The night already felt off. Rain splashed against my living room window, and the sky couldn’t decide whether it would stick to its afternoon routine or continue to drench the passersby. It was one of the few days this summer where I felt like the routine would have to be set aside, and I’m lucky to have dancing feet.
It was Dominican Day Parade weekend, and I was invited to make my presence felt on multiple occasions.
I’ve waffled in perspective a million times over, seemingly done with the premise of nationalism six years ago as an observer. In the last couple of years, I’ve not only marched in the Dominican Day Parade twice, I also spoke at one of their scholarship events. Coincidentally, two of the recipients for this scholarship matriculated at Syracuse University. So much of the energies I felt culminated in what I’ve already felt about my Dominicanness.
Patriotism isn’t about the symbols and pageantry, but what we do with the cultural and historical gifts we’ve amassed over time and before our times.
The recent Colin Kaepernick flare-up reminded me of James Baldwin, Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Toni Smith, and yes, Muhammad Ali. In each instance, they consciously dissented with resumés that would make the average American blush. Yes, they had contributions to their specific cultures, but made this weird conglomerate we call America theirs via resistance. America has never been great for a large swath of us, and yet we make our presence necessary through our cultural markers, our spices, our laughs, and our intellect. Our persons.
But back to that night because, even though I dressed for the occasion, it still felt unreal. The Gracie Mansion workers had set up a large tent with a house band, greeters who played the guira, and servers with gilded drinks in green bottles. Sweat flourished on my forehead from the humidity, but also from the dancing around and walking I did with Luz around the tent. Friends who I went to college with. Comedians. Actors. Academics. Models. Former students. My dentist. Raquel Cepeda, who critiques Dominican Republic and was still honored as this year’s cacique. Politicians aplenty.
The ceremonies were all fine. The energy under that tent sufficed.
The humidity gave way to a cooler evening. As Luz and I walked out of the tent, we took pictures in front of the mansion. Eventually, Luz and I met the hosts for the evening. Luz carried herself gracefully as always. I, on the other hand, had five to six Presidentes in my system. This Dominican beer usually tightens up one’s curls.
I looked at him and said, “Mr. De Blasio, the mayor. First Family, meet the future First Family.”
Most of us laughed. I just smiled. I’m American, sure. But those hyphens matter because liberation is knowing that Dominican culture and (to a lesser but everpresent extent) Haitian culture that’s been gifted to me, flaws and all. What I do with these elements break the routine of what many call the American dream. I ain’t dreaming.