I definitely think there is a shift going on in Aruba. People are starting to talk about identity and question it as well. So here is my little grain of sand. Growing up, I never had talks about identity at home. I just knew I was a Dominican girl and though I was demonized a lot for my round nose, as far as I remember I was never called “black” either. I didn’t have kinky curls until I turned 14. So there’s that. Dominicans do this thing where they don’t necessarily contextualize race but judge by skin tone and dark skin was always demonized in conversations – though all the women in my family were fond of extremely black men. Which again, is a conversation by itself.
My friend always makes this joke about what is going to be said about me when I “make it” as a writer. Says they’ll be a war between Aruba and Dominican Republic and both will want to claim me as theirs. When I write about Aruba I use “nos” meaning “us”, because I consider myself a part of the Arubian society. Because I love it and I want to contribute to it. But I have learned to not claim the “Arubian” nationality because it is only applicable to me as long as I fall under the agency they want me to. The minute I trip (which I have, countless times) I am just another starving immigrant who came to Aruba to eat.
Once upon a time, I too wanted to be a “model minority”. I too thought that “you’re not like the other Dominicanas” was a compliment or that conversations about how good my English was were somehow joyful. Mind you, the only difference between Yakari in College with the good English and Carmencita with the broken one cleaning at Playa Linda is the way you were taught to perceive us.
Truth is, I went out of my way to find where I would fit in. I don’t think getting “woke” was something that just happened. I wasn’t always into activism, or race, or anything of that matter but I did all my learning by myself. After thousands of micro aggressions and discriminatory occurrences, I had to make sense of myself. When things come together it is like this. i am a black Dominican woman. I am an immigrant and my story is not uncommon. You can’t mention me being a woman without mentioning that I am black because blackness changed my experience as a woman. You can’t say that I am Dominican without saying that I am an immigrant because immigrating changed my context as well. That is the narrative, and I know people remove my name from my work because this makes them uncomfortable. But it won’t change the fact that it still came from me.
My greatest hope is that as a society, we do not wait to hear who we are, but we desperately search for it and claim it. I beg of you to speak to your children about identity. Have conversations, find something to find pride in. Teach them their history, their roots and how it differs from the one they hear at school or on the streets. It is important to have a strong sense of identity because when you know who you are this world cannot break you, no matter how hard it tries. In Holland, Many Arubian students struggle with wanting to be accepted by the Dutch. They leave heartbroken because they can’t cope with a society that just won’t include them though they share the same passport. I luckily don’t have that issue, I’m not seeking for anyone’s approval and that is only because I came to Holland knowing exactly who I was.