I remember I sat in a meeting for@thelivesofmenin 2016 with people who were successful in so many different walks of life. Everyone was asked to introduce themselves. I remember saying: "I'm Claudio Cabrera and I lead SEO at the New York Times and I'm releasing a book in March 2017 titled "Y Tu Eres Dominicano/a" focused on race and colorism within the Dominican community." When I said what I was working on in front of that room, it elicited a lot of "Wow's" and "That's much needed" which made me feel good. After the introduction, people began to ask me about the book. It's been three years and six months since that day. I haven't released my book. I remember when it was my turn I added the book partly because I knew it would elicit a positive, intrigued reaction. I didn't say it because I had worked on it or was finishing it. I said it because I felt insecure in a room even though I had no reason to. I said it because I was in a space in my life where I just came off a breakup and needed something to feel good about myself. You ever been in a room that despite everything you've ever accomplished you try to come up with some shit that makes "you feel" like you're level with everyone else? Maybe you feel smaller? Do you ever try to compete with others when you should only compete with yourself? There were only two things that I said that was true that day: my name and my job. Three years ago, I asked @danny_peguero to design my book.@dominicanwritersand@holamatoswould always ask me: "When are you releasing the book?" And truth be told, I've been scared. Will it have mistakes? Will it be any good? I convinced myself I needed to write the best book ever written on race and Dominicans. I kept telling friends a date I'd never meet. If they asked me in April, I'd say June. If they asked me in June, I'd say September. To the point where I'd never hear them ask again. And instead of feeling shame or disappointment, I felt relief. It felt like I got bailed out. And I probably needed a bailout
Twelve years ago, I had a popular blog titled "Live Above Mediocrity." I had a 12 part series within the blog titled "Dominican Chronicles." It told a lot of these stories.
But one day, when I didn't renew my website I lost all of them. All of those stories. It hurt a lot. Still does. Sometimes when I struggle writing I try to find them but I obviously can't. It's a part of my life that died without a proper goodbye. And I think it was meant to be. When I wrote that series ten years ago, all the stories were real but I was trying to achieve fame through them. I was like a lot of people on Instagram today. More about what the work can bring them than the work itself. But today, I'm writing with the purpose of connecting and helping people, not becoming famous anymore. One of my girlfriend's friends randomly told her that I had a gift I have to continue harnessing and the world will give me as much back as I give it. Since that day a few months ago, I can tell you that I started writing. And while I've had my dead days I've been as alive as I've ever been. I see the finish line. And instead of giving you a date, I'll just ask you all to be my accountability partners and continue checking in on me. Here's some raw excerpts of my book. It focuses on situations and interactions many of us [man or woman] have gone through as darker-skinned Dominicans. I'm sure many of you can relate. You ever go to a Dominican barbershop and seats are free and no one wants to cut your hair because of your skin color? You ever go to a barber and when you sit in the chair and tell him what you want in Spanish he responds in English? You ever keep talking in Spanish and he keeps talking in English? Did you ever ask yourself why you keep speaking in Spanish trying to gain acceptance from this man? Are you trying to prove a point or belong? Truthfully, I know when I walked in and talked Spanish I was yearning for some sort of acceptance: “I’m Dominican. I can be Dominican too. Look at me.” You ever been to a barbershop and they change the music from La Mega to Hot 97 to make you feel comfortable until they sit you down in the chair, hear you speak Spanish, and flip it right back to La Mega? “Ah pero de Donde tu ere? Panameno? Cubano?” As if the posters on the wall behind us of Dominican baseball players don’t look just like me.
You ever seen Luis Severino blow a game for the Yankees and someone in the barber shop say “maldito prieto” but never when the light skin Dominican equivalent does the same? You ever heard a barber tell another “ten cuidao que los morenos son indeseable si no lo cortan como quieran" translated to "be careful cause blacks are unbearable when you don’t cut their hair the way they want.” You ever had to act as a translator for a black American who is struggling to communicate with a Dominican barber to make both feel comfortable? When your current barber of 22 years sees an article about you in the newspaper and tells the barbershop “Yo te dije que Claudio es negro por fuera pero blanco por dentro (Claudio is black on the outside but white on the inside).” When your old barber who is Dominican and dark-skin as well gets introduced to your lighter skinned ex-girlfriend and you faintly overhear him say from a distance “tiene que ser dinero (must be money)” to explain why she’s with you because black can’t be beautiful only light can. When you go to El Malecon or Nueva Espana or Margot's [RIP] and they reply to you in English when you are talking to him or her in Spanish. When the person who's the lightest at the table gets talked to in Spanish than the person who is darker. Hearing the table next to you at the restaurant/club say that the girls you're hanging with are only with you because you probably sell drugs. When you're out with your best friend who is Dominican who's a tad lighter and they always pass him the bill instead of you. When you are told that you speak good Spanish and then you tell them that you are Dominican. "Ah pero tu no parece Dominicano [Oh, but you don't look Dominican]." But what does Dominican look like? Sometimes I wonder about the Dominican kids who look like me. What stage are they in? Self-hate? Self-Discovery? Self-Love? Because I went through all 3 and it took me a long time to get to every single stage. And the work isn’t done. Trust me, I truly love being Dominican. Probably more than anything outside of the people I love. But Dominicans have made it hard as fuck to make me feel like I belong...
Social media excerpts by Claudio E. Cabrera in anticipation of his forthcoming book “Y Tu Eres Dominicano/a”. Follow Claudio on Instagram at @claudio.e.cabrera