Lights off & Evictions Part I: Back in DR
Written by: Genesis Aquino
I knew the landlord would come up randomly to get us evicted. He was always violent, and threatening. He parked his car in a way that half of it was on the sidewalk and the other half on the street, then knocked the door and screamed his lungs out, very loud ly— the whole block would know that the landlord didn’t want us there and that we were simply poor.
I wondered if they thought we were shameless because my father would always seem to continue his life like nothing happened after the landlord left, he would just finish doing whatever he was doing or smoke a cigarette en la acera, frente a la casa.
I knew we were the poorest on the block with no electricity and no running water, and sometimes no cooking gas; a bending old wood house with a latrine in the back.
But the word squatter just came to my mind, maybe I heard too much in housing court today, not really sure why it floats on my head, but it makes me feel like we were worst than simply poor, as I thought of growing up, that maybe the phrase is poor homeless and squattering.
I remember my father having the courage to show his face to the neighbors, but I always ended up destroyed after those encounters, nervous, and worst, with shame. Shame to go outside of the house, and see the faces of my neighbors and friends, my classmates who all lived on my block. Even though back were I lived everybody was wretched but being the poorest had its stigma. And if you know anything about the DR, (maybe the whole Caribbean) then you know everybody knows everybody and there is no real privacy in communities because everyone ends up gossiping about each other…so yeah the shame was real. I didn’t really want to go to school, but I never complained. I was a very quiet and obeying person growing up and although I was never forced to go, I never objected from going to school.
I used to stay days wondering where would we go, what would happen if they came the next day with the Marshall and threw everything and all of us out. I couldn’t sleep well sometimes, I overthought so much. I never realized until now that those incidents have consequentially caused me anxiety on my adult life.
Poverty is a fucking virus… it kills you in many ways! I guess mine affected me mentally. How could an eight-year-old worrying about homelessness, food and money do good in school with so much worry on her shoulders? Fuck, in school insecurities get real when you can barely eat (smh).
Before living there, we used to live in a room de una cuartería en un callejón marginal del barrio Filipina, en San Pedro de Macorís. But we had to move to Miramar with my uncle because my grandmother got worst with her illness: she inherited Alzheimer’s from her father and also got Parkinson’s. At first my father used to take care of my grandma, my three cousins, my sister and I, he was our primary caregiver. Then my uncle moved out with my three cousins and left us there with my grandma. My father’s alcoholism then got worst (or I just got older to see it), and as the oldest daughter I inherited some of his responsibilities, so at 7 year old I ended you taking care of my grandma most of the times, when I was not in school. That also meant looking for her in the neighborhood every time she disappeared on me. What was happening was that at those moments she thought she got flashbacks, thinking she was living the years when she was younger. Most times, she did not know who I was and refused to come back with me.
My father taught me how to cook the basics: arroz blanco, habichuela y pollo. I cooked when there was food and played in the backyard. I did have some things that would get me stressed, but not so much as thinking about where would we go, every time that men would come for his house, my life would turn upside down. I would try to calm my father down from arguing and almost fighting with that other aggressive man, then I would inevitably cry and after the landlord would leave, I would ask my father many questions about what’s next, when are we gonna move. I would tell him I didn’t want the landlord to come again and leave us in the street.
It gets hard to keep writing while undusting old trauma.
As time passed I understood he wasn’t shameless. He was brave, what else could he do but smoke his cigarette in front of the house? What other action at the moment would have given us more strength for going outside the house?
Genesis Aquino is a Black dominican migrant, currently living New York City. As an educator and activist her work has been focused on healing from and addressing the systems of oppression that most directly impact all her intersections and experiences as a transnational Black woman. In 2012 she received the ELLA Fellowship through the Sadie Nash Leadership Programs where she founded the Empowering Sunset for Reproductive Justice Project; workshop series on reproductive justice for young women of color through grassroots organizing. She currently works fighting displacement and preserving affordable housing by empowering pro-se tenants in NYC Housing Courts, and advocating for fair housing policies. Genesis serves on the board of directors for When and Where I Enter, Inc., a philanthropic organization which provides support to NGOs striving to improve the quality of life for Black women and girls in Latin American countries. As an aspiring lawyer she wishes to continue advocating for human rights and representing underserved communities of color.