Learning About America In The Dominican Republic

2514 words - 11 pages

Exactly one week after graduating from high school, with thirteen years of American education behind me, I boarded a plane and headed for a Caribbean island, I had fifteen days to spend on an island surrounded with crystal blue waters, white sandy shores and luxurious ocean resorts. With beaches to play on by day and casinos to play in during the night, I was told that this country was an exciting new tourist destination. My days in the Dominican Republic, however, were not filled with snorkeling lessons and my nights were not spent at the black jack table. Instead of visiting the ritzy East Coast, I traveled inland to a mountain community with no running water and no electricity. The bus ...view middle of the document...

In Guayabal, American culture and American consumerism were clashing with the Hispanic and Caribbean culture of the Dominican Republic. The clash came from the Dominicans' desire to be American in every sense, and especially to be consumers of American products. This is nearly impossible for Dominicans to achieve due to their extreme poverty. Their poverty provided the "asymmetrical relation of power" found in contact zones, because it impeded not only the Dominican's ability to be consumers, but also their ability to learn, to work, and to live healthily. The effects of their poverty could be seen in the eyes of the seven year-old boy who couldn't concentrate in school because all he had to eat the day before was an under-ripe mango. It could be seen in the brown, leathered hands of the tired old man who was still picking coffee beans at age seventy.

The moment I got off the bus I noticed the clash between the American culture, the Dominican culture, and the community's poverty. It was apparent in the Dominicans' fragmented representation of American pop culture. Everywhere I looked in Guayabal I saw little glimpses of America. I saw Coca-Cola ads painted on raggedy fences. I saw knock-off Tommy Hilfiger shirts. I heard little boys say "I wanna be like Mike" in their best English, while playing basketball. I listened to Meringue House, the American version of the traditional Dominican Meringue music. In each instance the Dominicans had adopted an aspect of American culture, but with an added Dominican twist. Pratt calls this transculturation. This term is used to "describe processes whereby members of subordinated or marginal groups select and invent from materials transmitted by a dominant or metropolitan culture" (Pratt 80). She claims that transculturation is an identifying feature of contact zones. In the contact zone of Guayabal, the marginal group, made up of impoverished Dominicans, selected aspects of the dominant American culture, and invented a unique expression of a culture combining both Dominican and American styles. My most vivid memory of this transculturalization was on a hot afternoon when I heard some children yelling "Helado! Helado!" or "Ice Cream! Ice Cream!" I looked outside just in time to see a man ride by on a bicycle, ringing a hand bell and balancing a cooler full of ice cream in the front bicycle basket. The Dominican children eagerly chased after him, just as American children chase after the ice cream truck.

Despite their penchant for American products and American ways, in many aspects the people of Guayabal were deeply Dominican. From the front steps of my host family's tiny house I watched many lively games of dominos, a favorite Dominican pastime. I noticed that "El Presidente," the domestic beer, was the drink of choice in the town's one discotheque. I watched as artisans crafted wooden furniture and wove brightly colored cushions that could compliment only a Dominican decor. Although they attempted to...

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