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Growing Love without Shame by Cristal Rojas

I like to think that love is a garden that I grow. It goes through its cycle. And eventually, I learned that it has to die and disappear in order for regrowth. He was that one flower despite all the dead love around him that produced a light that never allowed death in. For me, he was the rain that was going to wash away my yesterday’s sorrows. And it just so happens, he came from a different color than mine.

  Being loved differently was something I had to get used to. “What, so now that you have a white boyfriend, Cristal, you don’t know how to act?” Apparently, it’s something certain people had to get used to as well. “No, I actually don’t.” That’s how shaming shows up at your doorsteps…tiny knocks at first. I’ve learned a lot about myself by being loved by a person that didn’t grow up with my customs, but I also learned a lot about Dominicans in general. For example, no matter how much we think we’re okay with having a white person in our tribe, we can’t help but feel strange. He and I walked into Rite Aid one November day, and the latina girl at the register couldn’t help to stare in an obvious way. Walking into the Malecon restaurant in Washington Heights I knew I would have to up my confidence and bitch smile because people’s eyes might’ve as be a social media comment thread.  In another instance: “Tu tiene un novio verdad? El gringo?” That’s my Dominican hair stylist, “Si” I reply. She nods and although silent, I can still feel her questions, but I change the conversation. To be honest, they’re just stating the obvious, that there’s an uncommon mix of culture. Interestingly, I never saw color differences until someone else’s eyes mentioned them.

  I am a Dominican woman growing up in Washington Heights, and that’s not enough for you to understand who I am. I LOVE the Dominican Republic. Traveled twice every year, sometimes three. My first love happened over there, well, a lot of firsts happened over there.  New York was too crowded, also too hip with the times. I preferred the little things. Small meals, no tv, and the stories that were told to pass time whenever there was a power outage at night. Those were the things that kept me going back. My love for all of those things gave me the strong belief that I should show my love for my culture by limiting myself to it. Even though at the time I would’ve debated that I was actually “committing” to it. So I only dated Hispanic men. Mostly Dominican. And I felt proud every time I found a good one. Felt like I never left the island.

  Approval was another thing. I knew my parents would feel comfortable with me dating Hispanic men, and so would society. Things would be the way they’re “supposed to be.” That’s what I always saw. And rare cases like in highs school where the Philippine girl dated a Dominican guy, I automatically believed she just wanted to be like us. Because come on, we all know Latina women are the best women.

  As I grew older I became more aware of the type of person I am. I knew my personality wasn’t shaped like most Dominican women stereotypes, but I would still represent. With social media taking off, and me being age appropriate for jobs I started to see first hand how my ethnicity wasn’t favorable. How living in Washington Heights was typical. How not finishing college was predictable. With more age my opinions shifted, and so did my dating preference. But I categorized my white crushes as childish fantasies. You know, like when you realize Leonardo Dicaprio is damn cute when you saw the movie Titanic for the first time. Childish.

  After becoming a single mom, the passing of my dog best friend, and becoming comfortable being alone on an island I created, petals of fucks started to fall off of me until I had no more fucks to give. For me, being who I am despite what society and my culture wanted me to be was, and is an example I want to show my daughter. I was whole. And it’s only when you’re whole, that you’re ready to invite and share your wholeness with someone else. That’s when I discovered that freedom had a taste, had a smell, had a look, had a sound; was a song.

    “No one has really said anything to me about it other than positive things, I think that’s probably because I live in an area where interracial relationships happen more commonly. I have always loved Latin people and culture, especially Dominican people and culture…” Says my boyfriend when I asked him if anyone has said anything weird regarding us. I then asked him if HE himself has felt a certain way after dating me, I give a joke example, “you know like, damn this Dominican pussy is ruining my life.” His response? “Hahaha, first of all, I’ve never referred to you as Dominican pussy.” He goes on and talks about how comfortable he’s been, but the inspiring details of his response lie within the actions inside the relationship. We are a power team. A marriage of caramel and white chocolate, that’s too tasty for sour souls; too challenging for the default setting mind, as I mention in my latest poem named “interracial love.”

  “Excuse me, what? Does this make me less of a Dominicana?” No one has ever asked me this, but it’s a question caused by the bits of sour shame that every so often regurgitates from the pit of my stomach. The question I have gotten asked is “what’s it like?” to which I respond “Its like home.” But it is a difficult time to date a color that symbolizes something people are fighting against. I’ve experienced a kind of sensitivity, and awareness that has caused me to become defensive with ideas I’m not accustomed to. Unfortunately, I can’t let that set the tone for my happiness.

My interracial relationship isn’t responsible for ignorance or history, but I do believe I can create small clouds of hope, that’ll eventually rain positive changes in the future.

  My wholeness has become larger, I am now equipped with tools for success that come from both my culture and a different one. I have made allies, a new kind of family that its beauty ranges from the lightest shade all the way to the darkest. I am grateful for the support of my Dominican family, and how they’ve been able to welcome a new tribe. It’s almost as if together we’re a new civilization, that’s creating new colorless grounds for our children to be raised on.

  My name is Cristal Rojas, a Dominicana, who’s a mother, and visual artist. I grew a garden where I unearthed the kind of love that provides strength, and togetherness in a way that creates the ideal future for my daughter, despite the bits of shame that comes with it. What kind of garden will you grow?

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Cristal Rojas is a photographer known for her unique perspectives inspired by the human-animal relationship. Her photograph was published in the Hamptons Pet magazine in 2016, and again in 2017. She was invited as a guest on the Heritage Radio network for the show Animal instinct, made tv appearances on Despierta America, and had a photo exhibition called “Muzzle Your Stereotype.” A photo essay that used poetry and images of Latina women interacting with pit bull dogs; exposing the misunderstood strength of both culture and breed.

 

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About wendyang

Wendy Angulo is a New York City born Latina, raised in Caracas, Venezuela. Wendy is a mother, writer, lawyer and the founder of Wendy Angulo Productions, an organization whose goal is to support, encourage, and promote poetry and visual arts in the borough of Queens. Wendy, re-discovered her love for writing in the summer of 2011 after attending a spoken word event in Queens. She then joined the New York City Latina Writers Group where she has been an active member and has taken on the role as the organization’s Program Director. Wendy is an essayist who is currently working on her Memoir. She has read her work at several venues throughout New York City, including Nuyorican’s Poets Cafe, East Harlem Cafe, Sankofa Sisterhood, Camaradas and has been published in the online journal Mom Egg Review; she is a 2016 VONA alum and the sole creator/curator and producer of Canvas of Words, an art and poetry showcase that birthed of Wendy’s desire to bring the arts back to her beloved borough of Queens. Wendy continues to scout for new talent and build new connections to perpetuate the arts and strengthen the literary community.

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