Written By: Jaynice Del Rosario
I moved to the U.S. from the D.R. just before I turned three — a little outspoken kid who demanded only to be spoken to in Spanish and knew all of the words to Fernandito Villalona’s “Delirante Amor,” a talent that quickly made me the center of attention. My family members regularly gathered around me to hear me sing, giving me all the attention of a newborn baby. I may have only been three, but even then, I was aware of my Dominican identity and by five swore to never give up my red Dominican passport.
Fast forward to 2015, after more than 20 years of living in the U.S. and traveling the world on that blue passport I once refused to claim. I moved in with my boyfriend that year, despite the “cultural taboo” and my mother’s constant disapproval that manifested in her furrowed brow and her “eso no esta biens.” I chose to move in for love and because my partner waited for me for two years while I completed my Peace Corps service, an act of commitment far beyond those of many husbands.
And yet, admittedly, I haven’t been completely at peace since then. Despite living and growing up in a country where on average three out of four unmarried couples cohabitate before marriage, my family’s expectations have seldom changed. Yet with stagnant wages and an estimated 50% of couples who get hitched ending up divorced, it is no surprise that more and more couples are opting for cohabitation.
But… the patriarchy.
When I encounter Dominicans — usually my family members and my parents’ friends — they often refuse to call my boyfriend what he is, my boyfriend. Instead, when speaking to me, they refer to him as “tu esposo” in an effort to preserve what’s left of my dignity now that I’m living with a man who hasn’t formally claimed me “under God.” But their resistance to accept my truth is in itself an act of shaming. They message that my respectability is at stake every time they call him my husband knowing he’s not. They strip me of agency and promote the myth that men marry for pussy. They ask: what’s the point of him buying the cow if he’s getting the milk for free?
And I fall for it, every time. Despite my feminist values and my awareness of gender bias, these messages feed my insecurities and fill me with self-doubt. It’s a weight I bear alone because no one ever calls me Daniel’s wife or pretends we’re something we’re not when they address him. To them, he is an individual, he has agency and his respectability is never up for debate. And while I can acknowledge that the things people say likely do not come from a bad place, intent never negates impact.
I am tired of people insinuating that somehow my partner won for getting access to my body without first giving me his last name, because: 1) I wanted as much access to his body as he wanted to mine and 2) I’m keeping my damn last name. It is a reminder that as a woman, my work, activism, studies and travels are never more important topics of conversation than my relationship status. Never mind that I’m actually happy and in a relationship where I am respected and treated as an equal — the only thing that truly seems to matter is whether or not Daniel has deemed me worthy of being his wife.
I love my Dominican heritage and it is still an important part of who I am, but I’m also American and my relationship choices honor the complexity of that experience. The thing I love about my relationship most (besides the incredible, daily, uninhibited, extramarital sex) is that we are committed to the same issues and to resistance. We organize, protest, inform our communities and lead together. We are equal partners in life and strive to be a positive example of love for the many youth of color we have worked with who look up to us. We’re not perfect, but we sacrifice a lot for the greater good including our time, energy and money. And I want that to be what people think about when they think about us. I want my work, actions and character to dictate the questions I am asked because those are the things Daniel is asked about. And with pursuing my MPA, working two jobs, appearing in two documentaries and fighting a racist/sexist/ableist administration, I have more than enough to talk about beside my relationship status.
Jaynice Del Rosario is a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs specializing in gender and public policy. Prior to beginning her graduate studies, Jaynice was a program coordinator at Sadie Nash Leadership Project working with predominantly low-income young women and girls of color. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Ethiopia where she served as National Coordinator of Gender and Development from 2013-2015 and where she led efforts like Day of Dialogue to discuss racial justice issues in the U.S.
Currently, Jaynice is an intern at the Sexual Violence Response office at Columbia University and a Sexual and Reproductive Rights Advocate for Amnesty International. Since the presidential election, Jaynice has organized with local community members to strategize and engage in acts of direct resistance to the pending dangers of a Trump administration. She is Dominican-American, has traveled to 20+ countries and resides in Washington Heights with her partner Daniel Morales-Armstrong.