Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rude Man on the Street

October 28, 2005

I do not know what gave him the right to throw a little piece of whatever-he-had-in-his-hand at me. Certainly, his calling me “bella” did not excuse his action. I wanted to run after him and hit him over the head with the Westover School Nalgene bottle I had in my hand to teach him a lesson about respect, but I did not, and I could not, as I was walking alone on a poorly, lit street in a country who I have known for only two months. All I could do was muster up an annoyed “Por favor,” but what I really wanted to tell him is too obscene to write.

I continued on my way home, completely exasperated because not only had he objectified me like most Dominican tigres do, but also because he saw nothing wrong with his action. He nonchalantly walked passed me after invading my space--expressing no remorse, saying no “lo siento” (I’m sorry).

His rudeness and disrespect for me caused me to think about the many articles I have read about the high rate of domestic violence in the Dominican Republic. I remembered the woman I met during my first weeks here who had left her husband and children in a pueblocito miles away from Santo Domingo. She could not tolerate her abusive husband anymore. He did not hit her, but he was killing her slowly and painfully each day with his verbal assaults. She had to escape. Without her telling me, I knew that she had suffered and was suffering because one’s eyes do not lie.

“He threatened me and told me I must come back. He has a gun,” she confessed. What was I to do? I could not march to their small house in the Dominican clay mountains and play police. I could not change him, make him respect her, or demand him to allow her to live again. I was just as powerless as she was. She continued, “I miss my children. If I go back, it is for them.” Although she had no desire to return and no more strength to endure his abuse, she would sacrifice her temporary freedom for her children.

“I admire you and your strength,” I told her. “Not many women could pick up and leave as you did.” Somehow, I felt the need to empower her with my words and make her feel accomplished for breaking away from her husband. However, I felt a sense of sorrow rush upon me because I know she was still not happy. Even though her husband had shredded her apart with his verbal daggers, she left the only piece of what she had left of herself with him—her children.

I asked my friend about this woman the other day only to learn that she had gone back, that she would sacrifice herself for her children. Despite the abuse, her husband provided financial stability, prestige, and power. She, like the many other women in her situation, has no other option but to endure the daily abuse and torture. Unfortunately, in many developing countries, it is difficult for older women with children to secure jobs, especially since there are limited opportunities. I, at least, was able to walk away from my 2-second public assault,unscathed and unharmed, whereas this mistreated woman must reluctantly spend the rest of her life in the battle zone of her husband’s name-calling.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


As always, I feel so moved by your writing. Respect, yes, that is so fundamental. Of course we need food, shelter, water, and love. But respect, that is one of the basic five--no? Respect responds to the fact that we are here; that we are someone; that we are worthy. And without that, there is the sense that we are nothing. Which is such a huge injustice, insult, tragedy against the human spirit. Against it's beauty and potential. When I read your pieces I am so struck by how much perspective it places on my life and the lives of other privileged people in the U.S. and across the world. With access to both public and private support systems, one can break cycles of disrespect. But without those resources, what is one to do? As you so clearly pointed out, the woman you described had no desirable options.

What is also so apparent in your pieces, which you sometimes address and other times do not, are the links between colonialism and globalism and other forms of oppression such as sexism. You observe that women are treated particularly poorly in the D.R. You make it real and visible how that feels--both through your own experiences on the street and through the people you meet. That raises the question: what fuels that? Is it cultural? What about colonialism and globalism? These political realities strip both men and women of their dignity and power, leaving a dehumanized social structure in their wake--one in which those who feel powerless and shamed treat others as objects of shame. Not that that excuses the behavior, of course.

What huge energy it would take to turn this process around. And who should be responsible? Well, aside from "everyone," there are those who benefited from the rape of the people and place in the first place.

Sorry that I got on a tirade, and one you already understand! But I thought I'd point out those connections since they are so present in the situations that you're addressing. And they're hard to look at when you're in the middle of the hurt and pain of the situation. Keep writing! Your writing here is SO vivid. And thanks for linking to my piece! Now I'll have to finish it!


9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dena, some great blogs here, you are turning into a perceptive cultural observer and might consider eventually writing something more fully, in the tradition of other great travel writers. I wanted to point one thing out, however, becuase it is an important aspect of the culture here: those "tigres" you keep mentioning are not tigres but tigueres. Notice that dominicans pronounce it slightly differently. Why? It is very interesting: the distinct pronunciation comes from the invading haitians, who, when they saw the "palomos" (street children), would roll their "r" in the French manner -- "tiguerrre". The term, in Dominican use, has a rich history. I recommend you read Lipe Collado's little treatise, "El Tiguere Dominicano" to get an adequate introduction to the concept. While the word comes from the Spanish "tiger" its meaning is really rather complex and has changed over time. While it is correct to call the guys on the street corner throwing piropos at you "tigueres," the fact is that the true tiguere is not quite the same thing. Plus the word nowadays is also used to describe delinquents and delinquency; however, it is also used as a compliment to describe people with nimble wits and sly humor.

Your studies are vital, your observations are good, your chosen field is apt -- but dont let your years of university training blind you to the complexities here on the ground. Trust me, I was a teacher at Columbia University for years, and I know how that excellent grounding in theory can benefit you -- and blind you as well. Enjoy your stay here; DR is a fascinating country, a unique case in the history of the Caribbean. It bears and repays serious study.

I live here and I have travelled all around the island, have studied it for years. I am a photojournalist and I live in Gazcue. If you wish to contact me, my email is Like our fellow Americans, I too enjoy my technological perks.


2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dena, this blog is beginning to develop as a wonderful, many-voiced discussion. Catherine and Jon are not only responding but nuancing and extending your original writing--and I'm learning from all of you. Thanks to all for the reports from all sides.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Chiri said...

Hi Dena, as a fellow Santo Domingo blogger I've been enjoying reading yours over the last few weeks. I've put you on my list of links, hope that's OK.

7:08 AM  

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