My class, Social and Ethnocultural Identity in the Contemporary Caribbean (there’s a mouthful for you), takes field trips every so often. A few weeks ago, our teacher took us to a batey, which is basically a dumping ground for illegal Haitian immigrants to the Dominican Republic. During the height of the DR’s reign as king of the sugar industry, tons of Haitians crossed the border to work on the sugar plantations cutting cane (a craptastic, dangerous job). The price of sugar dropped and big sugar importers (i.e. the U.S.) took their business elsewhere and started using cheaper things like high fructose corn syrup to sweeten Coca-Cola and other tasty delights. The business left but the bateys stayed. Haitians and their children, who may or may not be of Dominican descent too, live in limbo; they have no papers, making them neither Dominican or Haitian, technically. No papers means no money. Read More »
In the two months I’ve been in the Dominican Republic, I’ve heard a surprising amount of English. Not just from the American tourists who pop down for a quick tan, but from the people who live here year round. Haitian students, who are required to learn English in their schools, are always eager to practice their English with Americans. What strikes me most, though, are the words that Dominicans don’t bother to translate, or the ones that take on a different meaning when used in “Dominican”. A few of my favorites:
Chicken nugget: since there’s no direct translation for this delightful snack, Dominicans just say chicken nuggets. However, it comes out sounding more like “cheeckehn-noggit”.
Lighter: the Spanish word for lighter is encendedor, but people in their teens and twenties find it easier to just say lighter.
Baby: “Baby” seems to be the first English word Dominican men learn. As in, when a woman is walking down the street, she hears from some random man, “I love you, baby.” Baby is spelled “beivi”.
Flow: “Flow” describes what we might call swagger. This one I think we can chalk up to the strong presence of hip-hop culture in the Dominican Republic. I hear my share of throwback Snoop Dogg songs in clubs.
Heavy: One of my favorites. Outdated in the States but perfectly current here, “heavy”, spelled jevi, describes something cool. When I asked my host sister if she liked a particular club, she replied in all seriousness, “Sí, es muy jevi.” It’s hard not to smile when I hear it because if I used “heavy” at home to say something was cool, no one would take me seriously.
More Dominicanisms on the way.
The Dominican Republic is one of the Spanish-speaking world’s jokes; there, people leave out s’s, d’s, and other syllables so that it’s said they speak Dominican rather than Spanish. A perfect choice for an American student with only a few years of spoken Spanish under her belt. Still, I’m drawn to this region of the world because my parents were born here and honestly, the Spanish here, however bastardized through contact with African slaves, immigrants, Americans and whomever else, is more beautiful that the Castilian Spanish we’re is the purest.
So here I am, living in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, for four months. I’m a junior in the College studying American (read: United States) Studies and English literature, which begs the question, what does my semester abroad have to do with my diploma? The Study Abroad Office has been asking me that for some time now, and I have yet to come up with a solid answer. I do know that it’s high time I learn to speak Spanish, and there only way to learn, really learn, is to leave the States.
CIEE, the program that brought me and 27 other American students from lots of universities, places us in homes with families around the Capital. We have the option of taking classes at three local universities (so yes, all the classes are in Spanish). The program takes us on trips around the country, to baseball games, to plays, and has the friendliest, most supportive staff. So far, I love Santo Domingo. It’s not New York, but I see myself wanting to come back. I don’t know that I’ll want to leave when the semester ends.