Written by: Amaris Castillo
Bodega Stories is a multimedia project that is rooted in my youth. I was born in New York City to Dominican immigrants — my parents, Freddy and Damaris Castillo, worked in bodegas for most of my life. A visit to the Brooklyn bodega my father worked at meant the chance to listen to both animated banter between him and regulars and stories of struggle and hope.
These personal accounts affected me greatly as a child. In Bodega Stories, I report stories of people who frequent this beloved space. All stories thus far have been collected at my parents’ bodega in Saint Petersburg, FL. One of the stories is about my uncle, Domingo Taveras, who opened up to me about the role education played in his childhood in the Dominican Republic. I learned so much during this interview that I wanted to share this with La Galería Magazine readers. Education was not a top priority to his parents — my abuelos — perhaps because poverty didn’t allow it to be. There was a lot of work to be done, and it was heartbreaking to hear my uncle talk about those early childhood years.
Sometimes we don’t realize how impacted we are by aspects of our culture until we grow older and are able to contemplate them retrospectively. Such is the case with this story — though my uncle’s love of learning has only grown deeper with that early experience.
A Lifelong Learner
Domingo De Jesus Taveras has always loved to read and learn. As a young boy in Licey al Medio, a small pueblo in the Santiago province of the Dominican Republic, Taveras wasn’t exposed to libraries. There weren’t any in his town.
“The books I did read were borrowed or from school — school textbooks,” the fifty seven-year-old recalled.
Taveras was seven years old when he began school.
“The basics — the colors and small things that you learn in the first years of life, I learned at seven,” he said. “It’s ridiculous… now, times have changed in the Dominican Republic. There are schools for children a year old and up.”
Taveras said he loved school because he was able to engage with other students. In the beginning, he said teachers were an inspiration. He added he never dreamed of becoming a teacher, but he would have liked it.
“Never in my country had there been this incentive, this importance… that going to school and learning was needed,” he said.
According to Taveras, his parents didn’t stress education. If you were poor, he said, your parents didn’t push you in that direction. Perhaps it was because of the high costs, he said, or parents wanted to have their kids wait for the system, which dictated children begin school at seven.
Instead, Taveras remembered toiling in his father’s finca — his land. He helped grow plantains, yuca, and more.
(LISTEN: Taveras speaks in Spanish about why he loved school in the below audio clip)
“For my parents, education wasn’t important. Papa would say that, at seventh grade, one was sufficiently educated to leave school,” he said. “Nave, my mother, was the one who worried a bit more. I’m the product of an illiterate person — my father didn’t know how to read or write.”
When letters arrived at the house, Taveras would read them to his father.
Years later when he came to the United States, Taveras enrolled in Eugenio María de Hostos Community College, located in the Bronx, New York. He commuted from Brooklyn and would later graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Brooklyn College.
Taveras reads a lot now. He enjoys books on Dominican history and the legal sciences.
“If given the opportunity, I would like to return to school and study that,” he said.
(LISTEN: Taveras shares his definition of bilingualism in the below audio clip)
At Orlando Latin Market, where Taveras works, he said he’s helped many Cubans who have recently arrived to the U.S. He’s helped them with legal paperwork and passport applications. Taveras has also helped some obtain medical benefits.
Asked how it makes him feel to help others in this way, Taveras smiled.
“Very good. I’m pleased. A lot of people ask me why I don’t charge,” he said, “but the greatest satisfaction is helping the next person and not charge for it.”