Written by: Ángel Isaac Rivera
Idiosyncrasies are the formulated processes that people carry, wherever they go. That is, it is the mental suitcases appropriated to individuals by their culture, heritage, upbringing and so on. Dominicans are unique and, as a multicultural person who undergoes that general cultural narrative, I am interested in determining whether this experience affords me connections with other Dominicans or not. It is pertinent to note that I also checklist “Boricua” as one of the many ways of identifying myself, which has exposed me to the “Boricua Bond” often connecting many Puerto Ricans. Does a “Quisqueyan bond” exist? If so, is it as “strong” as the Boricua bond? If it does not exist, how do other Dominicans feel about each other, once estranged on foreign lands—in the United States and/or elsewhere?
Boricua is an affirmation, and is often all it takes for someone to spark conversations with a Puerto Rican. What do we Dominicans shout as affirmations to one-another? Piénsalo. Both cultures are very similar, como el mofongo y el mangú, la alcapurria y el quipe, la parcha y la chinola, et cetera, however, in the Midwest, my experiences have shown me that the few Dominicans that band together do not really have a solidified community nor do they show that “Dominican love” as I have witnessed in the Puerto Rican communities. For example, there exists a “mixed” population of Caribbean folk here, who consider themselves “DominiRican”, but often highlight being more Puerto Rican than Dominican. Additionally, I have a friend with Dominican parents who was born in Puerto Rico, and consequently claimed being Puerto Rican for many years exuding profound Puerto Rican pride. Por qué?
Puerto Ricans are very vocal about their ethnicity and pride — which may be one of the bridges that connect the people of the Puerto Rican diaspora. Dominicans are seemingly not. That may be one of the reasons why it may seem as if Dominicans are not as united, but are we? I have heard the critiques from both sides: Dominicans expressing their contempt for the flamboyant Puerto Rican vanity, Puerto Ricans exclaiming their disapproval of inferior Dominican unity (usually during ethnic parades) etc. As someone who undergoes both cultural passages and speaking from the crossroads, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans have more in common than differences, yet do not always get along in the Midwest (and according to my partial Nuyorican father, in New York either). Essentially, we eat the same food, but argue about their names, dance to the same music, but critique each other’s steps, live in the same communities, but fight over arbitrary governmental labels; what can amount to a missed opportunity to connect brothers and sisters and even cousins alike. We are people of such close proximity, playing a game of dividends.
Ethnic hubris, from both sides, fogs those similarities. This leads to a prime focus on the subtle differences—ascribed as mere regional variations (dialects, communal units, provincial perspectives et cetera). Contemporary history represented as the meat of the culture(s) vary, but the backbone and/or skeleton to these cultures is similar and virtually identical, which is why the “Tainos” (what else should I call them?) travelled back and forth in their piraguas, bueno, their yolas — one home to another — from Borikén to Quisqueya, and even Cubanacan. Dominicans have more in common with Puerto Ricans than any other ethnic group. They share the tutelage of being islanders from the Greater Antilles with interconnected histories. The recognition of familial and ancestral bonds — regardless of miles traveled — highlights them as “cosmopolitan”. These Pre-Columbian Tainos in what would be later monikered La Republica Dominicana, Puerto Rico, Cuba et cetera surpassed the confinement of nationalism (because the Spanish had not brought it yet), and embraced one another as interconnected islanders separated only by water. Centuries later, this is one of the many reasons why many Dominicans live in Puerto Rico, and why my Boricua father met my mother in the Dominican Republic. Aside from the occasional nationalistic intoxicated disputes, their coming together occurred because the commonalities surmounted contemporary variations — put into place by oppressors interested in division rather than addition, in order to keep us separate. I look to my left and to my right and the path is similar in nature.
History unfolded. What we know is that many of the islands of the Caribbean shared colonial history. The American military occupied the Dominican Republic twice, while Puerto Rico was taken as booty by America for their fuetazo to the Spanish — during the Spanish-American War. One major existing difference is the colonial status of Puerto Rico to the United States. The affects? Just as Puerto Rico’s traditions have been vaporizing since 1898, the Dominican Republic’s traditions are also in decline. Nothing against “progress”, but when la moda propagates American standard of beauty, my family on the island struggles to keep up (another article all together). All in all, many Puerto Ricans and Dominicans are exiled to the United States and some choose to move independently, and this shift has had a vast impact on the subsequent cultures.
In the Midwest, the Boricua bond that I have referenced exists. Despite Puerto Rico’s profound interwoven history with the United Sates there exists an inexplicable “pride”/ connection among Puerto Ricans for their motherland and kin. As such, being Puerto Rican can afford you immediate connections with other Puerto Ricans (Boricua Bond) while the existence of a Quisqueyan bond is currently debatable. As members of the Dominican Diaspora, do we lift one-another up? Many Puerto Ricans refer to themselves as just that, Puerto Rican, as members of the Dominican diaspora, what should we refer to ourselves as? Dominican-American? Dominicans? Qué? Per my documentary, Boricua en El Medio, Martín Soto states, “I don’t know about Latino, Hispanic, African American or White, but I definitely know that I’m Boricua. That’s one thing I know”. As Dominicans, are we comfortable acknowledging our Quisqueyan roots once displaced? (I see you Washington Heights).
This article is meant to engage everyone, but especially Dominicans, those of the Dominican diaspora and even Puerto Ricans. In what ways have you experienced a “Quisqueyan bond”, or a sense of instant community among Dominicans? Does it exist? What is your perspective on this matter? I understand that Puerto Ricans and Dominicans have become different people, hold their own individualistic histories and differences (alas by politics and other circumstantial complications), but the cultures were not split off that long ago. Are “DominiRicans” really between the two, or is this a figment of a jingoistic fervor and nationalistic intoxication fueled by the ego? As always, leave your comments. Dime que la que hay, bueno que lo que.
Ángel Isaac Rivera is a writer, filmmaker and photographer with an international focus. He is currently a student of anthropology and video production at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Alongside working on Boricua en El Medio—a documentary about Puerto Rican experiences in the Midwest—he is in the process of putting together an anthology and writing his first novel.