Quisqueyana: Identifying With My Indigenous Roots

The way I’ve identified myself has changed as my understanding of my roots evolve. Calling myself a Dominican was how I identified for most of my life. When I became a Black Studies major in college, I began calling myself Afro-Latina as I embraced my African roots. Through the years after, I have analyzed my relationship with the Dominican Republic by studying its history; I focused a lot on the racial formation and its connection to the national identity. As of last year, I am making a concentrated effort to shift from being Dominican to Quisqueyana.

There are a few reasons for this. I’ve noticed over time that my Boricua family had the ability to identify with Boriquen, the original name of Puerto Rico. To call themselves Boricua is a recognition of the colonization that happened to the Taíno ancestors of the island. The name “Puerto Rico” wills an erasure of sorts and is the name given by the colonizers. There is a very different energy between identifying as Puerto Rican versus Boricua. Puerto Rico means “Rich Port”, referring to its history with trading and its commonwealth status with the United States. Borinquen, by comparison, derives from the island’s Taíno name, Borikén, which means “Land of the Valiant Lord”. I was reminded of this when La Galería Magazine was being formulated, encouraged by nudges from La Requesta Magazine, our Boricua predecessors. It was at the end of last year that I remembered the history of what Dominican means.

According to Ernesto Sagas’ article, “A Case of Mistaken Identity: Antihaitianismo in Dominican culture”, the early origins of the anti-blackness associated with the country came with the Spanish inhabitants of the first colony in the Caribbean. Before the independence was gained, the island was known as Santo Domingo, in reference to the patron saint, Saint Dominic. From this came the calling of the residents as “Dominicanos.” The Dominican Republic was adopted on February 27, 1844, when the resistance group led by Juan Pablo Duarte gained independence from what is called “The Haitian Occupation”. I mention the anti-blackness because it is related to the nationhood of what it means to be Dominican, especially because the independence that gave the east side of the island its name was gained from Ayiti. Thus, to refer to the country and the people as the Dominican Republic and Dominicans, honors a history that identifies with its European roots, embraces Catholicism/Christianity and erases its African and indigenous roots.

I decided to look up what Quisqueya meant for the first time. I realized that not even the national anthem had the words “Dominican Republic” in it, which I found interesting. I learned that Quisqueya is a Taíno word meaning Mother of all Lands, used for the entire island but mostly for the eastern side. This made me feel even more unified to my Boricua family and gave me another part of my identity that I haven’t explored – one of being Taína/Arawak. Calling myself Quisqueyana invokes the history before the colonization. I feel more authentic to my roots using this word instead. I have been identifying this way as much as I can and encourage others to do so too. Names are important. They define what things are. If one calls our native land by colonized names, it gives power to that colonization that must be deconstructed. To call our islands by their original names (or as close as we can get to it) wills a remembrance of our pre-colonial history.

*This is an evolving identity piece. I am still learning more about the word and will continue to write about my experience exploring who I am culturally. Recently, I have been learning more about the indigenous roots of Quisqueya as well as my intertwined roots with Ayiti, and will share my findings.*

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About Ynanna Djehuty (13 Articles)
Ynanna Djehuty is an Afro-Dominicana born and raised in the Bronx. She is a midwife, reproductive health activist and writer. She is the co-founder and associate editor of La Galería Magazine.

2 Comments on Quisqueyana: Identifying With My Indigenous Roots

  1. Thank you hermana for this piece. I continue to identify as Afro-Dominican or Afro-Latina. I feel like using these identifications can seem overly simplistic and requires us to understand our history through a lens that continued to be critical of colonialism and imperialismo. I’m certainly interested in learning more about our indigenous roots. And am certainly aware of how our identities are shifting and constantly changing. Does Quisqueyano acknowledge our African and indigenous roots? So many of our People tend to want to identify with the indigenous and use that as a way to be antiblack. Just something I’m thinking about.

    • Ynanna Djehuty // March 26, 2015 at 5:10 pm // Reply

      Biany, thank you for reading this. Where I’m at now is trying to find out more information about the root of the word Quisqueya, as I was recently reprimanded for it. I think that Quisqueyano is the indigenous roots for definite, which is why I’d use Afro-Quisqueyana to combine both of those heritages. I feel like my identity is changing a lot as I work on this magazine as I find out more and more accurate history. Some days I feel really good about the word Quisqueya, other days, I don’t. I encourage the both of us to continue to do our research. When I find out more I will certainly follow up with the magazine. Dominican though, the word, is loaded as well. That is by no means disowning the country and culture that I love but as we continue to form our identities, knowing the etymology of the words we use can be helpful. Take the journey with me; I certainly don’t know everything myself. Thank you again!

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