I live in New York, but I was born in the Dominican Republic -a beautiful island in the Caribbean. As all immigrants, I am caught between two cultures: the one that I inherited by birth, and the one I adopted. When I first came to the United States, I felt this immense sense of nostalgia for what my life had been in my beautiful island; I felt as if I had been spelled from Paradise… and in order coop with my loss, I did what all immigrants do: I started to idealize my homeland. As Gabriel Garcia Márquez puts it, “Life is not the one you lived but the one you remember.” In those first months, I could not think of anything that was less than perfect in the Dominican Republic. I guess, it was a defense mechanism in order to coop with my sense of loss and isolation. I had entered a world that was not mine, world that I did not understand, and did not understand me, a world in which everything was done backwards…. I couldn’t quite understand why people were always running, why they did not greet you on the street, why everyone seemed to be mad or sad; why they were not friendly like the people I knew back home…. I missed my family and friends very much; I was very lonely because making new friends was difficult since I did not speak English. I hated my school too, I remember sitting in my classroom, and not understanding what my teachers and peers were saying; and, at that point, my mind would start to make its way back home, and there was nothing I could do to stop it… that was my escape back to the Paradise… I always looked at the clock, and thought of what I would have been doing if I were there… I was miserable here, and I wanted to go back, but of course that was not up to me. Every moment of the day, I felt as if I were in two different places at the same time: by body was in New York and my spirit in the Dominican Republic.
Despite the fact that I missed my homeland terribly, New York casted a spell on me from the very beginning. It was everything that my tiny town was not. I thought that it was an amazing place, even though, I was totally overwhelmed by it. I still remember standing at the Grand Central Station, and thinking that I would never understand the subway system. It seemed so crowded and fast…. Today I know that I was wrong, I did learn. Even though, the first months were horrible and confusing, I loved the glamour of the big city, the lights, the buildings, the museum, the libraries, the bridges, Times Square, the Twin Towers, the Statue of Liberty but most of all, I loved seeing Snow for the first time. It was an incredible experience for me.
I consider myself Dominican but I also think of me as an American. I have embraced both countries; I hold dual citizenship, instead of one flag I have two. I am the product of two cultures because they are both in me. I speak both English and Spanish, and sometimes Spanglish. I love eating mangú and sancocho, but I can’t live without my bagel in the morning…. There are days in which I still miss the Dominican Republic, but New York is home now. I now cherish all those things that I found quite strange when I first moved here: I eat my rice for dinner, I run for the subway, don’t have much time to greet people on the street, and Grand Central does not overwhelm me anymore…. I have accepted the fact I would always be caught between two countries, always looking back, but with the need to go forward.
Sonia Tejada , USA