Monday, February 26, 2007

So I started crying today when I went to the website that this photographer has up dedicated to photographs and stories from his trips to the Dominican Republic (among other things). I don’t know what did it, really: the photos of the landscape that I am yearning for so deeply, or the portraits of Dominican `boys' and children in various `settings'. Paul Gerace: I don't know if he's American, Dominican, Haitian, French, Canadian or what, but his tone is reminiscent of all the phrases that the French neo-colonialists occupying the northwest part of the island use. What wonderful, happy, loving people we are, we Dominicans. So generous, that we just GIVE our land, our children, our food, our clothes, our homes away. So generous. Our enthusiasm for life. A life marked by struggle and hustle, fragility and insecurity. Of course we love life. It's all most of us there have.

The Dominican Republic is beautiful. We know that. The Spaniards knew that when they arrived 515 years ago. The French. The British. The Americans. All of them knew that. It’s the most beautiful paradise you'll ever leave, and the most beautiful hell you'll ever be trapped in. The past 15 years of national and international economic and environmental policy are stripping the shores of sand and coral and clean fishing areas, they're stripping the people of viable means of sustenance, instead forcing them into new forms of indentured servitude: hotel work, free trade zone work, tourism. The political economy is based on paternalistic patterns of participation, whereby jobs inside and outside of servitude are granted to whoever is in line with the party in power, or who their family is or to women who make the most out of their appearance (let me clarify that I do not judge the women or the people for trying to make a living, but I do think that as a society, we are cutting ourselves off at the knees). Tourists from the U.S. can stop into the Dominican Republic and get excited about the investment prospects, and then upset when Dominicans request salaries about the $100/month minimum wage. The French can stop into the Dominican Republic and get excited about how beautiful it is and buy land and sell land to each other in French, without regard for the hundreds of families they displace in the process. And tourists can come and take photos of the beautiful children and beautiful beaches and make money, and once again, we are taken.

The peso has been dollarized, and food costs more there than in New York City and there is little I can do about it - me with all my dollars, appearing at cash registers in the supermarket, stationery store, bar or at food stalls in the fruit market - precisely because I work in dollars, and because I haven't made myself a permanent participant in the social/political/economic landscape. I'm registered with a political party there, but it's rare I go back to vote. I have a U.S. passport so when things get bad I come to the U.S. to work and make money so I can go back home as often as possible. I share my opinions with the friends who do stay there, who look at me in silence because they are just trying to build a house, raise their families, and eat.

Sigh. Home, homeland, land - these are all such complicated and complex questions for me. When I go home, I go not only to work (by work I mean write), but I also go as a tourist. I go to beaches, and I stay in hotels around the country, and I travel. I can leave when I want to or need to. As an adult, I have lived there twice. And left many more times than that. And yet, for all that so much of me wants to stay there - because of the taste of the soil that coats my skin, or the diesel smoke that drenches my hair, or the sound of music and voices and TV and birds and wind and factories and cars and children that sing to me constantly - the homophobia, the poverty that marks the legacy of colonialism, the limitations on my person/intellect and heart are too much for me.

What then, differentiates me from Paul? Other than some of the photographs we take? He is doing what he loves - taking photos of people and places in bright colors. I am doing what I love - soaking in the stories from the land on which I was born and vesseling them into novels, poems, and other forms. We are both doing what we love, and so who am I to feel so indignant? And so used? Aren't photos part of the commons - the space where art meets the public? Don't the 18 years Paul has of visiting a place constitute a significant basis for a relationship to that place, when many Dominicans haven't gone back in that same amount of time? Would this upset me so much if these were photos of Paris? or Italy? or Spain? And, I, who write of the land of my birth, when am I going to write about the place where I reside – the world around my present present? Who am I to feel so indignant? Aren't we all just trying to create beauty out of what we live and experience? Or is there something else that's happening here to set me on edge?

I guess the time has come for me to email Paul.



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