As the only Asian girl in the whole street where I live in the Colonial Zone, I stick out like a polar bear in the Caribbean. I am followed by a few stares as I walk past to go to work and some of the more daring men would call after me, “China! China! Ven paca! (Chinese! Chinese! Come over here).”
I can in theory stop and tell them that I am not in fact Chinese, that I am Filipino, I came all the way over here for an internship, that as former Spanish colonial subjects we have surprisingly so many things in common. But most days I don’t. If I did for every single cat-call I got on the street I would probably arrive at work a couple of hours late.
Cat-calling in these parts are typical everyday life hazards a woman has to put up with in the Dominican Republic. If you look foreign, expect more, “Hello, beautiful!” and flying kisses from boys in school shorts to bored grandpas.
Machismo is deeply embedded in this Caribbean country. As is Catholicism and the weekend beer drinking sprees. The Dominican Republic, in fact, reminds me so much of my own country that if people looked more Asian and spoke a Filipino language, I could easily confuse it as my own.
The Dominican Republic was the first country colonized by the Spanish Kingdom. The colonization was so devastating though that the pre-colonial population, the Taino Indians, was virtually wiped out by a combination of smallpox and the harsh conditions of slavery.
The contemporary Dominican population now is a hodgepodge of former Spanish colonial settlers, European and Arab migrants, and the descendants of African slaves. The Dominicans pride themselves as a country of many colors that welcomes all and embraces all differences.
We fared better in many ways but that Spanish colonial link between the Dominican Republic and the Philippines still hold strong. This can be seen from the shared food culture. Lechon, the very same whole roasted pig we Filipinos love, also is a much celebrated delicacy here. This holds true for peanut brittles, plantain in syrup (minatamis na saging), longaniza, and chicharron which are also popular food fare in this Caribbean country.
The shared pride of both countries is their spectacular beaches. Located in the same longitude albeit in the opposite sides of the world, both have the same humid tropical weather and white sand beaches lined with coconut trees. The postcards of the Caribbean do not lie. The sea in this part of the world is azure blue and the fine sand delicate enough for you to happily sink your warm feet into.
Despite these delightful commonalities, these two countries are also right smack in the path of disastrous natural phenomena. While in the Philippines typhoons run rampant, in the Dominican Republic cyclones threaten the island a number of times annually. Being both composed of volcanic islands, earthquakes are common occurrences in both countries.
But perhaps more important than the white sand beaches or the ubiquitous lechon on a street stand, the people in the Caribbean are disarmingly warm and inviting. They will charm you with their smiles and without hesitation shove into your hand a glassful of beer they share from a liter bottle. People are openly curious about where an Asian girl like me is from and what brought me to their little paradise.
There is a lot of pride here for the easy and tranquil way they live life. This is what makes me feel at home in this Caribbean island thousand of miles away from home. The Dominicans are quick to open up the doors to the inner sanctum of their homes to strangers. They also drink grand quantities of beer with their close-knit group of friends as if it were their last. And precisely these two basic characteristics might be what unite us island people from the opposite sides of the world. ←
About the author Allyn Alda is a junior fellow in the UN Women Training Center in the Dominican Republic. Born and raised in Tacloban, she took her MA in European Languages at the University of the Philippines, and studied her MA in International Cooperation at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain.