A Letter on the Need for Radical Compassion
Welcome to another year on this Diasporic Dominican journey we are all on. It has been quite the journey into our Dominican identity as we have shared the stories and accomplishments of our people while coming together in spaces to celebrate our culture. What has impacted me most about being one of the co-founders of this magazine has been understanding radical compassion through affirming my Dominican identity.
I have seen the ways institutions and ideas rip family and friends apart, be it through historical events & inaccuracies, colonialism, anti-Blackness, politics, immigration and so forth. This separation is felt and is painful, but seems more defined than the healing. The process of reconnecting and unifying is tedious but necessary, especially in these dangerous times where people we love are threatened with deportation, harassment and, in the most extreme circumstances, losing our lives and social freedoms. More than ever, I am grateful to learn radical compassion.
There is this process that occurred to me as a first generation Dominican-American in which I stopped being compassionate to the people that mattered most. As I grew older and Americanized, I continued to internalize the shaming that was done in subtle and overt ways to me and my family for being immigrants. This internalization revealed itself in my thinking that I knew more about what has gone on in the Dominican Republic, particularly around antiblackness, machismo, contemporary lifestyles that my mother considers “liberal” and aggressively introducing what I thought were new ideas to my folks. I was letting a subtle superiority complex color my view of my community. It wasn’t so much that being college educated was a bad thing, but that I thought academia had helped me understand concepts that hurt me and my identity up until that point.
I now understand why immigrant parents can become wary of college education. There is little to keep their children rooted in these predominantly white institutions, which are purposely not teaching them (including me) about how to return home and reintegrate into their homes. I actually ended up making the decision to live on my own to minimize pain on both ends. Most of my 20’s consisted of reflection and integration of my childhood with my adult maturity; I was finding a middle ground that so many 1st generation people must negotiate between their American identities and their ethnic roots. I steadily oscillated between confusion and acceptance, working on the arrogance that being an American had poisoned me with. At 30 something years old, I am looking back at those years as necessary in understanding how to actually raise consciousness in an evolutionary way, instead of an aggressively militant one that creates more riffs than bridges.
La Galería Magazine has given me the opportunity to understand how important being compassionate is when reaching out to the diaspora. It was not going to serve me to be severe and unforgiving when I came across points of view that I didn’t agree with. As a midwife, I have learned to be firm and gentle when attending individuals in their pregnancy and birth journeys; this has shown me that we all are on journeys of birthing ourselves. It is when I remember the humanity of my community while I engage with them where I see the most transformation. I have had to stop myself from thinking I know more than someone’s lived experience, and here is where the healing occurs. The Dominican Republic and many other nations that were created after colonization have many historical wounds, ones that were inflicted on our ancestors and that we have inherited. It is no wonder we hurt each other with patriarchy, racism, sexism, and all the ideologies that were once foreign to us.
Compassion is sympathy and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others, while ‘radical’ relates to and affects the fundamental nature of something. I think having these definitions written out for myself and constantly looking them up (like the writing nerd that I am) has rooted me in addressing everyone with the utmost compassion, especially when I am at odds with their point of view. Compassion is different than coddling, however, and while I operate my life with as much compassion as I can, I cannot indulge or be overprotective. Being overprotective would be taking the approach that folks can agree to disagree even when one of the individuals involved is dehumanizing the other or a group of people; being compassionate is seeking to understand why they feel that way and attempting to start from there. This is not always successful, as some are stubbornly holding onto their beliefs.
In my personal life, I have learned how machismo is also internalized by Dominican women; this is evident in the abusive and unfaithful behavior that is accepted and rationalized. I discovered that asking women why they were so ambivalent about the behavior while making it clear the behavior was unacceptable allowed for more understanding. Sometimes when I take the approach of shutting people down without attempting to understand where they’re coming from, it leads to resentment and separation This is not always possible. When I allow myself to show people compassion, particularly folks who have old-fashion ideas, I gain so much more than automatically trying to ‘correct’ them. I see the division between the old generation and new generation, becoming increasingly aware with age that both have so much to learn from each other.
At La Galeria, many of the voices are from the new generation but what I have found is that they carry the old generation’s spirit of resilience and wisdom that we are integrating into our modern experience. Being a part of this publication has led to me asking more questions about my family’s roots and stories of their childhood back in the Dominican Republic, before they came here. I’ve spoken to my abuelita more than ever and find myself deepening my understanding of how historical events have left their impression on not just my family but others. With this opportunity, my Dominican identity is made complex and robust with contradictions and harmonies.
Ynanna D. (Carmen Mojica)
Co-Founder and Associate Editor