I went through an embarrassing phase as a teenager where I didn’t want to be Dominican. We didn’t visit the Dominican Republic that much in my teens (not that that would have helped since once there, I was told I was American and not really Dominican).
Part of it was what I learned about what it meant to be Dominican. A joke in my high school was that Dominicans were “dumb-in-a-can.” For some reason, I thought the kids hanging around in hoodies and baggie pants on the street corners of Washington Heights were “more Dominican” than me. At least, that’s what they’d told me and somewhere around the way, I believed them. If they said, Dominicans listened to Puff Daddy and I was listening to Nirvana then I wasn’t “really Dominican.”
It wasn’t until college in a class entitled “Hispanic Women” that I really embraced being Dominican. Being Dominican wasn’t about how good my Spanish was or how good my English was, it wasn’t even about whether or not I could make rice and beans. I was Dominican-American whether I liked it or not and when I started reading books by Julia Alvarez (“How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents”), I realized I liked it.
I joke though that I didn’t realize how Dominican I was until I decided to become Jewish. Part of this truly has been thanks to my husband who has been dubbed an honorary Dominican. When we lived in Washington Heights, my husband forayed out of the shops selling kosher stuff to discover all the Dominican food he could get his hands on at the local bodegas: he’d substitute potatoes for yucca and plantains in his cholent. He got his hair done (“best haircuts ever”) at the Dominican barber shops.
When I wanted to go to the Dominican Republic after we got married, he was excited! When I told him I wanted our kids (still imaginary) to be fluent in Spanish, he signed up for a Spanish class. Now if only he hadn’t told my grandmother about the Dominican curses I taught him. If my husband could be proud of being an honorary Dominican, how could I not be proud of being a true Dominicana?
But if being proud of your parents’ culture isn’t so easy when you’re an American-born child, being proud of your native culture isn’t any easier when you’re adopted. “A study says that more than half of the first generation of children adopted from South Korea struggled with their ethnic identity, and it recommends changes in adoption policy.” Read: “Adopted from Korea and in Search of Identity”