Neither Here Nor There
Click to Listen: La Cancion De Las Simples Cosas (Mercedes Sosa)
This is my favorite song. This song speaks so much of my conundrum with this new culture; even though I have been in the Upper Valley longer than anywhere I’ve been for the rest of my life, there’s that melancholy and nostalgia of not being of any one culture. I’m delighted, and I see the strengths that it’s offered me, but I’m neither of here nor there. I need to invest energy in understanding both cultures all the time.
Giving up the DR
What I gave up there in the Dominican Republic was a lot more than I have ever given up in New York City. I gave up the sense of discovery of life, of relationships, of people, of people living with basic or no resources whatsoever, and yet having a deep gratitude for life and a joy and celebration for life. Those were the kinds of things I wanted to continue experiencing—how to develop the capacity to celebrate life and yet not be dependent on or attached to anything else. They had a roof over their heads; sometimes they weren’t sure where food was coming from, which is how I helped a family of fifteen plus people because having me in their home represented some kind of income for them through my mother. They knew my mother would send funds for them to make food so they could feed me.
But for the most part, it was uncertain where food would come from; we just ate what we grew or what we raised. That’s how we lived—eating very, very basically, so we’re talking every day, rice and beans and maybe every once in a while, we would be able to have some chicken. That was a big deal. Chicken in those times, we had chicken on Sundays—it was a Sunday meal—so the rest of the times we have rice and beans and maybe sardines, you know canned sardines, and maybe cod, and it’s salted in my country, so it’s used by people with limited means. A lot of fried food—sometimes fried dough was a breakfast, fried dough was dinner. And it wasn’t the fancy fried dough we had here, but it was plain fried dough that they would dip in hot chocolate that they would make with water. Sometimes it was made with milk, and it was not hot chocolate from Hershey’s or the cans, it was pure chocolate from the farms—at that time, they still grew cacao, so the chocolate was made there. I don’t know that my uncle was making it but the people nearby were making the chocolate which he would then buy by little pieces, which my aunt would then use to prepare hot chocolate.
So eating was very simple; our nutrition was quite limited—no health services whatsoever until I came to New York City. I had some dental work—somebody looked at my teeth when I was ten—then I had no dental care until age fourteen and a half when I came to New York City, and at that point I had to go to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital to get a full physical in order to sign up for school that fall—it was the fall of 1964. There, they discovered that I was positive PPD for TB. It’s not that I had active TB, but I had a form of it and I needed treatment. No one in my country thought about that, never saw a physician. Even though New York City offered an improved lifestyle, I left behind was a lifestyle that I would no longer have again, which was honestly quite difficult, but which I do miss.
What I gave up in the Dominican Republic was also the socialization I was already developing as a fourteen-year-old, creating my own peer group, and in many ways, creating dreams about what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. School in my country begins tracking you depending on your strengths; they start tracking you so by the fourth year of high school you have a pretty good idea what profession you want to go into. You begin the profession immediately when you step into college so you don’t have the four-year liberal arts education that is required here. If you say you want to become a chemist, you go to college in and that’s what you would begin studying for whatever number of years. So I already had those dreams of what I wanted to do, and much of that gets truncated by my trip to New York City.
The Transnational Identity
I feel that I am bicultural. And transnational in many ways. Both the Dominican Republic and the DR are my home. For me, home is where you experience yourself happy and at peace with where you are. It’s where you feel a right match with your life experience; where it touches you—the experience of what you call 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. 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.
Yet when people ask me about my ethnicity, I would say I am Dominican. Sometimes, I would qualify it and say that I was born in the Dominican Republic and educated in this country. I’ve lived here more than I lived in my own country, so it’s interesting how I communicate it. I have been a US citizen since the 70s and the US does not accept the dual citizenship, but none of that really interrupted that trajectory of learning to embrace my culture. The Dominican Republic, on the other hand, accepts the dual citizenship. When I’m there, I am identified as a Dominican.