Written by: Jennifer Gil-Velazquez
Featured image by Paul Lomax Photography
Part of the mission of La Galeria Magazine is to give space and have conversations that impact the Dominican community and culture. Here I will hold space to talk about Dominican culture and our culture of abuse.
I first learned about the Bride’s March through a photo on the Dominican Women’s Development Center(DWDC) website, a non-profit organization focused on empowering women and communities in gender equality and social justice in Washington Heights. The image portrayed a group of women in wedding dresses rallying with a banner of a smiling bride. That bride was Gladys Ricart.
Gladys Ricart was a Dominican woman who was murdered on her wedding day by her ex-partner Augustin Garcia, a Dominican man on September 26, 1999. The murder, captured on video, showed Gladys in her wedding dressed as Augustin entered her home shooting Gladys in front of her family. As her death gained media attention for its tragic storyline the case gained greater attention as the defense attorneys argued Augustin had acted in a crime of passion, blaming Gladys for Augustin’s decision to kill her.
According to reports, Gladys ended the relationship after several years of abuse and infidelity. Shortly after the breakup, Glayds met her fiancé and within months got engaged. Even after their separation and Gladys’ new relationship, Augustin continued to pursue Gladys calling and stalking her at her home and work. Gladys had contacted law enforcement after Augustin tried to come into her home one day but sadly she refused to file a restraining order as to not embarrass him and his family. Tragically his behaviors escalated and resulted in the end of Gladys’ life.
I decided to reach out to the Dominican Women’s Development Center to see how Gladys’ story had become a movement and how the DWDC addressed domestic violence in their work. I was connected to Karina Aybar, co-founder of Innovative Counseling Center in Harlem, DWDC board member, and former program director. Speaking with Karina I learned about the DWDC feminist roots. DWDC started with a group of Dominican women who wanted to create a space to support and promote self-sufficiency, advance educational goals, and help women build skills to transform their lives and their families. I learned about their various programs including, Nuevo Amanecer a comprehensive domestic violence program providing resources to individuals and families affected by domestic violence, and the Madrina’s Project, which provides victims and survivors a safe nights stay in a volunteer home as they wait to be placed in a safe home or shelter.
In 2001 the DWDC became involved with the Bride’s March through their support of Josie Aniston, the founder and a Dominican woman from Florida. Josie, a domestic violence advocate was enraged by the response of the Dominican and Latinx community that supported Augustin wanted to bring attention to domestic violence and their victims in the Dominican and Latinx communities.
With the first Bride’s March taking place on the 2nd anniversary of Glady’s death, Josie dressed in a wedding dress and marched along with Gladys’ family, community members and members of the DWDC from Gladys home in New Jersey to the church in Queens where she was to have wed. Josie continued her protest through a 1600 mile journey to Florida stopping at women’s shelters and domestic violence programs along the way to demonstrate how extensive and deep abuse is within our culture. Since then, the Brides March has become an international day of protest in an effort to bring awareness and end intimate partner abuse and the stigmas survivors faced.
As I spoke with Karina about Glady’s murder I was shocked by the amount of support Augustin received from those in the Dominican community and how they justified his actions. I began to wonder how deep abuse was rooted in our culture so much so that we could value a man’s pride over a woman’s life?
Since I began writing this article I have shared Gladys’ story with friends and family, often reflecting on our own understanding of how our gender plays a role in how we move around the world, within our families, relationships and our culture. Often, these conversations highlight the various forms of gender and privilege intertwined with toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and sexual trauma. And, as we often met these conversations with acknowledgment of how our history and trauma have contributed to the social norms of Dominican culture, how often do we talk about the ways in which we can proactively remove these elements and create a culture that doesn’t accept abuse as a norm.
I reached out to Karina to discuss the work she does as a psychotherapist in addressing toxic masculinity, abuse, and gender roles in the Dominican community. We met in her office and discussed personal family dynamics, cultural expectations and our connection to gender and how they contribute to our experiences. I had no intention of sharing the recorded conversation between me and Karina (please disregard the bad audio) but with so much to unpack, I wanted to share Karina’s insight and the effects of intimate partner abuse in the Dominican cultural.
One of the most noticeable elements of Dominican culture is our focus on gender and privilege. In this audio clip, Karina discusses how the lack of accountability and gender norms affect our community.
Machismo and marianismo encompass the traditional gender ideals in the Dominican community playing a significant role in how we explore sexuality, family responsibility and structure, relationship dynamics and how we relate to ourselves. Privilege or in retrospect freedom is disproportionately given and cast a greater disparity when taking into account race, class and status further feeding into these cycles of abuse and trauma. With gender being an anchor to the way we see, act and view our community how do we create a level of equality not just within partner relationships but also within family structures? Karina says it begins with equity and parity.
If we begin to see ourselves as equal members of the community we can begin to eliminate the barriers that force us to mold ourselves within toxic gender and social norms. The change would be significant but these changes will not come without hesitation, judgment or denial as much of our identities are rooted in these traditional ideas. But as Karina mentions in this next clip these conversations are crucial in breaking cycles of abuse in our community.
Being direct and honest and identifying abuse and the various forms we support abusive behavior is a factor in our healing. And the work doesn’t just stop at the conversation. Karina says for those that are being abusive they must be apart of the solution and seek help.
We also have to remember that but abuse doesn’t just happen against women by men and it is not always displayed through partner abuse. Family can also be a source of trauma and abuse making it even more difficult to detach ourselves from abusive patterns. Karina discusses how abuse within families has long-lasting effects into adulthood.
Boundaries play a pivotal role in abuse dynamics. And for those able to vocalize their need of boundaries they are often guilt-ridden met with push back from their abuser. In these two clips, Karina talks about boundaries and how they challenge abusive dynamics.
And for Karina she says for those who find themselves in an unsupported situation and seeking help, they must continue to hold to their assertiveness and building an honest relationship. Karina provides an example here:
As Karina told me in the interview taking steps to end abuse and speaking up for yourself is easier said than done. But the work must be done. For Karina, her work as a clinician and women’s empowerment coach drives her to continue doing the hard work breaking down stigmas and supporting those find their voice saying “Being vulnerable is beautiful. It takes having the courage to speak up, to seek support and to talk about these issues.”
Abuse, gender violence, and trauma are ugly, scary, lonely, loud, painful and all of the above. And while the Dominican community has a deep-rooted history that continues to play out through the vast cases of femicide, sexual abuse and trauma it doesn’t mean we have to continue this narrative. And while we can love our culture with pride and passion we also have to take a critical look at where we fall short as a community. I understand this article has only touched upon intimate partner abuse and abuse briefly but I hope this article can at least make it easier for us to talk about it, acknowledge it and begin to heal as a community.
Jennifer Gil-Velazquez is an Afro-Dominicana from Boston, MA. She has been a team member of La Galeria Magazine since 2014 and co-hosts her own show These2Locas. Besides working in media Jennifer enjoys making clothes and is a former student of the Manhattanville School of Tailoring and Fashion Arts.
National Domestic Violence Hotline:1-800-799-7233
NYC Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-621-4673
Dominican Women’s Development Center Nuevo Amanecer: 212-568-661