Dominicans help me find myself
Updated: Jul 23
My first semi interaction with my now husband (I was talking to my friend and he happened to be sitting next to her-she knew him & I didn't yet) we talk about often. He says he wasn't sure of my background but I gave him Bronx girl vibes. I don't know if you been to Staten Island, but there are only a few spots that may remind you of the Bronx. At least the first 11 years of my life I was barely around black people or people of color at all. I even styled my hair like the valley girls from my neighborhood--yikes! I knew at the time I didn't fit in and there were definitely people who reminded me I was black. Junior high and high school I was around more of a mix of people but I was always confused AF as to where I fit in. Like who the hell were my people? I had one other black Puerto Rican friend in high school who I could vibe with. We both were always questioned on our Puerto Rican knowledge, which you already know is the most annoying thing ever. To get rid of people we would just say things in Spanish and they wouldn't understand, so they would just leave. We would talk about our Boricua mothers, food, & reggeaton. I wasn't really aware of racism within the Latino community yet--man was I in for a surprise. I knew what racism was, obviously, but I grew up hearing, "somos una mezcla, y no hay racismo en Puerto Rico" so I thought that meant Boricuas everywhere would be inviting anywhere.
I think we started going to the salon to do my hair when I was about 7 years old. We went to the salon in East Harlem since there weren't Dominican salons on the island. It was like my weekly dose of culture. I would get my pan con mantequilla at the little bodega next door and go get my wash and set done. Rubia always did my hair. She was fun, energetic, and so pretty. She always made me feel like my big curly, kinky, hair was beautiful. She treated me like a princess. I was quiet but she never made me feel bad. It's like she knew one day I would find my voice.
Once they opened a Dominican salon in Staten, I started going there, since it was obviously more convenient. When I tell you those women became my FAMILY. I would get them gifts for Christmas and souvenirs when I went away. They knew everything about me. Did my hair for every occasion. They saw me grow up. I felt so at home with them. They forced me to speak in Spanish since they didn't know English. I felt like I belonged when I was there. I would walk in and would get hugs and they would ask me how things were going. I loved all of them so much. I remember when I told them I was dating a Dominican guy when I went to prom. "Bori!! Un Dominicano?! Que?!" Dominicans were literally the only people I seemed to feel at home with. They didn't question what or who I was. I didn't have to prove anything.
I was also with that Dominican boyfriend for about 8 years. He was what people called, "straight off the boat." He introduced me to los tres golpes, family events (that wasn't a thing I was used to), and dancing bachata y merengue (I was strictly salsa!). I spent years with that family. I blended right into their life. I would go to all their parties with family and friends and literally everyone assumed I was Dominican too and when they found out I was Boricua they would be like, "Neeeena!" But it was all love.
Before I met that family I didn't even know how to be part of a family. To be around people who were supportive and cheered you on. Who always made sure you were fed and were doing okay. I'll be honest, in the beginning it was so much for me to handle because I was super independent. They helped me to calm down and learn it's okay to have people that help you when you need it. They made me feel like I actually wanted a family one day. They completely changed the way I felt about the future and what things were important in life.