I traveled to the Dominican Republic recently, which is a beautiful vacation spot… and also my family’s home country.
I didn’t know what to expect from my trip (it was my first time traveling to the island in 12 years), but I knew, nevertheless, that it would be an eye-opening experience. In those intervening years, I’ve changed a lot mentally, physically, and emotionally… and, as a matter of fact, so has the island. New businesses have popped up, new neighbors moved in, the farm across the street from my grandmother’s house is no longer a farm, and even my grandmother’s house has changed (since when was there a chicken coop?!).
However, one of the most important discoveries I made is: this could’ve been me. Let me explain…
I don’t know about you, but when I travel I tend to travel with rose-colored glasses. What I mean by this is that I am enamored with newness and the excitement of being in a new country that I am blind to the less shiny parts of my destination. The inhabitants of my vacation spot become less human, and are seen more as extras in the movie that is my trip abroad. I know that this sounds f’d up, but just think about it… when you are on vacation, enjoying your few precious days OOO, it’s easy to become less attuned to the experiences of the very people around you…
It was the experience of vacationing in the country where my parents grew up that brought up this particular discovery for me.
When you are unaware of another country’s culture and politics, it’s easy to separate yourself from it and its people. It’s easy to ignore the issues happening in another country—whether that be war, poverty, corruption, civil unrest, etc.—when it doesn’t directly affect you and to you. Until I traveled back to the Dominican Republic, I just had stories to rely on, not reality.
The reality is: the only thing that separates me from them, the people of my parent’s homeland, is language and culture.
This same idea can also be applied to the border crisis in the U.S. — thus, my trip to the island has helped me understand and empathize more with what is happening at our borders.
There is very little that separates us Americans from the migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers at our borders. We may speak a different language and hold different traditions, but we all just want the same thing: freedom and safety — it is the human condition.
When I see images of migrant children being held in concentration camps, I see the faces of my young cousins and relatives. I see the face of Charlotte, a little girl I met during my trip, and am reminded of the curiosity and innocence of a toddler. I am reminded of the freedom that is lost for the children at the border.
After all, this could’ve been me…if my parents had stayed on the island instead of immigrating to the U.S… if Donald Trump had made Dominicans the center of his hate speech rather than Mexicans and Central Americans…
The next time you take a trip, I urge you to try to remove your own rose-colored glasses, and engage with the local culture in a meaningful way. Maybe you’ll even come to your own personal discoveries and open your heart to the experiences of others.