Yo/Me: Estes es el mismo aeropuerto? (Is this the same airport?)
Mi Tia/My Aunt: Si. (yes)
Yo/Me El que siempre ha estado aqui? (The one that has always been here?)
Mi Tia/My Aunt : An-ha.
Yo/Me: Entonces cuando mami y papi se fueron de este país, se fueron de aquí?
Mi Tia/My Aunt : Si. El mismo.
By now we’re driving, along the malecon. And I remember this. It’s all very familiar. I’m thrown off though because the smell is not there. As soon as I get off the plane, and stroll past the people waiting excitedly for everyone walking off, as soon as I get through the doors separating the cool, air conditioned airport from the sweltering heat, the smell will greet me, will welcome me home. I can’t describe it exactly. Just that it’s a burning smell. I thought for a long time it was trees burned for clearing land and maybe sometimes it is. But I was set straight by my father when I finally asked on a mutual trip and we were driving between places he had visited with my mother.
Me: Pa! (I take a big whiff of the air) What’s that smell that is SOOOO DR?! I LOVE that smell!
Pa: Muchacha eso es basura!
Me: Mmmmm! I love it! It CAN’T be basura! Doesn’t matter. Me encanta!
Him and my mother laugh at me from the front seat.
So that smell, just like that trip, I’m nostalgic for, because it’s gone, and so is my mother.
But this airport is still here.
This airport that saw her leave her homeland and all her family behind, to trust my father and his family — her new family — to take care of her.
And I was already with her. In her womb, taking this trek.
So I land again. Where she once was. I once was.
Where we came back and where we’ve always been.
Summers. With mad maletas. Full of our old clothes. New things bought. All the things you couldn’t get here then.
It was our version of bartering. Because we’d stock up and get our fill of dulces, quesos, hojas, sol y el amor that we couldn’t find in Washington Heights no matter how many Dominicans you filled in a square mile.
Here I am. Landed again. Through the same airport.
Starting a new adventure.
Back for more time than I’ve ever spent here in my adult life.
And thanking this land that remembers my mother, and my mothers’ mother y Heidi la gorda, la reina, la mas chiquita de Belkis y Cuchito.
Vamos a ver que me espera.
Pero primero, una comidita, y una pabita.
It’s just the first day I’m out and about — why things gotta get so deep so quick?! Dang!
I’m walking up the block to catch un volador. We’re heading to la zona colonial. I’ve been excited about going to Miss Rizos for so long y me estoy apareciendo con la cara bien fresca and no appointment but, fuck it, I wanna be there anyway. I wanna walk into this sacred space, be with these magical women creating transformation. Much later my friend Ysanet and I will admit that the act of walking out the house, into that van, and getting to our destination meant a lot to us.
See, whenever I’ve visited, I’d come to my tia’s house. She had one of the come up marriages. “Business” cat. Light skinned. Said yes to raising a kid that was birthed from one of my other aunts (another story, another time). Good guy — for the most part. Arrogant as hell. Too many corny jokes and felt entitled to share them and you felt you had to listen cuz here you are sitting in his galleria. Literally. I am writing sitting in his galleria and he’s in front of me in his usual sitting place. Pa hacertela corta — for me the newness was that in all the years I spent playing on this block and visiting from time to time, I had never, never, walked up the block and taken a volador, motoconcho, nothing that was not a vehicle driven exclusively by a family member or someone that a family member knew immediately and very, very well. Like recite your family tree well.
And I’m following Ysanets’ confident self as she’s strolling us across and back Avenida de Independencia like an old pro and what I wouldn’t know until later is that she’s never been the one in the lead in Santo Domingo. Taking the right volador, to the right place, and when we pay our 25pesos and the guy taking the money, half hanging out the door says, “son 30 pesos ahora amor.” She doesn’t miss a beat when she responds “son 25” and looks away.
And this confidence and riding the way of newness and that things will just work out must be what lands us in Miss Rizos, with no appointment, and gets me in para que me laven, me corten y me hagan un estilo protectivo.
And the universe continues to align for this days’ adventure and must be what has us get in touch with the amazing activist and organizer we’re set to connect with and she just so happens to be in a vegan / vegetarian restaurant with her whole family. We walk a few cuadras and are able to catch up about the work that Reconocido.DR is doing over mushroom ropa vieja while her daughter makes up a song, banging on a drum (courtesy of the restaurant) which her niece and husband make up words to.
Y con todo eso, mi jugo de tamarindo y el postre de bizcocho de auyama have me in heaven.
I go back for the corte an hour early because I want to talk to the women working there. I am honored to hear Cessarinas’ story of her hair transition and how it inspired her mother and sister and cousins to do the same, over time. And how the freedom she’s gained from that experienced has absolutely translated to other forms of liberation for her. How touched she is by the women who come here and start crying and can’t stop all the way through their cuts. How they let go of hair and laments and boundaries and other peoples’ expectations of them with every snip. How they’re defining and redefinining themselves with this decision, and looking at themselves right in the eye the whole time; a whole different time of the Reconocida movement and yet very much the same.
The body as geography, as having sovereignty, as looking for a place to feel at home, while simultaneously being shifted, shaped, invaded is familiar territory for the women I know, especially the black and brown women I know.
We talk. And laugh. And meet them; see them. They see me. They don’t correct me when I say words funnily or make them up. We chill and they cut my hair. And I feel the weight of the winter and past lovers and my mothers’ departure from this land, and then the earth, fall down and away. I feel light.
Como dice el seno cuando entro, me siento en mi hogar.
And because we’re on our no pare, sigue sigue tip, we head to La Fabrica. The food is amazing and the queerness alive in the space enlivens me. Makes me feel like there’s love that’s possible here that I never imagined on this land. A love that is wanted and free and sees all of me and not just forced assault through slick words and tongues walking down streets and in games where primos se eprimen. A desire that can move hips, lips and eyebrows the way our server does as they tempt us into the drink of the house and later bring out 2 cookies, even though we asked for one. Good thing too. Because we’re too fresh off the plane to know que aqui se le dice SI a los placeres.
We laugh and eat the best vegetarian nachos I’ve ever had — and the house drink was the ONLY way to go (choose the large).
Y nos vamos en un uber a visitar familia. The majority of this familia I haven’t seen in over 10 years. To that in a second. Let’s talk uber.
Uber is in DR too.
My father insists that I don’t take Ubers.
Pa: “Mami, ello sacan eso ID de la computadoras y no son de Uber na!”
Me: Ok pa.
Pa: “No, mami. You not listening. Yo tengo un hombre que te puede llevar donde tu quieras. Llamalo. O a tu tio Josesito. Yo le pago lo que sea. Lo resuelvo de aqui. Pero no coja Uber.”
Me: Ok pa. I’m gonna go now. But I did get this same message in whatsapp too. Hablamos ahorrita.
We get to my family’s house and it’s my cousins’ birthday. We sit and talk and joke. Y aun estan de luto, they’re happy. They have several fincas. Things are well. They grow everything they grow organically, just like their father taught them. And we share in stories and laugh and cut a cake for the birthday man and it’s so good to see family, and have them see me, and for us to sit here and share after so many years.
We’re back at my Titi Ivelises’ house after a soul-full day and I’m feeling blessed. And feeling my little girl with me. And my teenager. And my mothers’. And her mothers’. And I’m feeling grounded and full and I know this land has held my family as they were, as they are, and as they dreamed to be for a long, long time.
Vamos a ver en que me paro yo.