Sunday, March 30, 2014

URSP Student Anastashia Cuddihy Conducts a Collection of Oral Histories Concerning the Trujillo Regime

Thursday, February 20:

I had a long night last night. I was dropped off at the airport at about midnight

and spent most of the evening trying to find a comfortable position to sleep on the plane, drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and waiting for the 6:20 am flight to JFK. Finally, at around 4:00 am, we were able to drop off our luggage and make our way through security to board our flight at 5:55. In the security line, something happened which made me realize just how much my research will be appreciated and how much it is needed. My mother and I were talking about the coming trip, everything I needed to get done in such a short period of time and about my research in general. As we were chatting, a man whom my mother had pointed out in the luggage line as being Dominican turned around and asked if we were headed to the Dominican Republic. We answered him in Spanish that we were and that we were headed to La Vega so I could do research on victims of Trujillo’s dictatorship and collect oral histories, something which I have always been interested in as it is so relatively unknown in the United States. At once, he began nodding and squared his shoulders in a way that would become familiar to me during my time in the Dominican Republic. The same behavior would preceded almost every conversation I would have regarding the Trujillato. El Jefe so impacted the small nation that this man before me, not even alive when Trujillo was assassinated, expressed the same thoughts and emotions voiced by those who had lived through the dictatorship. As we spoke in line, he began to recommend books for me to read and movies to watch to better acquaint myself with the Trujillo Era. I began to take notes when another voice chimed in from behind us. This second man, with whom we later enjoyed breakfast, was from Honduras and was alive during the Trujillo years. Before his flight to Houston began boarding, he told me what he knew about the Trujillo dictatorship and began to talk about other Latin American dictatorships from the same era. I was shocked at the interest my project was getting, even before I boarded my flight and before most people were even out of bed. The rest of the flight was relatively mundane, running for our connecting flight to Santiago, Dominican Republic, getting picked up at the airport by family, and enjoying a home-cooked meal and then a trip to the local watering hole before collapsing in bed, waiting for the next day.

Saturday, February 22.

Today was my first interview. Yesterday was the Friday before the last weekend of Carnaval street celebrations, so it was difficult to talk to anyone about my project. This worked out pretty nicely, as I was able to get my preliminary research together, organize my thoughts and really prepare for my first interview with the principal of a local school. One thing I have noticed in my short time in this country is that driving seems to be a full-contact sport with next to no rules. Red lights, stop signs, and pedestrians seem to be mere suggestions to stop, not requirements. It is not uncommon to see three Vespas joined together by each drivers putting one foot on the scooter closest to them. This makes it so people can still talk while on the move. Needless to say, we did not get in a car here without some level of trepidation! I was also able to witness an incredibly interesting ceremony in which a baby was baptized with his godparents present in his own home. It is called a ‘water party’ and it was quite similar to baptism ceremonies I have been to in the States, except for the fact that it was in a home instead of a church.

Sunday, February 23.

One of the greatest things about anthropological research is the requirement that you immerse yourself in the local culture to understand better the people you are researching. Being in La Vega for this weekend is incredibly lucky, since I am able to witness and participate in Carnaval. Every Sunday in the month of February, La Vega is turned into the cultural capital of the Dominican Republic. Parades and partying take over the streets, which are clogged with people and demon costumes wielding large beanbag footballs on ropes, which they use to hit Carnaval-goers in punishment for the sins they have committed in the past year. It was painful when I turned my back to the “demons” and got a surprise attack! After leaving Carnaval and the music of the party behind, I was able to conduct another interview despite the loud music outside. I was pretty exhausted by the end of the long, fun day. It was almost impossible to sleep through the continuing music and yelling filtering in through the bedroom window!

Monday, February 24.

Today was quite productive and exciting! Not only was I able to get two interviews done, one in the morning and one in the early evening, but I was able to explore more of the island. After my first interview, we headed out to see a museum dedicated to the Mirabal sisters. These sisters were murdered during the Trujillo regime and are remembered as heroines and near saints all over the island. They are even featured on 200 peso bills. Unfortunately, the museum is closed on Mondays, so we were unable to take a tour. Fortunately, the sisters’ birthplace was nearby and we were able to talk our way into a tour of the grounds. It is now a cacao farm, as it was then, and the home is nearly the same as it was when the sisters lived there. We were able to try some fresh cacao seeds (white and fleshy, I thought they tasted like watermelons) and some sundried ones which were incredibly bitter but unmistakably chocolate. After leaving home, we visited the memorial across the street that was erected for the sisters. It was an incredible experience I can only hope to repeat. The last wonderful part of the day was the interview I had this evening with a local hero and entrepreneur. Today exceed my every expectation and I cannot express my gratitude for this amazing country.

Tuesday, February 25.

My last interview was today, and it was a bittersweet experience. The interview was with the owner of the oldest operating restaurant in the city, who was incredibly kind and intelligent; it was a joy to talk with him about my project and to hear his story. While I cannot wait to get home and begin to put together my research and present it, I am going to miss this country and city greatly. The people have been incredibly welcoming and kind, and I have never experienced such hospitality. Tomorrow is going to be my last full day here, and it is looking like it will be spent packing and resting up for our early flight and return trip home. I really hope I can return here again, to incorporate these amazing stories into my graduate studies in a bioarchaeological context and to better understand what happened to the amazing people of this nation under one of the most brutal dictators in the history of Latin America.