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Para los de afuera

Yulissa Emilia Nuñez

A mi novio le gusta decir, “A ti no te has picao’ ni un mosquito,” y esa mierda sí me quilla.

Like I didn’t grow up taking a shit down a hole in Miches, wearing clothes my grandmother made on her sewing machine. Like half the scars on my body didn’t come from being a damn carajita exploring with my siblings and cousins. But to him, yo era de afuera, and this motherlover treated me like a Dominican gringa. I told him every time—con una paciencia—that I’m not that different from him. He’s from Los Mina, and I am from Lawrence. It’s a William Shakespeare (or Guillermo, as we would have called him) love story.

I should have dropped him for making me feel like I had to defend my Dominican identity, but I knew better after the hassle I went through to gain my cedula. Wasn't nobody going to tell me shit! Yo tengo mi doble ciudadanía. I can vote for the next president, open a bank account, and work wherever I'm qualified on the island.

To cut my boyfriend some slack, sometimes I smile and nod in conversations that go over my head when I speak with people over there. It’s hard when every other sentence contains a colloquialism and refranes you would only know if you had spent most of your life living and breathing the culture. I wasn’t ashamed of it either, but I knew I was exposing myself as an outsider when I asked my boyfriend one day, “¿Qué significa ‘poner un huevo’?” and "¿Por qué dijiste ‘vamos a guayar yuca’?" He laughs through it, but I'd probably call it quits if I were dating myself. I’m terrible at following proverbs in English too, so I should probably cut myself some slack.

My boyfriend also says that part of why I stand out is because I think differently, too. I proudly show off the deals I got at Goodwill and don’t mind looking like a broke campesina en la capital if it means staying clear of atracadores and envidiosos. At the same time, most visitors and nationals flaunt their wealth and brand-name clothes. He thought it was funny that I wanted to shop en La Duarte because I wanted to see their deals, but I was dead serious. You can call me cheap, but I like to save money for essential things like a private hospital trip for a medical emergency or an inversor cuando se va la luz. Unfortunately, to live in DR is to keep up appearances, and I find that shit tiring.

I don't know the experience of other Dominicans elsewhere, but when that USA plane lands on the island, all the estadounidenses become royalty. Llegaron los de afuera. “¿Qué me trajiste?” “¿Para donde vamos y cuándo te vas?” Because you lack manners if you don't bring back something, and they have to know how long they will share the baller life with you. And you don't pay attention because the Ubers are four dollars, and the food is inexpensive.

You can stretch your money to cover that nice resort or trip to the lake or beach, drop gas money on the fly, and cover Fulanito's kid's entrada to the zoo so everyone can come. And when you listen to your uncle curse out the Haitian wiping his car windows during the red light, you cringe. And when you see your girl cousin running around with two men (one likely married), you judge. And when you fly back home and pay the impuestos because you stayed too long, you are reminded that you can step in and out without carrying the burdens of the people or the República. Porque tú eres de afuera.

I’ll never understand why some Dominicans act like gatekeepers of the culture and prevent others of Dominican descent from claiming their identity. I’m not sure what checklist you guys have, probably one filled with machismo shit, but I’ve been screened with: “¿Y tú cocinas?” “¿Tú sabes bailar perico ripiao?” “Y porque tú hablas con ese acento de Neflis?” Among other annoying inquiries meant to gauge my Dominicanness. To them, I’m too gringa, and to the gringos, I’m not American enough.

I got used to defending myself against my boyfriend’s snarky comments early in our relationship, so he knew not to fuck with me. But dealing with my family’s ignorance when I told them I chose DR as my first international teaching position was exhausting. Que ¿cuánto voy a ganar? Que ¿adónde voy a vivir? Que ¿qué carro voy a comprar? Que no me conviene porque el país no sirve. Que el estilo de vida es malo. Que la gente son dos caras, mentirosos y salvajes. Que me van a coger de pendeja. That was the first time I wished I was white because I would be celebrated for going on adventures while making a difference in the world. There I was, looking forward to starting my international teaching journey while my family was talking behind my back, inviting the devil to fuck up my plans.

I don’t think they understood that I was willing to work to understand what it meant to be a true Dominican-American. To be a dual citizen who understands the political, economic, socio-cultural, environmental, and other external influences that govern the island. Una tipa que hace su tarea while choosing to vote and live in action towards helping la isla de Hispaniola flourish. It’s hard when los de afuera glamorize the US when most Dominican-Americans are struggling too.

I'm not trying to throw shade at the Dominicans who bust their ass to provide for themselves and their families and want to enjoy the beach and get away from their miserable 9 to 5 jobs, but this shit needs to be aired out. Whether intentionally or not, los de afuera reinforce false narratives about the Dominican Republic—dicen que afuera es mejor. And just like that, instead of working to improve the island, la gente se hacen busca visa o busca yola. Hay que salir pa' fuera, porque aquí no hay na'.

I feel strongly about this issue because my mother is a Michera, and in Miches, most people have known someone who has attempted, succeeded, or died trying to reach Puerto Rico on a boat to reach the United States. That’s how most of my family salió para afuera. I’ve heard of respected teachers and other young and old professionals willing to take on the treacherous sea to make their dreams come true. But I always knew there had to be a better way.

I was flown to Massachusetts when I was little to live with my father, and even though it tore my grandmother apart, she knew it was better for me. It’s hard to let go of my dreams of living in DR because of her. She represents the beauty of the island. A place where I can find comfort, laughter, and love amid struggle and suffering. Part of me always wanted to find that “better way” to honor her and anyone else who mistakenly sees DR like the inside of a jail cell.

Maybe it's naive of me to think that los de afuera can contribute to helping the Dominican Republic dish out just as many talented professionals and change agents as MLB athletes, but that’s what we should aim for. Instead of judging people for what makes them more or less Dominican, we should put our efforts toward uplifting the island so that no one risks their life or their love life for una ilusión.


Yulissa Emilia Nuñez is a Dominican-American memoirist. Her fondness for reading and appreciation for the written word propelled her career as an educator for high school-age youth. Yulissa scours and challenges the world through the refined lens of creative prose, enabling her students to strengthen their writer’s voice in her classroom. She obtained a master’s degree from the Bread Loaf School of English and regularly attends writing workshops hosted by the Dominican Writers Association. She resides in Santo Domingo, RD, with her newly rescued viralata, Lolita, and her loving cat, Luna.

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