And this is where I tell you that I had an incredible month in the Dominican Republic, after finding my feet in the shifting sands and the salty Caribbean waters. I am an island baby, and terra firma is a fictional state for me. Though, I've learned to live with it.
The conference was a fantastic experience, and I met so many incredible people. I got to hang out with a bad ass crew of folks, and to learn about the intricacies of their work. There is so much exciting scholarship and artistic production going on in the world. It makes me smile. I think some of my favorite presentations dared to be bold in their form (conversations between old friends, for example), and in their content (the notion of "ocular penetration" in film as presented by C.U. Decena).
Soon after, I met an incredible group of artists and activists. For example, I got to see Isabel Spencer, one of the Dominican Republic's foremost theatre artists, present her piece "Derechos Henanos" as part of the Festival de Teatro Nacional. This play was an awesome experience in which I got to witness hip hop, reggaeton and evangelist aesthetics folded into one. We could argue that...well, I'll just leave that to you.
I think one of the most amazing highlights was attending the Pride (Orgullo) activities on June 26 and June 27. June 16 was a "Besaton" - a kiss in in front of the national cathedral, which is actually the first cathedral in the Americas, which makes it just pregnant with history. How awesome to see queers kiss and hold hands, and to see brown and black people walking freely over the bones of our martyred ancestors.
And then, watching a line of cars stream up the street as part of the caravan on Sunday June 27th - being in that line of cars - winding its way around the city. I will note that our route began on Avenida George Washington, went up Avenida Abraham Lincoln, across Avenida 27 de febrero and down Avenida Duarte...the metaphoric and symbolic analysis we can carry out on the names alone!!! Anyways, it was an honor and a privilege to be present to and to share time with so many bad ass Dominican activists and artists. And, it was incredible to see how many people came out on the spot (including the four hotel workers who danced as we passed by; and the restaurant worker who pointed to his colleague standing next to him; or the woman on the bus who reached down to slap some high fives); and to see how many people were in support of their LGBT compatriotas. I was really, really excited and proud. I even posted photos on facebook.
But, I wouldn't be me if I didn't speak out about how the police really tried to put a damper on things by physically attacking one of my hermanas, Mirla Hernandez, as I drove the car away from the festivities. We were heading out when he started harassing us. Someone in the car suggested I use my U.S. privilege to navigate the situation, but in that moment, not a lick of English was coming to me. As the officer's aggression increased, he started with homophobic epithets. Mirla had the courage to respond to his abuse of authority, and he did what so many police officers in the Dominican Republic feel empowered to do: he hit her, "porque el es la autoridad".
It has taken me a week to be able to write about this, as I step back to respect Mirla's decisions about how to handle the situation. But once I saw that her official statement has been published (along with the video that shows it all going down), I am now at liberty to bring your attention to this incident.
Police brutality, state violence in the Dominican Republic is at an all time high (outside of the Trujillo regime's notorious record). The same night that this incident occurred, two other officers killed a university student - with a gunshot to the head - because he refused to stop on a darkened street.
All I could think about, besides doing my best to be an accountable (U.S. citizen) ally to Mirla, was on ensuring the safety of my two friends who were there with me, visiting from the U.S. and having a great time. We did have an amazing time, and we had a Dominican time - replete with all the complexities of navigating the realities of the "New World" as D. calls it :) LOL - the New World, yes, not the Third World, but "The New World". The complexities of poverty, corruption, and oppression that exist alongside the joys of a bad ass LGBT movement, beautiful beaches and really good hedonistic aids.
It is often the conditions of our oppression that catalyze the most profound and necessary movements. The Dominican LGBT movement is poised to be at the forefront of putting pressure on the Dominican government to stop state violence against everyday (and queer) citizens. My prayer and my hope is that 1) there will be no more casualties; 2) if there are, that the casualties will remain within the ranks of the state in the form of response and not further violence and 3) that the violence against those on the streets be stopped. There have already been too many casualties on the street.
Power to the people. And love.