SAP in Dominican Republic–June 2018

“I change myself, I change the world.” Gloria E. Anzaldúa

“The end of all knowledge should be service to others.” Cesar Chavez

“I am someone who loves to stay inside my comfort zone but stepping outside of it always leads me to grow, learn, and blossom little by little. I needed this trip to give me a motivational boost and open my eyes even wider to the world of opportunity that awaits! I am eternally grateful to be able to study in an environment so rich in culture and history.” (Excerpt from Evie Sanders’ Field Journal)


Left to right: Celeste, Dr. Gray, Morgan, Susan, Evie, Angela, Emma, Denise, Sarah, Ashlee, Sophia, Gabriela on the steps of the steps of the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration in Santiago, DR.

Eleven WVC students–all women–and their Faculty Leader, Dr. Dulce María Gray, departed SFO on Sunday 10 June 2018 to participate in a ten-day Service Learning study tour on Dominican Republic. Their service entailed working with girls age 8 to 18 in an after-school program headed by the Mariposa DR Foundation at their center in Cabarete. The Foundation’s mission, inspired by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, is “to educate and empower girls to create sustainable solutions to end generational poverty.”

In addition to completing service learning, this study tour also focused on getting to know DR, its culture, history and relationship with its neighbors, mainly Haiti, and the United States (where most of the Dominican diaspora lives). The three-credit class embedded in this study tour, English 13 Latinx Literature, focused on various literary genres written by, predominantly, Dominican Americans, as well as other Latinx writers, and one Haitian American. Dr. Gray delivered the course through Feminist pedagogy and with emphases on the combined foundational principles of Cultural/Global, Women, Gender and Social Justice Studies.


All of the students in the study tour visiting the ruins of La Casa de Caoba, the favorite house of Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, in San Cristóbal.

In this Global Citizenship blog entry I, Dulce María Gray, give you a detailed chronological description of all the educational and fun activities the group enjoyed–so that, I hope, you too can relish the opportunity to see how travel can be educational and life altering, and so that those of us who participated can relish our adventure for a long time to come. (Photo credits: unless otherwise indicated, I shot all photos.)

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi

“You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace–a soul generated by love.” Martin Luther King, Jr.


All of the students in the study tour visiting the site where on 30 May 1961, while on his way to La Casa de Caoba in San Cristóbal, 71-year old dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo was fatally shot–thus ending his 31-year brutal reign. This memorial is on the Malecón in the corner of Avenida George Washington in Santo Domingo.

Sunday 10 June: Departure from San Francisco

By the day of departure, everyone had attended three orientations: we discussed safety, logistics, vaccinations and health precautions, responsible socially and environmentally conscious traveling, culturally sensitive dressing and photographing, policies and procedures, adhering to WVC’s and EF’s code of conduct (for instance, no drinking of liquor), and students’ role as ambassadors representing the best of the United States, West Valley College, their families, and their own selves.

The English 13 Latinx Literature class had officially begun on 4 June, so that everyone had already started working on their Field Journals, and had read several articles and two historical novels: Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies and Edwige Danticat’s The Farming of Bones. (See the shortened version of the syllabus at the end of this entry.) Everyone had a laptop and knew that while on the island we would be spending

  • an hour a day discussing the content of the class along with the events and activities completed for that day;
  • half an hour a day writing in each of our Field Journals.

Our overnight flight from SFO took us to JFK where we connected to a flight that delivered us in STI at about 1:00 PM on Monday 11 June.


While driving in Santiago, we began to see numerous murals and different types of memorials dedicated to the Mirabal sisters. Since the students were familiar with the sisters’ story, they were excited to identify their faces and call them by their given names.

Monday 11 June: Arrival in Santiago de los Caballeros (STI), the second largest city in the DR

At the airport, we used an ATM to get Dominican pesos, and we met with Hardy Rosario, the Field Director for EF College Study Tours, our program provider, and the van driver, Carlos Martinez. Despite being tired and hot, we were also thrilled to be on DR, so we proceeded to hydrate and go on a tour of the city. We visited the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration of the Republic, built in 1953; the Cathedral de Santiago Apóstol, built between 1868 and 1895, and we drove by (it was closed) the Eduardo León Jimenes Cultural Center, a small art museum opened in 2003. Right after, we went to the Mercado Modelo to shop for Larimar, a rare blue mineral found only in DR that is used to make beautiful jewelry.


Angela and Gabby shopping for Caribbean-Sea-blue Larimar jewelry at the Mercado in Santiago.


Hardy Rosario and the students in front of the cathedral in Santiago talking about architecture, history, religion, and DR as the country of firsts (cathedral, hospital, university) in the Americas.

Before leaving Santiago, we ate comida criolla (local food) at a 24-hour restaurant called Amigos: fresh fruit juices, rice, beans, and either chicken or beef (“la bandera”/the flag of the DR). Some people ate mangú y queso frito (mashed green plantains with fried white cheese).


All of us, Hardy (on the left) and Carlos.


Mangú and fried cheese.

Hardy told us this story: lore has it that campesinos on the island had been eating mangú for a long time by 1916 when the United States first invaded. Supposedly, a yankee was served this humble breakfast food (which really fills you up), and with a mouthful he muffled “man this is good,” which sounded like “man good”–and that became mangú. Here’s my recipe for mangú and fried cheese, which now is eaten at any time of the day.

Ingredients: 6 green platanos (plantains), 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 3 or more cloves of fresh garlic, tea spoon of sea salt, one cut red onion, six pieces of white frying cheese.

Cooking: fill a large pot with lots of water, the sea salt, the garlic crushed finely, and 4 teaspoons of olive oil. Peel the platanos, cut them into small pieces, and let them boil until they are very soft. In a separate dish, use a potato masher and mash the platanos, adding as much of the boiling water as needed and several spoonfuls of olive oil (to taste). Mash them until they’re almost like a sauce. Then, fry the cut onions and pour them over the mangú. Next, in the same oil, fry the cheese at low heat, turning the pieces until each is golden on both sides. (Some people add fresh avocado, fried salami or and eggs–in which case the dish is called “los tres golpes”/the three hits, and you can guess why that is).


In Santiago: putting the finishing touches on a new monument to the Mirabal Sisters (who are also called Las Mariposas, the Butterflies).

We drove to the north coast of DR, to Blue Jack Tar hotel, in Playa Dorada, Puerto Plata (the ninth-largest city in DR), known officially as San Felipe de Puerto Plata. During that two hour drive, although we were tired, we talked about how seemingly commodified Las Hermanas Mirabal have become, especially the three who were assassinated, whom everyone calls Las Mariposas/The Butterflies. (The fourth sister, Dedé, survived because she had not been directly involved in the resistance against the country’s dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Dedé died of natural causes on 1 February 2014.) At the airport, Hardy, the students and I had stopped at a bank to get the two peso note depicting Patria, Minerva and María Teresa, and I had already shown students their pictures and the ten cent and five peso stamps with their images.

Students noted the sisters’ obvious presence in Dominican culture. We talked about how and why since 25 November 1960, when Trujillo had them assassinated, they had become world icons of feminist resistance, and how their reputation has been reified by the 1994 publication of Alvarez’s novel, and the 1999 United Nations General Assembly’s designation of 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

What impact, we discussed, does literature have on society? How (or can) literature be an agent of change, especially for women, Latinos and other marginalized groups in the United States and anywhere else in the world? How has transforming the Butterflies into icons of feminist resistance impacted Dominican women on DR, in the United States, and anywhere in the Dominican diaspora? How (or does) literature inform people and cultures? How (or does) literary documentation, literature, change a culture?


All of the students in front of the Mariposa DR Foundation Center for Girls in Cabarete.

Tuesday 12 June: Cabarete

After breakfast at Blue Jack Tar, we drove for half an hour to the Mariposa DR Foundation Center for Girls in Cabarete where the local staff welcomed us warmly and explained that our service would include helping with the girls’ routine summer curricular activities, such as leading story time, doing math and yoga, jumping rope, playing basketball, playing board games, sharing lunch and time with them, plus, completing a mosaic project, and designing and constructing a “values pole.”

In order to protect the girls’ privacy, we did not take pictures of the girls, but later one of the Center staff members posted a picture (of some of the girls and the values pole that our group completed) on their Facebook page.


It took us a day and a half to choose just the right word and one afternoon to sand the wood, paint it, and inscribe our chosen words. The center pole sits on a bucket of cement, that way it can be moved to different locations. The top piece of wood says Las Mariposas somos… (We Butterflies are…) and then each piece of wood below has an affirmation: dynamics (dynamic), soklidarias (solidarity), habilidosas (skilled), sobresalientes (outstanding), cap aces (able), sabers (wise), aventureras (adventurous), fuertes (strong), guerreras (fighters), respetuosas (respectful), dignas (dignified), valientes (valiant), libre (free), etc. (Photo taken by staff member at the Mariposa DR Foundation.)


Painted on a wall at the entrance of the Mariposa DR Foundation Center for Girls. Almost every inch of wall in the Center is filled with art and with the affirming and inspirational words of great women leaders.

The Mariposa DR Foundation works to provide girls with the support and training they need to use education as a means to escape generational poverty, and to identify employment opportunities, such as teaching surfing, that are sustainable and empowering.


Our group is welcomed by staff of the Mariposa DR Foundation.

One of the staff members took us on a tour of the Center; another led a powerful reflection on the status of women generally on the island and specifically in Cabarete, a beautiful idyllic yet impoverished city world-reknown for kitesurfing and other water sports that bring a multitude of tourists, and along with them a thriving sex industry and grave problems with human trafficking (especially of children and women). Prostitution is legal in DR. There are few jobs (particularly for women), a high incidence of motherhood at a very young age, and consequently many single-parent-headed homes.


All of the students in the Mariposa DR Foundation Center’s organic and sustainable garden.

One of the Center staff members took us on a walking tour of La Ciénaga, a neighborhood nearby where many of the girls live. We talked about the community’s lack of paved roads, consistent electricity and plumbing, health services, and excellent schools.

Students talked about many things, including how by simply looking at a house you can guess who might be receiving remittances. The disparate stages of development on the same street is revealing, they said, of who has access to money and what is not functioning with the Dominican government’s ability or will to provide basic services.

We talked about the role of colmados (small grocery stores), women’s involvement in other entrepreneurial businesses (e.g., nail shops, hair salons), intentional and necessary recycling and upcyling, and remittances from the USA and other locations in the world (e.g., Madrid, Amsterdam, Rome, Zurich, Paris) where Dominican women work in order to support their children, families back in their Dominican towns.


Students in front of a combination clothing/household goods store where in the shade of its awning you can get your hair (or your nails) done.

On the way back to Blue Jack Tar in Playa Dorada, we talked about their proposals for their two-part final research project: part one was to be a five minute video; part two was an essay augmenting the video and linking their topics to the literature and scholarship we studied. Their proposed topics, discussed back at WVC before our departure, included questions such as:

  • what is the role of education in empowering women (stemming from reading In The Time of the Butterflies and noticing the Mirabal sisters’ investment in higher education);
  • what kind of work do women in Cabarete perform (stemming from learning about women’s work in The Farming of Bones);
  • what makes Dominicans happy (stemming from numerous readings about racial divides and gender inequity);
  • what do Dominicans eat and why (stemming from numerous readings about socio-economic conditions);
  • what is the role of public spaces in Dominican culture (stemming from readings and discussions about migration, missing home, redefining an identity in the diaspora);
  • why is music so important in Dominicans’ lives (stemming from taking dancing lessons and discussing the balls that the Mirabal sisters attended);
  • what is it like to volunteer in the DR (stemming from doing a service learning project with the Mariposa DR Foundation).

Detail of a mural (on one of the walls of the Mariposa DR Foundation Center) depicting author and activist Julia Alvarez. (Photo from the Mariposa DR Foundation FB page)

Everyone was to conduct ethnographic research (observing, immersing, conducting/recording interviews) on their proposed research questions. Some of these research projects turned out to be outstanding. Right below there are several videos, and at the end of this entry you may read excerpts from their essays.

Education in the Dominican Republic by Denise Arias

The Role of Public Spaces by Sarah Kilpatrick

Why is Music so Important to Dominicans by Celeste Avila

Volunteering in the Dominican Republic by Evie Sanders

We also discussed how their Field Journals were coming along, and how they were focusing and developing their first essay, due on the 16th. In their essays, students were to identify a major theme in Alvarez’s and Danticat’s novels, and then to analyze that theme in the context of the rest of the readings and in what they were experiencing on the island. These are some of the themes they chose to explore:

  • In both novels human life is dismissed and abused easily.
  • Suffering can produce strength of character and a more purposeful life.
  • Religion “weaponizes” the main characters’ actions.
  • Trujillo, the dictator in DR, pushed racism against Haitians as a Dominican nationalist agenda.
  • Violence against women produced many women activists.

We stopped to buy snacks at a supermarket and students noted the many fresh fruit and vegetables they had not seen before.


In awe of the North Atlantic Ocean seen from the Malecón in Puerto Plata.

In Puerto Plata, we toured Fortaleza San Felipe (also known as El Morro de San Felipe). The Morro was commissioned by King Felipe II of Spain in 1564 to protect the city from pirates and it was finished in 1577. The fort has been a museum since 1965. It served as a prison during Trujillo’s dictatorship. Juan Pablo Duarte, a founding father of DR, and the husbands of the Mirabal sisters, were jailed in Fortaleza San Felipe.

On 25 November 1960, the day they were murdered, the three Mirabal sisters (Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa) had visited their husbands in Fortaleza San Felipe. They were on their way back home to Salcedo when, in La Cumbre, their jeep was ambushed by Trujillo’s henchmen. The men dragged the sisters and their driver out of their jeep, took them to a nearby sugarcane field, separated them, brutally killed them, and put their bodies back in their jeep. Then the jeep was pushed over the edge of the cliff, so that their deaths would look like an accident.


Fortaleza San Felipe

We ran late, so we didn’t go, but I wanted to take everyone to La Isabela, a Spanish settlement built by Christopher Columbus, almost two hours further west, because significantly that is where the trans-Atlantic slave trade began (when the English slave trader, Sir John Hawkins, traded 400 slaves that he had abducted from Sierra Leone). Instead, we stopped to drink fresh coconut water in Puerto Plata.


Entrepreneurship: a cart, a machete, gathered cocos, and the patience and stamina to sit in the sun and wait for customers (though the cart has wheels and can be moved). This is the most delicious, healthy and inexpensive drink on a hot Caribbean day. Fresh coconut water helps to prevent and treat dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.


Selfie by Hardy Rosario.


And after dinner… a peek at the beach by our hotel.


Playa Dorada

Wednesday 13 June–Cabarete

This morning at the Mariposa DR Foundation Center for Girls, we knew the routine, and the girls welcomed us with kindness. Patricia Thorndike Suriel, the Mariposa DR Foundation’s Executive Director and Founder, took us on a tour of Cabarete. We learned that this little city was “founded” by Zephaniah Kingsley in 1837 as part of his “colonization experiment” in what was then Haiti. Kingsley moved his mixed-race family and 53 former slaves (which he freed from his plantations in Florida), because in 1828 the United States territory of Florida‘s newly established legislature began passing a series of laws that progressively reduced the rights that free persons of color enjoyed in what had been Spanish Florida. Since then, partly because of political, economic, and natural set-backs, Cabarete has been riddled by pervasive generational poverty (poverty that is passed from parents to children) and its consequences (including an ingrained sense of hopelessness).


Patricia Thorndike Suriel leads the students (Hardy Rosario is on the right) on a tour of Cabarete.


Dr. Gray, her eleven students, and three cordial local girls. (Photo by Hardy Rosario)

From the Mariposa DR Foundation:

“Investing in women is smart economics, and investing in girls, catching them upstream, is even smarter economics.” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director, The World Bank

Investing in the education, health and empowerment of a girl today means that she will have the tools to make smart choices that will better the lives of her boys and girls in the future. She will reinvest 90% of her income back into her family and her community, making her the most influential figure in today’s world. If you want to end poverty and help the developing world, the best thing you can do is invest time, energy, and funding into adolescent girls. It’s called the Girl Effect, and the revolution begins with her.

Want more facts? Download The Girl Effect Fact Sheet.

In the two pictures above you see Patricia Thorndike Suriel (pointing) talking to students about how the Foundation funded the building of this wall in front of the local elementary school (pictured on the right) to shelter students from constant road noise, unwanted advances, and attempts to scout sex workers or to traffick children.


We stopped to relax (and to drink locally grown organic coffee) at the Cabarete Coffee Company (in Bahia de Arena, the main road in Cabarete) which is owned by the Center for Girls. The café also sells up-cycled products (e.g., backpacks made from donated used sail cloth) designed and sewn by a few women at the Center.

We visited another elementary school, on the other side of Cabarete, where the Foundation funded the painting of a beautiful long mural surrounding the school. Depictions highlight girls as active autonomous agents. (See the slideshow below.)

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Affirmations were written in Spanish and Haitian Creole. As you can see in the picture below, someone in the community did not like the Creole, because of deeply embedded racism, and because Creole presents an acknowledgment that Haitians live and speak and hold on to parts of their Haitian culture on Dominican soil: the words in Creole were painted over, and then there was much talk about it in the community. Patricia Thorndike Suriel saw this as an opportunity for dialogue, learning and growth, and in fact a children’s book based on this incident is in the works.


At the school, students were able to interview two administrators. Students had prepared two questions each, the aim being to learn about Dominican education, particularly for girls. (Pictures below)

We ended the day by dining on the beach and being serenaded by roving musicians. On the bus ride back to the hotel, we debriefed on the day’s lessons and events. Back at the hotel, we packed our bags for early check-out and departure for Monte Cristi and Dajabón.


Dining on the beach at LAX Ojo in Cabarete.

Thursday 14 June–Cabarete

Today was packed with very fun activities! We put our luggage in the van and took it with us to the Mariposa DR Foundation Center where we spent the morning working with the girls, and engaging in a reflection with one of the Center’s staff members. After lunch, we built the “Values Pole,” a collection of wood pieces with inspirational words for the girls to see every day (see picture included in 12 June above). We spent the previous day and a half thinking about the word each of us would inscribe on our piece of wood; those who don’t speak Spanish had to translate and think about the possible denotative and connotative differences inherent in translating. We enjoyed the process of talking and planning each of our words and how together they would send a message to the girls. We also enjoyed the process of sanding our individual pieces of wood, designing the background, and then painting the pieces.

We finished tiling a section of the Center’s beautiful mosaic gazebo. Many other groups have contributed in covering the gazebo with bits of broken donated tiles and in designing the butterflies. All of us felt a sense of camaraderie in collaborating with each other, with those other groups who came before us, and those who would follow us, and in helping to beautify this safe and tranquil space for the girls. We mentioned that in identifying empowering words for the girls, we empowered ourselves, and we made lovely memories. As we worked, it was also great fun to talk about Antoni Gaudí, the Catalonian architect and artist whose exquisite ceramic tile work helps to define Barcelona’s identity.

The picture on the lower right says in Creole: “Mwen gen plís fòs poum change le monde” (“I have the strength to change the world”). On the other side of the gazebo it says in English “I am the world’s most powerful force for change,” and on a third side the phrase is in Spanish, “Soy la fuerza mas potente para cambiar el mundo” (“I am the the most potent force for changing the world”).

Next, we went to downtown Cabarete and took a one-hour lesson on dancing Bachata, salsa, and merengue. After, we started our three-hour drive to Marina del Mar Hotel in Monte Cristi in the extreme north-west of Dominican Republic where we ate dinner.

Friday 15 June–Dajabón and Monte Cristi

“We crossed the bridge over the Massacre River, which made Wilner and Odette’s deaths much more real to me. Even if they were fictional characters [in The Farming of Bones], they’re the only representation of victims of the Haitian massacre I know. Speaking about how Trujillo controlled the media reminded me to never take a news story at face value. Always try to research a story to lessen your own bias and the author’s bias.” (Excerpt from Sarah Kilpatrick’s Field Journal)

The day to visit the Binational Market in Dajabón, a small Dominican town on the 224-mile border that separates the DR and Haiti, finally arrived. In April, the Binational Market had been closed because of the dangerous tension between Haitians and Dominicans spurred by the murder (blamed on two Haitian brothers) of a Dominican couple. Violence broke out when the Dominicans attacked the Haitians and the Dominican president declared an emergency and dispatched troops–thus bringing to the surface the memory of the “Parsley Massacre,” when on 2 October 1937 Trujillo ordered that over 20,000 Haitians (and black Dominicans identified as Haitians) be macheted to death and that their body parts be strewn on the Dajabón (Massacre) River. Below is a picture of some Haitians who perished and two who survived. (Photos from the Internet, originally published in Life Magazine on 6 December 1937.)

In order to determine who was Haitian and who Dominican, and therefore who would die and who would live, people were asked to pronounce the word “perejil” (parsley): if they could not roll the letter “r” as a Spanish speaker could, the person was deemed to be Haitian and was then killed. Rita Dove’s 1983 poem, “Parsley,” memorializes this act of genocide. Danticat’s description of this massacre in The Farming of Bones is chilling. “The blood origins of the Dominican Republic ethnic ‘cleansing’ of Haitians” by Abby Phillip (published in The Washington Post on 17 June 2015) helps to explain the legacy of the massacre.

Today, the border continues to be a source of tension as high immigration from Haiti has led to an increase in anti-Haitian sentiments and even the changing of  the Dominican Constitution in order to denationalize–80 years retroactively–several generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent. Now there’s talk of building a wall on the border, and some people are calling for the return of strongman leadership. (Trujillo’s grandson is trying to get elected).

Genocide vs. Massacre: A note about terminology:

Some people refer to what happened in DR in 1937 as a “massacre,” others call it “genocide.” The term “genocide” was coined in 1943 by the Jewish-Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin who combined the Greek word génos (meaning “race” or “people”) and the Latin suffix “cide” (meaning “act of killing”). Essentially, genocide entails the deliberate act of destroying a group of people.

The legal definition of “genocide” first appeared in 1948 in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide released by the Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG). That document states that genocide is “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The problem with calling what happened in 1937 in DR “genocide” lies partly in that it wasn’t just Haitians who were brutally killed. Scholar Dr. Edward Paulino explains:

Although ethnic Haitians were targeted, black Dominicans of Haitian descent were also killed during the massacre. So using “Haitian Massacre” (although it is technically correct) in some ways erases the Dominican victims. It also makes invisible the vibrant, historic and bicultural Dominican-Haitian borderland which Trujillo and his minions tried to destroy. Trujillo tried to change a bicultural and bilingual borderland into a bastion of singularly Dominican monochromatic and Iberian identity. Yes, the 1937 massacre targeted disproportionately Afro-border residents, many who were bilingual and bicultural, but calling what happened a “Haitian genocide” erases the “Dominicans” who were also massacred. Another way to refer to what happened is to call it “the 1937 Massacre in the Dominican Republic,” but then that ignores those Dominicans who were both Haitian and Dominican. A solution is to call it the “Haitian and Dominican of Haitian descent Massacre of 1937 on the Dominican border.” (email communication March 2018)


As we drove from Monte Cristi toward Dajabón, the number of military checkpoints increased. Our van was always stopped, but no one came inside or questioned any of us, probably because the van is marked as a “tourist” vehicle. Nonetheless, invariably the soldiers looked through the windows and connected with the driver, even if just to wave us on. We saw several people, probably Haitians, being detained. We also saw signs saying “AFUERA HAITIANOS” (Haitians get out).

Finally, our visit to the Binational Market in Dajabón, the epicenter of the Parsley Massacre, arrived. After breakfast in Monte Cristi, for our safety, Hardy had all of us practice strategically how we would navigate through the market: Hardy would lead the way; I would be the last person in our single line–the two of us sandwiching my eleven students.

By that morning, students were intellectually prepared; I had assigned, and we had discussed (in addition to Alvarez’s and Danticat’s historical novels), multiple readings and documentaries, among them:


Dr. Gray and a passerby in front of the Binational Market. (Photo by Angela Harb)

In conceiving and planning this service learning study tour on Dominican Republic, especially because it was to be very short (ten days), I aimed to accomplish two major goals:

  • to model for students how to travel with purpose (and expose them to important concepts such as ecotourism, educational travel, sustainability, minimizing your travel footprint, etc.);
  • to prompt students to experience the works of literature we examined as cultural texts that reveal history, politics, and craft.

I wanted students to see, taste, smell, touch, hear, and intuit different authors’ creative works in context, on DR and in the States–so that they could also begin to understand the major recurring themes in Latinx literature: immigration, dislocation, poverty, struggling for gender and sexual equity, defining ethnic identity, and resolving the legacies that travel with each person who becomes part of the Latinx diaspora (particularly in the United States).

While on the island, I wanted to root our learning experiences in two major issues:

  • the Mirabal sisters and the aftermath of their assassination by Trujillo, and
  • Haitian Dominican race relations,

partly so that we could then discuss the baggage that Latinx immigrants carry across time and geographies.

I considered these four activities to be particularly significant to our study:

  • working with the girls at the Center,
  • visiting the Mirabals’ home (now a museum),
  • visiting the Mercado Fronterizo de Dajabón (Mercado Binacional Dominicano Haitiano)/the Binational Market, and
  • visiting Santo Domingo, especially the Colonial Zone.

The Binational Market

“The thoughts I’m left pondering and trying to wrap my head around are about the privilege I have to leave places like Dajabón after merely visiting as an outsider and spectator of people’s daily lives. (Excerpt from Angela Harb’s Field Journal)


A man, coming from the Haitian side, with a load of chairs on his head–seen from the Massacre Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that connects Pedernales on the Haitian side and Dajabón on the Dominican side.

Until 2005, the Binational Market in Dajabón was just informal trade in very rudimentary and demanding outdoor conditions. In 2005, the United Nations Development Programme and the European Union decided to fund the construction of a new building that could serve as a market and could accommodate vendors inside and outside the building. Construction also included a new pedestrian bridge across the Massacre River, and a customs house.

For vendors, selling at the binational market (which happens  every Monday and Friday) provides their main source of income. I saw in various local articles that over 35 million dollars in trade is exchanged weekly, and that the Binational Market is one of the top economic engines in the DR.


Inside the Binational Market. (Photo by Tatiana Feranndez, from the Internet)

Here is a slide show of our walk through the binational market (outside and inside the building).

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Here is an unedited video of our walk (recorded by Hardy Rosario) from our van to the Massacre River, and backtracking to go inside the Mercado. (Hardy holds his phone up high as he records to help avoid the possibility of his phone being bumped out of his hand, or snatched.)

Hardy’s video depicts a sensual slice of what the market is like: you can see and hear the throngs, and imagine the smells. The market is a sea of rapidly moving waves of people, many of them poor Dominicans, the majority of them even poorer Haitians, who cross the bridge over the Massacre River, or wade through the water, hauling their goods on wheel barrows, motorbikes, their heads, or whatever means they have to reach their spots and sell as much as they can. Dominicans sell and buy mostly produce; Haitians sell and buy mostly used clothing donated by people from around the world. Haitians have a difficult time getting themselves and their goods into the Mercado on the DR side of the border, and then they have a hard time with Customs inspectors and police officers in Haiti who may or may not allow their newly purchased merchandise into Haiti.


One of the entrances to the Mercado Fronterizo de Dajabón, the Binational Market.

After our walk through the market, in the van we remained silent for a while. Eventually, some of us shared that the walk was emotionally difficult: some felt grateful for the opportunity to experience the market, and for the relative affluence we have; some could not understand or accept how masses of people would need to struggle so much to have basic human needs; some didn’t say anything at all. We drove back to Monte Cristi in a sobering mood.


In the air-conditioned van…

After lunch we explored Monte Cristi. In the town square we climbed the Reloj de Monte Cristi, a clock tower shaped like a mini-version of the Eiffel Tower designed by French engineer Alexander Gustave Eiffel (who also designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris) and built by famous French clockmaker Jean-Paul Garnier. It was shipped to Monte Cristi during the city’s glory days in the late 19th century, and it continues to function with its original mechanism. From up in the clock’s platform, we saw Iglesia San Fernando, a historic 19th century neoclassical-gothic design Catholic church (with stained glass windows) that emulates Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France (pictures below).

Right across from the square, I took a photo of the students in front of a gorgeous historic Victorian-era red house built in 1875 which is now used to sell the equivalent of KFC.


We visited the Generalísimo Máximo Gomez and José Martí House Museum, located in the house where on 25 March 1895 Gomez and Martí declared Cuba’s independence from Spain in a document called “Manifiesto de Montecristi.” Below are pictures of Gomez, Martí, the first page of the Manifiesto, and the students in the garden of the house/museum.

After, we drove by the Sea Salt Ponds and walked around in El Morro National Park, a protected dramatic natural fort that rises 794 feet above sea level along the coast. We could not immerse ourselves in the gorgeous beach, because that day the riptides were dangerous.

Then we started our three-plus hour drive back to our hotel, Velero Beach Resort, in Cabarete where we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed conversation and Dominican Helados Bon for dessert.

On the way, we stopped to take a group picture under the iconically Dominican Flamboyant Tree/Royal Poinciana/Flame Tree (Delonix Regia).


Las Hermanas Mirabal at Home

“At the Museo Hermanas Mirabal we saw many things that belonged to the sisters. We saw the houses they lived in. That put a more human side to all our reading and learning.” (Excerpt from Celeste Avila’s Field Journal)


Painting of the three assassinated sisters hanging in the Mirabal House/Museum.

Saturday 16 June–Salcedo and Cabarete

We left the hotel early for what turned out to be a three hour drive to Conuco in Salcedo. There we visited the home, garden, and cocoa farm of Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal, the son of the only surviving Mirabal sister, Dede. He became a physician and then the Vice President of Dominican Republic during the late 1990s when Leonel Fernandez Reyna served as president of DR. The irony of him becoming VP, and Minerva’s daughter, Minou Tavárez Mirabal, becoming Deputy Foreign Minister (and subsequently Deputy for the National District in the lower House), is detailed in an article titled “The Three Sisters, Avenged: A Dominican Drama” by Larry Rohter published in The New York Times on 15 February 1997.)


The home, garden and cocoa farm of Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal.

We learned about growing and processing cacao and even tasted a cacao fruit.

We enjoyed the gardens and saw beautiful murals.


Susan saw a pretty white dog.


Dominican coins and the long-awaited entrance ticket to the Museo Hermanos Mirabal. (Photo by Evie Sanders)

Then we visited the Mirabal House Museum, the former home of the hermanas Mirabal.


The beautiful grounds of the MIrabal home. (Pano by Hardy Rosario)

After having learned so much about their lives, after having read articles and Alvarez’s novel, after watching the film version of the novel (with Salma Hayek), and after talking about them so much, it was amazing to be in their house/museum and to see their personal effects.


Mirabal House/Museum seen from the garden.


All of us on the side of the house. (Photo by Hardy Rosario)


All of us, including Hardy, by the lotus pond in the garden.


(Photo by Hardy Rosario)

Our plan was to be back at the Center for our farewell lunch celebrating the official end of our Service Learning, and to participate in the Center’s special screening of Hasta La Raíz (Down to the Root), a 2017 feature film based on the stories of three Dominican women who are black, poor, and struggling to get back their stripped nationality while also embracing their Haitian heritage. But it took very long to make it back and we missed the film, but the staff at the Center waited for us and we enjoyed a delicious late lunch.


The view from the top of the Mountain. (Photo from the Internet, provided by the management of the Teleferico Puerto Plata, May 2015.)

Because we were late, it was also impossible to ride, as we had planned, the only aerial tramway in the Caribbean–the Teleferico Puerto Plata–which goes up to Pico Isabel de Torres. Instead, we returned to the hotel where everyone worked on finalizing and submitting their first formal essay.


Reflection/conversation led by Hardy (sitting center back) after lunch at the Center for Girls.


Relaxing in the lobby of Velero Beach Resort overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.


Relaxing at the Velero Beach Resort.

Sunday 17 June–Cabarete and Río San Juan

This was a very fun and relaxing day. After breakfast at the Velero Beach Resort, we drove to Playa Encuentro in Cabarete where all but two of the students chose to take a surfing lesson.


Then we departed for Río San Juan where we ate lunch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.


A beautiful happy lunch!

Next, we took a boat tour of the mangroves starting at Laguna Gri Gri, went through a natural channel out to the Atlantic Ocean, saw the Cave of the Swallows (a grotto formed under the cliffs), and then arrived at Caletón Beach where we jumped in the beautiful blue water.


Learning about Laguna Gri Bri’s biodiversity. (Photo by Hardy Rosario)


All of us and Hardy at the lagoon leaving for our tour of the mangroves. (Photo taken by the boat operator)


The tour of the mangroves was amazing! That was the fourth or fifth ecosystem we discussed. Touring it, seeing it up close, allowed us to talk a lot about the environment, efforts to sustain it, and what it has to do with, for example, Feminism and Social Justice.

The clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean near the north coast as we left the mangroves, turquoise and cobalt blue colors below.


Caletón Beach (Photo by Hardy Rosario)

After that, we went to Volleyball Beach where some of the students played volley ball with local people, others talked with Hardy about the nearby Graveyard Beach (also known as Playa Los Muertos/Beach of the Dead) where Trujillo buried many who resisted his regime.

Some of us snorkeled by Volleyball and Graveyard Beaches. While in the water I noticed that everything was dead. Everything was bleached. There were a couple of vibrant fishes, and some sea urchins, but really, all you could see was bleached out coral. I wasn’t sure that I should bring this up during our subsequent conversation in the van; I didn’t want to spoil the fun we had snorkeling.


But I decided against that, and we had a robust conversation about how coastal and marine ecosystems provide valuable resources to the people and economy, for example how coral reefs reduce wave energy and provide white sandy/coralline beaches, how coral reefs and mangroves build beaches and slow erosion, plus they provide habitat for many different fishes and animals. All of that affects people’s ability to make a living–and therefore affects the country’s economy. One student who is passionate about environmental sustainability talked to us at length about the ocean; another student described the Crochet Coral Reef Project that some of us have been participating in at West Valley College; this public art project will be installed in 2019.


Coral and other fish life crocheted by participants in WVC’s Crochet Coral Reef Project. (Photo by WVC photographer)

Monday 18 June–Santiago and Santo Domingo

After breakfast at the Velero Beach Resort, we loaded our suitcases in the van and took off for a stop in Santiago and then on to Santo Domingo.



All students with Carlos Martinez, the driver, ready to get in the van.


Our trusted and comfortable van waiting for us under an exquisite jacaranda tree.

Since it was closed on the day of our arrival in Santiago, our plan today was to loop back there for a visit to La Aurora Cigar Factory. There we would have a lesson on how tobacco is grown and how cigars are made in Dominican Republic. La Aurora, established in 1903, is the oldest cigar factory in DR. But, we got caught in terrible traffic, and we missed our appointment. So, we had lunch and continued to Santo Domingo.


(Photo from the EF website)

Hours later, we stopped at El Malecón bordering the Caribbean Sea to pose for a picture in front of the  Monumento del 30 de Mayo, the “Caida de Trujillo.” We drove by Faro a Colon and finally checked in at Hodelpa Novus Plaza on Calle El Conde Esquina Hostos in the heart of la Ciudad Colonial, the Colonial Zone.


All of the students in Parque Colón/Columbus Square in front of the statue of Christopher Columbus made of bronze in the late 19th century. In the front, looking up to Columbus, is Anacaona, a Taíno chief who along with her husband and brother had been ruling Quisqueya when the Spaniards arrived and renamed the island Hispaniola.

At 3:00 PM we met our local guide who took us on a walking tour of Colonial Santo Domingo, the capital of DR, founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1498. Santo Domingo is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas and the first seat of the Spanish colonial empire. The Colonial Zone is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Image from a postcard depicting El Malecón during the 1970s.

We walked the winding cobblestone streets and visited the Basilica Catedral Santa Maria de la Encarnacion, built in 1514 (the first and oldest cathedral in the Americas), the Alcázar de Colón in Plaza España (the former residence of Christopher Columbus’ son Diego), the ruins of the Monastery de San Francisco (the first and oldest monastery built in the Americas and where the first hospital was located), the Fortaleza Ozama (a military outpost fortified with multiple walls and rows of cannons constructed using pieces of coral harvested from the sea)… and so much more! Below is a brief slide show.

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We had dinner at El Conde Restaurant and then most went to dance at a place right near our hotel.


Modern Santo Domingo (Photo from the Internet)

Tuesday 19 June–San Cristóbal and Santo Domingo

“I never thought I would be able to see a house that Trujillo lived in. It made him very real to me. I know that this day changed my life in so many ways.” (Excerpt from Sophia Arvelo’s Field Journal)

We drove to San Cristóbal, where Trujillo was born, and found the ruins of Casa de Caoba, his favorite of the many houses he owned. (Here’s a video tour of Casa de Caoba.) This is not a usual tourist spot, so it’s not easy to get there. We had to hike a little, and then Hardy arranged for the local caretaker of the house to let us in and allow us to walk through and take pictures.

Casa de Caoba (house of mahogany) is where Trujillo was headed when in 1961, six months after the Mirabal sisters were murdered, he was fatally shot. This too was an emotionally demanding visit. We had discussed his life and the aftermath of his death thoroughly–as it affected individuals and the society–and being in the place where he actually lived was taxing, to say the least.

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After lunch at Hermanos Villar back in Santo Domingo, we rushed to China Town to buy inexpensive closed-toe shoes. (DR has the largest Chinese community in Latin America, over 50,000. Chinese immigrants have been living in DR since the 1860s, though most arrived after the USA first invaded in 1916.) We wanted to visit Little Haiti too, but we ran late and gave up on that plan.

Several of the students needed the shoes because that afternoon we were scheduled to visit the Palacio Nacional, the building that houses the offices of the Executive Branch (the Presidency and Vice Presidency) of the government in DR, the equivalent of the White House in the United States. It is required that you dress professionally. In order to go there Hardy had to arrange it in advance; he had to give them our passport information, and then wait to be assigned a day and time for the visit. It was a thrill to have this unique opportunity.


El Palacio Nacional (Photo from the Internet)

Here is a slide show of us in several of the rooms at the Palacio Nacional. (All photos shot by staff members at the Palacio Nacional.)

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After the tour of the Palacio Nacional, we visited the Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana. (Here is the wiki page about the museum.) That too was a difficult visit, because exhibits include descriptions and pictures of brutalities perpetrated by the Trujillo regime.


Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana. (Photo taken from the FaceBook page of the museum.)

We ate dinner at Sega Zona Café in the Colonia Zone, and then a group went dancing right near our hotel.

Wednesday 20 June–Departure from Santo Domingo

It rained torrentially in the morning, but some people went shopping. I enjoyed sharing breakfast with my cousin Isabel at the hotel. She stayed until our van left for the airport.

The study tour was over, but the course continued until 13 July.


All of us, and my cousin Isabel, in the lobby of the hotel before boarding our van and saying goodbye to DR.


All of the students and Hardy Rosario, the EF Field Director, saying goodbye at Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo.

Students Reflect on The Study Tour–Excerpts from their Field Journals

Before Departure


“As I stood in front of the West Valley College library, face-to-face with a flyer on the bulletin board that offered Study Abroad Program, I thought back to a day in my English class a few weeks before. My professor in English 1B stood at the front of the class, flyer in hand, and told us, ‘if you’re going to bum around in another country this summer, learn something while you’re there.’ She told us about WVC’s Study Abroad Program and the scholarships they offered. She urged us to make these memories and take these chances as students. So, I got my first job to pay for this trip and I hope to learn as much about responsibility and self-sufficiency as I will about interdependence and empowerment.” Sarah Kilpatrick

“What I hope above all else is to be empowered, to say I did something outside my comfort zone and did it well. I also hope to make new friends and have an overall amazing time in the DR. Ashlee Thompson

“When I was younger, I dreamed of going to foreign places. There is so much I do not know. There is a part of me that is a little frightened. This is probably because I know nothing about DR and Haiti. I only know what I have read in short articles and from reading In the Time of the Butterflies and The Farming of Bones.” Sophia Arvelo

“My personal goal is to open my perspective, learn, really let myself be vulnerable, and allow myself to have emotions.” Emma Blockhus

During and after the Study Tour


“I never ever want to forget this trip. The memories I have and the people I met have been incredibly eye opening. The time spent on the beach was so amazing and really recharged my soul… I hope that by talking with friends and family about my experiences it motivates them to see what they can do to be a positive change in the world.” Ashlee Thompson


“June 18, 2018: We’re discussing the importance of advocating against climate change. Seeing the bleached coral reef was more important than just seeing a vibrant one. We also spoke about being kinder to immigrants. Seeing how Haitian immigrants are treated in the DR taught me that reaching out to immigrant families at home with more kindness might mean the world to both of us. I know that when I return home I will make an extra effort to defend immigrants in our home. Hearing from my professor that now there is a lot more human movement in the world than there was in World War II made me understand the magnitude of importance in creating humane and progressive immigration legislation. I really enjoy the discussions we have while on the road.” Sarah Kilpatrick


“Today was the day we visited the market. Honestly, the most emotionally charged experience I have had in my life. To see how those people have to live day in and day out was so eye opening. What really hit me the most was standing on the bridge where so many people have crossed or tried anyways. As we left and were safely back on our bus I witnessed a man who tried to cross being arrested and placed in a small cell where I could see there were other men inside. So sad.” Ashlee Thompson


“In one word, it was chaotic. All of our senses went for a rollercoaster ride. People on foot crowding the spaces on the road that weren’t already filled by trucks hauling goats, motorcycles swerved in and out of walkers and traffic. Men with wheelbarrows, women with baskets on their heads, piles of produce, various goods such as shoes, purses, pots, dolls, you name it. The spaces were numbered and people seemed to be set up in a relatively organized fashion, however, all order or organization was lost outside in the masses of people walking with no care for others’ space or direction of travel.

Horns were blaring, heat was consuming, sounds of shouts and voices filled the dusty atmosphere. Smells of produce and its fertilizer, looks from everybody, shouts of “gringas” or a man making kissing noises could be seen as we passed. I remember having to duck under a load of wood that a man was hauling on his shoulder as he turned right next to me. We had to step over and around selling goats on the ground as people filled the aisles.

I noticed that in the groups of dolls for sale, only one out of at least 8 dolls was dark skinned. The rest were white. It has never occurred to me that even toy makers are biased toward light skinned people. That reminds me of when someone asked my mom if the black doll I was playing with when I was young was mine. My mom answered with “yes’ and the person seemed surprised. I am so glad my mom taught me that there was not a difference in people and no reason to treat anyone differently.

I am glad that I was exposed to the hard reality of these people. I would probably have some hard feelings toward people like myself, if I were them, simply because of the privilege I have living in the country that I do. Overall, I am shocked and saddened  seeing that situation and I wonder if I can do anything about it.” Morgan Wright


“I’m trying to imagine that nearly 80 years ago there was so much pain and death in Dajabón. It’s hard, I guess, because now all I see are people going about their day, each with different priorities. I saw a man on a motoconcho with a television, a woman holding a tan handbag, three men leaning on a pillar enjoying the shade.

Where did Trujillo’s soldiers shoot down entire families? Was it where the park is now? Where did the SIM park their vans to watch people walk by? What about the mobs hanging Haitians during the 1937 massacre? I don’t think I understand the amount of hate required to do anything like that.

The part of the market that will stay with me forever was right outside of the gates, in the inner part of the market, where the large gate is. If you turned back, even for a moment, towards the makeshift stands with poles holding torn pieces of fabric, and open fires, and clusters of people leaning toward the shade, you would see–perhaps not for the first time as I did–what my teachers mean when they say poverty.

To me, poverty was something I knew very much existed, but not to the extent I saw among the twittering boxes packed with young hens or rows of brightly colored action figures. At the market, the whole was truly greater than the sum of its parts. I saw fruit next to grain, shampoo beside pairs of shoes. I saw someone running late and two children arguing. I saw just another day at the market no different from yesterday’s or tomorrow. I saw the centuries of history that created the market. I saw the river and all its victims and survivors. Most importantly, I believe I saw a border–a border that is reflected in the eyes of the guards, the vendors, and now my own.” Sarah Kilpatrick


“While at the Mariposa Foundation I was dancing with the girls! We moved our hips and they taught me to move my feet fast! We especially found joy in making handshakes. I learned that it is easy to bond and form happiness with other people, even though there is a language gap.” Emma Blockhus

Things I can do when I’m Back Home–My Sustainable Plan


This page in each of our Field Journals was simply black, and this is how Angela Harb figured out a way to mark the page: she used paint and taped pressed flowers–what she had available. Beautiful!

  1. My sustainable plan is to go to rallies and make donations of my time. Instead of aiming to do something too large that I might abandon, I think this is a good first step to enacting real change in immigration reform here in the USA.
  2. I want to be a better human. How I plan to do that:
    1. try my best not to stereotype;
    2. be more active in political and environmental problems;
    3. no complaining;
    4. keep educating myself;
    5. start to educate others.
  3. I want to cultivate an environment of exposure to what I’ve learned, heard, seen, smelled and eaten by not only speaking about my experiences studying abroad, but applying the values I’ve learned.
  4. I want to practice kindness, responsible purposeful traveling, and generosity towards the communities and places I visit.
  5. Be more environmentally aware and active (for example, create less waste, use non-toxic sunscreens)
  6. Educate myself and others
  7. Learn more about the wealth disparity in Haiti and DR and in my own country
  8. Learn more about the impact on deforestation in Haiti
  9. Raise money for the Mariposa Foundation
  10. Practice resistance–it is important
  11. Change my attitude about Haitians

What I will Carry with Me

  1. Seeing intolerance in people’s offhand remarks, and seeing the walls spray painted with the words “Fuera los Haitianos” gave me renewed motivation to be a vocal advocate for immigrant rights at home.
  2. After my time in the DR, I noticed that some immigrant families can’t take a break from resisting injustice.
  3. It surprised me that I had to go all the way to the DR to realize something that affects us here at home in the United States.
  4. This trip to the DR taught me to be vocal for those can’t.

Excerpts of Students’ Final Essays

By Angela Harb: …Female resistance to patriarchal subordination in the Dominican Republic has existed since the beginning of time, but only in the past 100 years has it evolved into an organized, unified battle with affirmative strategies and established objectives (Gray 68). The Mariposa Foundation’s development was fueled by the urgent need for community-based reform in 2009 to end generational poverty. The inspiration of women in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the US who have historically resisted patriarchal oppression enrich the organization as their legacies are celebrated in the fabric of the center through art, murals, quotes and the name of the foundation that embodies the vision of Las Mariposas. Las Mariposas originated as a code name for the Mirabal heroines because it’s a universal symbol of freedom, growth, transition and peace. The Foundation’s chairwoman, Julia Alvarez’s depiction of Maria Teresa states in the novel In the Time of the Butterflies, “There is something deeper. I really feel it here, especially late at night, a current going among us, like an invisible needle stitching us together into the glorious, free nation we’re becoming” (239). Mate is delineating the solidarity and visceral connection that’s being shared with the women imprisoned for vocally opposing human rights injustices while Alvarez is describing the sense of peace from a communal vision of justice that results in environments fueled by fear, political control and persecution. The Mariposa Foundation connects to this solace through their prioritization of compassion, collaboration and unity which is why the center has consistently grown into a comprehensive space of knowledge and solidarity.

Female domesticity and subservience is a pillar of patriarchal oppression and is embedded into the structure of regions all around the world. In Farming of Bones, Amabelle’s father states in a flashback, “Soon you will have to be near a pot everyday — for now, you don’t have to be and you shouldn’t be” (83). Edwidge Danticat is portraying the reality of female lives being controlled by the sanctioned expectations of domesticity and motherhood through the metaphor of the pot on the stove. Further, she’s commenting on Amabelle’s young age and the natural curiosity she has as her father advises her to take advantage of the temporary freedom she has away from the kitchen. This is a defining element of control in women’s lives from all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but poor women of color are afflicted with intersecting burdens that confine them to cyclical generational poverty alongside the necessity of domesticity and motherhood. The Mariposa Foundation is combatting this very reality of women and girls’ lives being bound to the private home sphere by equipping them with resources, knowledge and fundamental life skills of independence…

Works Cited

Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of the Butterflies. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010.

Danticat, Edwidge. Farming of Bones. Soho Press, Inc., 2014.

Gray, Dulce Maria. Meanderings on the Making of a Diasporic Hybrid Identity. Univ Press Of America, 2015.

“Girls Are the Most Powerful FORCE FOR CHANGE.” The Mariposa DR Foundation: Our Story,


By Celeste Avila …Because of the vibrancy of a culture is felt through its music, we could assume that Dominicans are always happy (not always) or,  when dancing with a partner, one would assume that all Dominicans are Fogosos (always!). Merengue and Bachata are so glued in a Dominican person’s soul that it’s natural for them to make reference to them even in the most unrelated situations. Dominican-American author Raquel Cepeda in her book Bird of Paradise: How I became Latina mentions Merengue in more than one occasion. Cepeda talking about one of her trips to Santo Domingo explained: ”The little girl sitting behind me doesn’t  miss a beat, kicking what feels like Wilfrido Vargas’s Merengue anthem “El Baile del Perrito,” on the back of my seat while we wait in the humid cabin for almost and hour for a gate to become available.” Even in the most uncomfortable situations, music is still present…

Work Cited

Cepeda, Raquel. Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina. Simon and Schuster, 2013.


By Ashlee Thompson …My time spent at the Mariposa Foundation is one I will hold forever in my mind and heart. Hearing them talk about why they started this foundation (to end generational poverty and empower the greatest group of people which are the young girls) was inspiring. I was so inspired that I am planning on fundraising and donating money to their foundation. After reading all about the strong women of the Dominican Republic and then getting to see them for myself in person was a truly incredible gift. What I learned from all of this was that much like the Mirabal Sisters the women of the DR today have very similar goals. They want a better life for themselves and their families. And above all else they are willing to work very hard to get there and obtain those goals and dreams they have.

I honestly was not prepared at all for what I witnessed. In fact when we returned home I cried for two days just from the fact that I was so overcome with emotion for what I saw and when I came back home, I again realized just how lucky I am to be where I am. And I got here by sheer luck. I did not have to fight to get into this country, the United States. I was just born here. It almost didn’t seem right to me. The women of the DR are truly remarkable. One day I hope to go back and continue to hopefully make a difference and encourage young women that with an education so many more doors will be opened to you that you did not think possible…

Work Cited

Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of the Butterflies. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010.


By Emma Blockhus …We took a dancing lesson. That class encouraged the participants to learn about salsa, merengue and bachata, and also to love the way your body moves. Self image is such an issue in today’s society, but when in the DR, I felt so much love for my body and myself. I had true joy and happiness because I loved myself. I was encouraged to embrace who I am by the people around me in the DR. The dance teacher, Nina, exuded that positivity. This positivity I saw all around the island. Women walked with confidence on the street, always with a smile. This idea of loving one self, which causes happiness can also be seen in the poem by Nicaraguan poet Daisy Zamora called “Celebration of the Body” where the woman just spills all the love she has for herself. She said, “I love this body made of pure earth,/ seed, root, sap, flower and fruit.” The love one has for their body just causes them to be more confident which leads to happiness. When you appreciate yourself more, you are more happy. Women in the Dominican Republic truly embrace themselves forming confidence and happiness.

Work Cited

Zamora, Daisy. “Celebration of the Body” in The Violent Foam: New and Selected Poems. Curbstone Press, 2002.


By Evie Sanders… In volunteering with the Mariposa DR Foundation I have fostered my passion for helping others and using my skills to benefit the lives and community around me.  Through study abroad, I have been able to further explore my identity and potential and to rediscover my love of volunteering and serving those around me. Activism and volunteering is evident in the lives’ and dedication of the Mirabal family, and in the social movement that Julia Alvarez caused in writing In The Time of the Butterflies and that Edwidge Danticat caused in creating characters such as Amabelle and Senora Valencia in The Farming of Bones. Volunteering is an act of service toward the betterment of one life or a community, is a way to build connections, repay those who’ve served you. It provides an outlet for using one’s skills and resources, and for making a sense of community and shaping one’s identity.

Works Cited

Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of the Butterflies. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010.

Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. Soho Press, Inc., 2014.


By Denise Arias… Education for young girls in the Dominican Republic is extremely important for many reasons. For an overall broad one, it can help end generational poverty. By encouraging girls to make education a priority in their lives, they can have opportunity and more access to better jobs and eventually end generational poverty. As mentioned earlier, without education girls have a higher rate of teen pregnancy, transmitted diseases, marrying for money, and much more. Since poverty is such a big issue in the DR, girls are sometimes encouraged to marry older men in order to economically benefit and remove their family from poverty.

we had the opportunity to volunteer at the amazing organization The Mariposa Foundation. The directors of this foundation focus on empowering girls to successfully “educate, empower, and employ.” Giving young girls the opportunity to an education also gives them the chance to find their self-identity and to learn that they have more open doors in life. This allows girls to find employment and wait to marry or to have children until they are ready to do so. Once the girls grow up into the mujeres poderosas they are meant to be, then they can end the cycle of poverty.

Informing ourselves about the differences between education where we live and education in a different country like the Dominican Republic can make us realize how important it truly is. When living in our own bubble and thinking about ourselves, we don’t stop to think about situations in other countries. What amazed me the most about talking to young girls in the DR is that out of all the ones I asked if they enjoyed school, zero of them said no. All of the girls said that going to school was their favorite thing to do for many different reasons. If one was to ever ask someone that lived in the United States what one of their favorite things to do was, learning would be at the bottom scale.

Work Cited

“She Is the Most Powerful Force for Change.” The Mariposa DR Foundation: Our Story,


By Susan Lomasney… I found myself excited about our meals. I was ready to expect the unexpected and to indulge myself in the culture. I daydreamed about what it would be like to live in a place where fresh fruit was always available, trees always full of snacks, flavors I’ve never tried before. How lucky the people must be be to live here in DR where I assumed there would be so much food. I haven’t put much thought into the fact that many people who live here live in poverty, so I started to wonder how did they nourish themselves on this island that I thought would be so plentiful.

The Dominican republic has food that is created with influence from Spanish, Indigenous, American and African cultures. Like the people you meet on the island, they have all come together to form something unique. And all of the flavors were different and unexpected to me. Things I thought I knew from my own culture have their own twist on them in the Dominican Republic. It was an exciting mix of familiar and unfamiliar and all of the flavors were different and unexpected to me. I felt close to this Dominican culture, and to the characters I met in the literature we read.

In the novels we followed women from two very different economic backgrounds, and one of the places where that is most prominent to observe in the novel is how much access the characters have to food. In In The Time of The Butterflies the family talks and jokes of having “soncochos.” They live on a farm and sell goods in the shop. The Mirabals have more economic status, so they are able to pay for education. They own cars and live comfortably from an American viewpoint. Yet even though they grow up economically stable, the course of the country takes them down the path of revolution and the sisters face starvation while imprisoned: “She says we don’t want to create a class system in our cell, the haves and have nots… We don’t? What about when Tiny gave Dinorah a dulce de leche as payment for her favors, and she didn’t offer anyone a crumb, even Miguelito?” (234). Even captured and having very little to eat they survive in a way that is foreign to me. Status affects what they have to eat.

Amabelle, in The Farming of Bones, does not have the same economic status that guarantees her the same chance of survival. When the slaughter begins they get by on what they can. The food they carry sustains them until they reach safety. Even though these characters are fictional they face the same real life struggle that hundreds of other people face throughout history and in current times. Food is what will give you the energy to keep moving forward and fighting for your life. Food was even a threat as Haitians were assaulted and forced to say parsley. Something that was supposed to nourish them was threatening their lives.

I couldn’t personally relate to living through a genocide, nor a dictatorship, or living in poverty, but I could empathize to some degree. I can understand that food was not always a luxury but sometimes a tool that people use to fight for their lives. Eating is not always about having something delicious and indulging. Many times it is what people do to make sure that their body is strong enough to face whatever challenge comes next. When we are lucky and privileged we get to concern ourselves with taste, flavor and every calorie count, and we don’t concern ourselves with using our meal as a tool for survival.

Humbled by what I’ve learned and seen, I understand that even a place with such substantial agriculture, so much more goes into nourishment in the types of food that are around them. A family does not get picky about what they have to eat if it is what they need to survive. A colmado will give you food on credit, so you can eat and have the energy to work through another day, so you can pay them back  in case you need to get food on credit from them again. Eating isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity, and that fact is true anywhere in the world not just in the Dominican Republic. Hunger can be a threat to everyone, but some people have more privileges which allow them to forget that eating is essential to survival.

I learned that I came from a place of privilege, and and that privilege follows me wherever I walk in the world. Not only have I never gone hungry or without a meal because of my economic status, I am in the position where I can analyze someone with different or less privileges than me and see the differences between us. I can travel to a country and not worry about how I will survive there, and I can meet someone whose economic status or race is different from mine who would face fears of survival if they made a similar trip as mine. All human beings on this earth need nourishment to survive, and even though many of us in stable situations can talk and dream about a world where everyone is equal and everyone is thriving, I can now understand that it takes more than hopes and dreams. Food brings nourishment, and nourishment brings life, and life is beautiful.

Works Cited

Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of the Butterflies. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010.

Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. Soho Press, Inc., 2014.



West Valley College, Department of English, Summer 2018

English 013-52845 Latinx Literature ONLINE

Embedded in Study Abroad Program‘s Service Learning Study Tour to Dominican Republic

Taught by Dr. Dulce María Gray, faculty member in the Department of English, the Women, Gender and Queer Studies Program, the Social Justice Associate in Arts for Transfer degree, and the Cultural and Global Studies area of emphasis.

Description: This course examines and contextualizes representative literary texts written in (or translated to) English by authors who (since the sixteenth century, through the emergence of the “Latino Literature” movement in the twentieth century, and up to now) have self-identified as American Latinos and have addressed the varied traditions, conflicts, and transformations of American Latinos.

This section of English 13 is embedded in a Study Abroad Program Service Learning study tour to Dominican Republic. For the Service Learning component, we partner with the non-profit Mariposa DR Foundation in Cabarete. This organization’s mission is “to create the model that can be adapted around the world for a holistic girls’ education and empowerment program to end generational poverty.” Mariposa will facilitate our volunteer work with girls, then we will visit Santiago, Monte Cristi, Dajabón on the border with Haiti, and Santo Domingo (the capital of the country). During our ten days together on the island, we will immerse ourselves in the culture, history, literature and arts of Dominican Republic and on its relationship with Haiti and the United States.

Consequently, this section of English 13 Latinx Literature considers literature through Cultural/Global, WGQ and Social Justice Studies theoretical perspectives on the island and in the USA. In addition to surveying Latinx literature, we focus on literary works by Dominican American women (and, by necessary extension, Haitian American women). We examine all of the selections through interdisciplinary and experiential modes of learning.

English 13 Latinx Literature is worth 3 units. Completion of English 001A Composition prior to taking this course is recommended. This course is acceptable for credit at University of California and California State University. This course satisfies the 3-unit Cultural Diversity requirement for the associate degree. You may take this course on a Pass/No Pass Option, but you must file for that option in Admissions and Records no later than the first week of the semester.

This course begins officially on Monday 4 June 2018 (but I opened it on 28 May). It ends on Friday 13 July. It lasts 6 weeks.

I have laid out all of the work in modules for each of the six weeks.

Required Texts

In order to save you money, I provide all of the required texts in free electronic format (detailed in each of the modules)–except these two, which you must either purchase or borrow from any public library:

Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of the Butterflies, Algonquin Books, 1994.

Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones, Soho Press, 1998.

Learning Outcomes and Objectives
Upon completion of the course, you should be able to:

  1. Analyze, critique, and critically evaluate the major literary elements, salient themes, and historical factors that mark texts written by American Latinos.
  2. Critique representative texts following the conventions of the schools of literary criticism studied.
  3. Contextualize the representative texts studied within broader historical, cultural, and literary frameworks.
  4. Recognize and analyze salient themes present in the representative texts studied.
  5. Analyze how representative texts have impacted American cultural texts and other productions.
  6. Compose well-reasoned researched and appropriately documented literary analysis and explication essays about American Latino literature.
  7. Analyze literary texts and draw inferences based on textual evidence.

Grading Policy

These are the required graded assignments

  1. 100 points for participation and engagement
  2. 100 points for two 1,000-word documented entries
  3. 100 points for the Field Journal
  4. 200 points for the final 5 minute video project
    1. accompanied by a 1,000 word researched and MLA documented essay
  5. 500 points total

This is how your FINAL grade is determined:

  1. Each assignment has detailed instructions and required criteria.
  2. Each assignment is worth a certain number of points.
  3. You may earn up to 500 points during the semester.
  4. At the end of the semester, I convert the number of points earned to a letter grade as follows:
450–500= A
400–449= B
350–399= C
300–349= D
299 or less = F
You need a C for the final grade in order to pass English 13.
Guidelines to help you succeed in this class:
  1. Plan on spending at least 8 hours a week on this course ONLY.
    1. If you work for an hour and a half a day, you’ll do great.
  2. I opened the class on 28 May, and I highly recommend that you start working right away, so that you complete assignments ahead of time.
  3. Finish reading In the Time of the Butterflies BEFORE class begins on 4 June.
  4. Finish reading The Farming of Bones before we arrive on DR.
  5. Be consistently present and engaged in all discussions and activities.
  6. Read the syllabus carefully, since it is a contract.
  7. Make sure that you understand the grading policy.
  8. Make sure that you check Canvas often and consistently, so that you can stay informed and on task.
  9. In order to earn top points in all graded assignments, make sure that you PROVE that you have done the assignments.
  10. Ask for help when you need it.

Behavior in our (Physical and Virtual) Classroom

Our classroom welcomes and respects the viewpoints of students of all sexual orientations and genders, as well as all races, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, social statuses, sizes, learning styles and abilities. All members of our classroom are expected to treat each other with respect and dignity.


When working online, be especially conscious that your communication is missing visual cues, and that therefore you must pay close attention to the ways you address other people. You must maintain respect for everyone, even when you disagree with a person.

My pedagogical stance

As research proves, I believe that the most enduring learning happens when we are personally invested and engaged in the topic, and when we collaborate. That is why I set up our classroom to be student-centered, and why I function as a facilitator in the meaning-making process. I am not merely a transmitter of information. That is also why it is absolutely necessary that you participate consistently and fully. That means that you must be responsible and work rigorously both independently and collaboratively.

2 thoughts on “SAP in Dominican Republic–June 2018

  1. Very inspirational, intellectually challenging and enjoyable to read. Thank you to the students who gave up their valuable time to learn and make a contribution in the Dominican and Haitian community in such a way to allow others to see and learn with them.
    Congratulations, much love and respect to my sister Dr Dulce Gray for such a valuable contribution to the learning community at home and those she and her students touched.

    Much love to you

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