After two and a half weeks of being in Santo Domingo, I commented to one of my Dominican friends that since he’s never left the Dominican Republic, he’s never had to deal with being a minority because everyone here is black, very little multiculturalism except for tourists. As I looked around the mall that I was sitting in, it was clear that with 50 people in my line of sight, I was the only white person. Just about everyone who walked by took a glimpse and several people flat out stared … and then there were a few who stole a few glances as to not appear if they were staring. I’m so thankful that I have self confidence because let me tell you, when you so clearly stand out, it is an awkward feeling. I know people who, at home, in lovely, peaceful, all loving Canada have issues with self esteem and always think that people are talking about them, saying something bad about them or don’t like them. For goodness sake, those people should never travel and become a minority because they will end up in the crazy house! In some cases, it is clear that people are talking about me. What is really funny is when they assume that you don’t understand, but you do! Ah ha! My Spanish has gotten better and even though I don’t understand every single word, I often get the jist of things.
As I walked along the street one day with my friend Harlem, an old man doing some renovations or construction work hollered out to Harlem, out of the blue, something along the lines of, ‘Why are you so lucky to be with her?’ A compliment to me I suppose, as the man thought that I was something special. It was funny though because I giggled, the man was surprised and then Harlem said ‘She understands.’
If I am with a local guy, everyone thinks that the guy is ‘lucky’ to be with me and just assumes that we are a couple regardless of whether we are touching or not. Apparently white girls don’t just have Dominican guys as friends here (other than me!) … all white girls are only here because they have fallen in love and some ‘lucky’ Dominican guy has a shot at his dream of getting out of this country. I say this all sarcastically because obviously, not all white girls are rich … Lots of the white girls here are students and have little to no money. And yes, I say this even in comparison to locals. Although there are many very poor people here, there are many middle class and rich people here as well. And, believe it or not, not all Dominican men dream of living in Canada, Europe or America. Although it does happen a lot that North American and European people fall in love with Dominicans, sometimes it really is love and not all about moving to a new country! And, imagine this … sometimes the ‘white folks’ move here, tossing away all thoughts that the Dominicans are just looking for a green card and freedom in another land! However, to support the stereotype, there were several girls in my school who were here learning Spanish because of their Dominican boyfriends. There is no shortage of young white women from around the world who have fallen in love with someone here!
Being white and blonde, I represent richness and most people assume I am American or European. I don’t think anyone has asked me if I’m Canadian, but they are always pleasantly surprised when I tell them where I am from. Oh, and then there reaction has often been … Montreal? I’m surprised that Montreal is better known here than Toronto or Vancouver.
I’ve come to realize how normal inter-cultural relationships are at home. I think nothing of the couples I have met who are shades of all different colors, sharing various cultural and religious beliefs. However, here in Dominican, the majority of people are some shade of black, so a white person, no matter where you are from, really stands out … everywhere. Even with a tan, my skin still glows like a glo worm in comparison to the beautiful dark skin tones here!
Being a blonde female minority has its perks and its downfalls.
On the perks side:
You are regarded as exotic and beautiful.
People are often understanding and happy to help you.
Traffic is more likely to stop for you (although still unlikely)
On the downfalls side
You stand out 100% of the time.
You can’t hide or be inconspicuous.
You are assumed to be rich which makes you a target for crime.
You are regarded as exotic and beautiful which sometimes leads to aggressive or unwanted attention.
You are clearly not a local, which means here, you are charged much higher rates for everything from taxis to market purchases to park entrance fees.
Overall, it is interesting to come from a place where I am just a normal, average person who blends in with the multi-cultural crowd that we know in Halifax and come to a place where the only white people are visitors. I can’t imagine walking around Halifax thinking that all of the black people (regardless of nationality) or Lebanese people were ‘visitors’. Who am I to assume that they don’t live in Halifax? And I certainly can’t imagine a local vendor at our lovely Seaport Farmers Market offering a hand made craft to me for $5 and then charging a visitor from the cruise ships $15, but that is exactly what happens here in the Dominican!
Oh, how proud I am to be Canadian!