go through that crisis, that-that evolution in my acceptance of my own culture. I was rejecting it because what I could recall of it and the memories it evoked were now lessened compared to New York City, so um, and the kids I was meeting from Cuba were certainly of a different social background, so I wanted to be better than I was, and that I believe in a detrimental way, led to rejecting my own culture and separating myself from it. So I’m aware of that period of time and it certainly went on for a long period of time, except for the year in the Dominican Republic and returning to the US, and getting married in to the type of family that I married, um, my life really became about living the New England way and incorporating the New England way, and it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t about embracing the Dominican Republic. My sense is that embracing all that it is now—chaos and all, you know, third world development as it is, in many parts of the country—that came for me in the 90s, that phase in the 90s, leading up to 1998. So you’ll find that today, as an adult, in my 60s, it’s a tremendous strength. I embrace It very fully. It’s a tremendous strength. People ask me about my country and my work there, know, and I beam. I’m just delighted, you know, about what it is and what it is that is now apart of me. So it is certainly cause for celebration for me—that I embody all of that.
MYY: This is the last question I have for you: when people ask you about your ethnicity, what would you tell them?
MS: Dominican, without question.
MYY: Would you ever say you are Dominican-American?
MS: No, just Dominican. And you know, sometimes, I would qualify it and say that I was born in the Dominican Republic and educated in this country and I lived here more than I lived in my own country, so it’s interesting how I communicate it, you know. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived in my own country. Yeah, and you know, I have been a US citizen since the 70s, I think it is, but none of that made me separate or, none of that really interrupted that trajectory of learning to embrace my culture.
MYY: Are you still a citizen of the DR?
MS: The Dominican Republic accepts the dual citizenship. When I’m there, however, I am identified as a Dominican, so I have to have a Dominican ID, which I have. And uh, should something happen, I will be tried as a Dominican. But I do have the US citizenship and passport. The US does not accept the dual citizenship.
MYY: Great, is there anything else you would like to add or talk about?
MS: Hmmm, not at this time.
MYY: Thank you so much for your time!
MS: My pleasure.