5 Dominicanas Aquí y Allá On What #MeToo Means for Them and Their Community

By Amanda Alcantara and Amaris Castillo

The #MeToo movement, which was founded over ten years ago by Tarana Burke and made it to the mainstream when women in Hollywood began speaking up in 2017, has taken communities by storm. On the day when it went viral in the U.S. in October, the hashtag was used 109,451 times on Twitter, and the Dominican community aquí y allá hasn’t stayed behind. In Dominican Republic and the diaspora, women have courageously called out Dominicanos on sexual abuse and misconduct, notably Santo Domingo-based TV-personality Frederick “El Pachá” Martínez, who forcefully kissed musician Belkis Concepción on live television, and the Miami-based comedian Julio Sabala, who has been accused of sexual harrassment by two assistants. Recently, author Junot Díaz has been accused of sexual misconduct, sparking an ongoing debate about accountability, the role of the #MeToo movement, and the question of “What is next?“. These are all examples of the misogyny women of color face within their own communities, and how these cases play out in Dominican culture both locally and abroad – a misogyny that must be reckoned with.

At La Galería Magazine, we decided to reach out to some Dominicanas aquí y allá to ask them to write about what the #MeToo movement has meant for them, these are their responses.

 

Mariel Buque

Portraits and Summer Institute on Teaching to Diverse Students. (July 19, 2016)
Photo by Bruce Gilbert

As Dominican womxn, we have had a longstanding history of suffering traumas in silence, sexual assault included. We haven’t talked about these experiences within our communities as much because speaking about sexual misconduct goes against our cultural norms. Our norms tell us that these experiences should not be talked about, especially not outside the family, we tell survivors “de eso so se habla” and sometimes even deny that the experience has occurred. And so it would make sense that the #MeToo movement and it’s mission to proclaim to the (mass public) that a sexual assault has occurred, hasn’t penetrated our community the way is has in others. Now that doesn’t mean that some conversations haven’t surfaced within our communities, but they have been occurring mostly in silos, not in mass movements that express more solidarity the way we’ve seen with the general population of womxn.

In some ways, the #MeToo movement represents a collective action to break through shame and stop cycles of violence by speaking out about these violating incidents. It’s about giving survivors a voice, which comes with a consequence that is considered to be far too grave and risky for Dominicans, which is telling “family secrets.” Apart from having candid conversations about violence against womxn in the Dominican community, we also need to have candid conversations about how cultural norms perpetuate internalized shame and leave room for violent acts to continue to take place. If we had these conversations at greater length, we might be the generation that initiates liberation from intergenerational shame around sexual violence in our communities and ruptures the normalization of violence against Dominican womxn.

We also need to have open dialogue about how our norms around Marianismo (mostly the norm around sacrificial suffering in silence) and Machismo (mostly the norm of asserting one’s masculinity through aggressive means) have preserved #MeToo incidents within the Latinx culture. We need to start thinking about how our goals of reaching the masses of Dominican womxn regarding this topic will require a different strategy. From a psychological perspective, we know that Latinx individuals, and particularly those whose first language has been Spanish or are bilingual, tend to process emotions and trauma in greater depths in that primary language. The #MeToo movement has happened mostly in the English hemisphere. But what would happen if we translate that movement to Spanish? Perhaps it’s time for an expanded movement that declares these experiences in a way that reaches greater depths of our communities and develops more cohesion among us. And a collective strategy around #YoTambien may be the start to a greater assembly of Dominican survivors and #MeToo advocates.

Mariel Buque, M.A., is a PhD Candidate at Columbia University.

Brenda Medina

The #MeToo movement has been an important starting point to a conversation that is very necessary and long overdue. It has provided a platform to publicly show the enormity of this problem of abuse and harassment that women face every day, regardless of ethnicity, age, economic status, etc. I am also hopeful with what I have seen happening in private spaces, like the conversations across generations that I have been having with women in my family and even my work place, about what constitute harassment or what is consent. Sometimes we take for granted that people understand these concepts.  As a reporter, I have witnessed how the movement has given low-income, minority and immigrant women an avenue to talk about their traumas and help them see that there is a community of survivors around them. I believe that marginalized communities have to have these uncomfortable conversations, which was part of the reason why Tarana Burke, a Black woman, created the movement.

In the Dominican Republic, as in many other countries in Latin America, the conversation about gender violence is blunter than #MeToo, in my opinion, because similar campaigns in the region are usually addressing femicides, such as #NiUnaMas or #NiUnaMenos. Some might argue that when you are fighting for your right to live, challenging the piropos (street harassment) culture or workplace harassment is less important. Nonetheless these conversations are happening in the Dominican Republic, making the connection among the different forms of abuse and how tolerating one form because “there are more important things to worry about” can lead to more violence.

I was very proud to see the 2017 public service campaign #YaNoMas by Dominican news channel CDN, in which a male anchor calls street harassment violence (this is huge because street harassment is super normalized in the DR): https://www.instagram.com/p/BbLFC89FeXh/?hl=bn. I wished I had seen something like that growing up in the island. Another example is the work of Elaine Felix, a sex-ed expert who teaches about gender inequality and different forms of violence.  Also, check out #CalleSinAcosoRD and Un Acto de Rebeldia al Dia.

Brenda Medina is a journalist reporting for the Miami Herald.

 

Esther Hernández-Medina

The #MeToo campaign has been a crucial and very needed force of change in my book. Many have criticized it for been so visceral and I have my own mixed feelings about some aspects of it. But we have to remember that it has been an avalanche of pain and grief precisely because that pain had to be repressed and ignored for so long. Women’s right to be free of coercion and violence, to be free from being thought of as a potential property that just happens not to have been claimed yet is still minimized and made fun of in most societies… including mine.

That is why many of us in the Dominican feminist movement engaged in the debate opened by #MeToo by trying to educate and create awareness about sexual harassment and violence against women in the Dominican Republic taking advantage of the fact that everything that happens in US media has a huge impact on many circles here.

To be sure, the visibility of the campaign here has been mostly confined to social media. However, it helped, at least for a while, to restart this important conversation about women’s right “to be left alone” as a male friend and ally put it. In fact, one of the nice surprises for me personally was to see several men taking this as an opportunity to talk to other men about the need to change the very narrow and violent model of Dominican masculinity we still have.

Dominican feminists also debated the campaign among ourselves as we did, for instance, at the monthly debates of the Tertulia Feminista Magaly Pineda I created along with feminist lawyer Yildalina Tatem Brache. At that debate we also took a critical stance by analyzing not only the disproportional power of Hollywood in creating what is and is not “important” and “relevant” but also of the role of powerful white women once they get involved in a movement originally created by black women in the US.

Unfortunately, the #MeToo campaign has also reminded us (as if we needed any reminding) of how much we still have to learn as a society. The virulent and disproportionate reactions of many men and women about how “exaggerated” the campaign is, and how it breaks the “normal” terms of interaction between both sexes became emotionally exhausting, at least for me. Some would even argue that “a woman in her right mind” should not feel offended by “decent” compliments. The point that men are the ones who historically have had the right to address and harass women (in “decent” or “indecent” ways) on the street and other public spaces was almost completely missed.

Now the discussion has moved to the allegations against writer Junot Diaz (especially since he is of Dominican descent) and the virulence has reemerged. As I said, I do have mixed feelings about #MeToo and one of the areas where that is the case is this risk of putting rape and assault against women at the same level of forced kisses and misogynistic comments and attitudes. I do believe that Junot (who is also a friend and someone I admire) is a man who has tried to deconstruct this model of dangerous Dominican masculinity in his work and now has finally seen that he has not worked enough on deconstructing his own. And that is, at least for me, the great contradiction of the #MeToo campaing: its strength and its weakness come from connecting the dots between the different forms of violence against women and how they are all so deeply engrained in our societies, our bodies, our skins. We need to continue and deepen the conversation if we are to be successful in taking them out for good.

Esther Hernández-Medina is a feminist activist and scholar living in the Dominican Republic.

Monica Zapata

Monica Zapata at a vigil for Emely Peguero in Washington Heights.

Me Too (Yo También) is a movement that incites those who have been victims of sexual abuse to denounce their attackers. To great surprise, well-known personalities of entertainment, politics, finance, and cinema, have come to light as alleged abusers, often taking advantage of their positions of power or influence. Me Too has motivated the victims to make visible that aberrant practice that for years was hidden by fear and shame or suffer collateral damage.

Regarding the Dominican Republic, as far as I have understood, no cases have been reported linked to that movement (Me too). It is difficult for victims of sexual abuse or harassment to report these abuses in a society so dysfunctional and lacking in the protection of minors. The judicial system is absolutely inoperative in cases as delicate as sexual abuse or harassment.

In DR it is normal that a victim who is going to report an abuse is not taken into account and therefore is not followed up with, leaving many women orphaned and vulnerable, without rights and protection.Machismo and exclusion, which are very well anchored and have taken deep roots in the Dominican society and culture, where harassment, touching, or adult abuse of adolescents or minors is seen as normal. We have very poorly informed young girls and women, where their perception is that in the face of abuse, there aren’t solid mechanisms that will defend her, on the contrary they are exposed to being stigmatized, especially in the most economically vulnerable cases of society.

In Dominican Republic, we have to do arduous work when it comes to delicate cases of sexual assault.  And that’s without even discussing the power relations that occur in dominant companies and institutions, where harassment, abuse of a sexual nature, or insinuations are part of the culture.

Monica Zapata is an activist living in New York City.

Erika Del Castillo

I think the #MeToo movement is very important and I am happy that the conversations are definitely happening more in our Dominican communities. If we were to go a couple of years back, we would not be having these very important conversations with our mothers or grandmothers for that matter. This is unfortunately a topic that people don’t always like to talk about as they may feel ashamed or scared of what people will say when they bring their story to light. I’m very grateful that times are changing and, even though some Dominican communities may not be as active as others, the #MeToo movement is helping bring to light that this is not okay. We Dominican women are showing progress and that’s the beginning of a new era for sure.

My opinion (as someone who has dealt with abuse first hand) on this matter is simple: Any person no matter what type of abuse they’ve faced or are facing always has a choice in either becoming an abuser and continue what’s been done to them onto others, or becoming a survivor and empowering others to do the same by not letting their abuser break them and not allowing abuse to occur in other lives as well as in there own ever again. I chose the second choice and am a much better person for it.

Erica del Castillo is a teacher in Florida.

 

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