A Diasporic Commemoration
‘Dominican ish ,’ the first annual Dominican Writers Conference, was a powerful display of matriarchy, poder al pueblo (power to the people) and free expression. In all honesty, I’m still vibrating high off of the transformational energies of that day! From witnessing the tremendous team effort of their board to listening to Congressman Adriano Espaillat’s moving words about the movement to experiencing the art of Josefina Báez up close, I felt immensely empowered in ways I never quite imagined. This experience was unique for me because it was my first Dominican-centered event that was equally intellectual and artistically based. Dominican ish helped me to appreciate my cultural roots and all its intricacies on a deeper level. I felt truly welcomed. My spanglish was enough because it was spoken, my artistry was supported because it was reflected in the artistry of my community, my Dominican ish narrative was given a platform and the wings to fly.
Conventional rules were broken and thus space was created for true liberation to be birthed by the matriarchs that helped make this monumental occasion possible.
This first conference was in tribute to Josefina Báez, an ArteSana, cuenta cuentos, performera, escritora, devota and fundadora y directora de Latinarte/Ay Ombe Theatre (est. Abril 1986). Josefina is recognized as one of the most important cultural representatives of New York-based Dominican performance artistry by many in and out of the field alike. She coined the language of Performance Autology©, where she emphasizes the creative process as based on the autobiography of the doer and where Joy is integral to the narrative. We were privileged to get a preview of her Dominican ish performance art and I was absolutely marveled! The vernacular, the wordplay, the spanglish and the sheer boldness of her unapologetic expression were enlivening! “Refrigerator, re-frigeratOrrrr… fridgeee” she says coolly, emphasizing the varying pronunciations, using her voice and body as forms of purposeful proclamation, hypnotizing the audience with her ethereal presence. After her speech, I took the time to walk up to her simply to say “God Bless You” and to my surprise, she hugged me. Her embrace was warm and lavender-scented. It produced the feeling of being held by many different generations at once, even her inclination to give of herself to me in that way made me feel as though I was Home. Overall, in the worlds of Angela Abreu, founder of the Dominican Writers Association, “Josefina has done everything her own way and she was the perfect person for us to honor today,” and I couldn’t have agreed more. Her innovative artistry, her vast legacy and her vision and mission perfectly embody the value of the work of Dominican creators everywhere.
The rest of the conference was a day filled with dynamic workshops, panels and conversations between writers, creators, publishers, actors, healers and curators alike. With titles like ‘Writing from the Margins’, ‘La Sangre Jala: Connecting the Seen with the Unseen’, ‘The Role of Storytelling in Questioning’, ‘Exploring & Formulating Identity’, ‘Decolonizing Dominican Cinema’ and ’Calladita te ves más Bonita: Writing Rage’ ( more here ) the depth that was accomplished by the planning committee to create spaces where enlightenment and edification were cultivated is evident. From these sessions, I left with new understandings and the context with which to lend to them. I learned that anti-blackness is a pertinent concern to us, that we crave seeing ourselves and our stories in mainstream media, that we were determined to be our own agents, publicists and editors should we be unable to find any. I also recognized, firsthand, that Dominicans ARE out here doing the work! They are creating, they are fortifying themselves, they are promoting their craft and they are making a way not only for themselves but for all of us who come after. Most importantly, I learned that it is ultimately UP TO US to shift the false narratives that have been told about us and not by us. That we are worthy, we are omnipotent, we are DOMINICANS coño and we do not play!
Saturday, May 4th 2019 marked a legendary day. Herstory was made and it revolutionized my viewpoint forever… THAT is how you know it was real. The first annual Dominican Writers Conference, ‘Dominican ish ,’ in my humblest opinion was a prodigious success. It was a cathartic experience, a rite of passage of sorts into an arena of my Dominican identity that I had yet to unveil. I laughed in ways I hadn’t in a long time (you know Dominican humor is completely its own), I cried from places I hadn’t yet felt from, I networked with powerful Dominicans in and out of my New York community and most importantly, I GREW. I left the conference a better human, a more divine woman and an overall prouder Dominican. It was as if I was lent a new set of eyes with which to see myself y mi gente. I felt privileged to bear witness to the first unfolding of, what I perceive to be, a long-lasting legacy of Dominican excellence. I eagerly look forward to next year’s conference and will surely volunteer my time to contribute to its expansion. It is honestly SO awe-inspiring what a group of determined, influential and venturesome women can accomplish when the objective is to create space. To Angela Abreu, the committee members, the panelists and workshop facilitators and the community members who came out to show Love; THANK YOU FOR CONTRIBUTING TO THE EVOLUTION OF THE WORLD. We are ALL better for it. And to Dominican writers of the world, know that a space exists with you in mind. Its mission? To pave the way for US to be seen, felt, heard and loved.
- “Josefina Báez.” Josefina Baez, www.josefinabaez.com/life .
- “Desde la orilla: Hacia una nacionalidad sin desalojo.” Prof. Silvio Torres-Saillant, 2004, Syracuse University