Lively music. Cheering voices. A crowd of people holding up signs. The people of the Dominican Republic dance in the Plaza de la Bandera as they peacefully protest in front of a military blockade. The sunny day is shattered by canisters of tear gas lobbed into the crowds, scattering the protesters. Amidst the smoke, a girl records the chaotic scene as tears stream down her face. “This was pacific! We weren’t doing anything!”
If you don’t know what’s happening in the Dominican Republic (DR), it isn’t your fault. The international community has decided to ignore what has been, arguably, considered one of the biggest political crises and uprisings of our country. You only ever hear about the DR when it impacts Western society or someone’s spring break vacation plans. This summer, there was a frenzy of news outlets bringing attention to American tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic. What these outlets failed to mention was that these deaths were all due to natural causes or that countries like Canada had more American tourists die that same year. And yet, the media has chosen to ignore one of the largest protests in DR history.
I’ll explain. On February 16th, Dominican municipal elections took place. Or we thought they did. For four hours, people cast their votes in voting machines (that took up about $19 million from our national budget). The ballots, however, often didn’t have political parties’ candidates on them or malfunctioned and cast the vote for the voter. This led to the suspension of elections for the first time in Dominican history – reaffirming citizens’ worries of corruption and meddling by government officials. Consequently, peaceful protests sparked outside of the Junta Central Electoral, the central electoral board building. On February 18th at around 8 p.m., thousands of protesters were hit with tear gas bombs. The government claimed they “were not involved” with this attack, fueling the anger and dissatisfaction of citizens and provoking an unprecedented response of rising protests nationwide and globally.
But we can all learn something from what’s happening in the DR.
This situation led to what I believe was the Dominican youth’s wake up call. There’s a newfound motivation to go out and vote for the rescheduled elections. I started to see people I went to high school with participating in protests. College professors would pause their classes in order to let students take part in cacerolazos, the banging of pots and pans to express public discontent with the government. The younger generations began to fight for the change they want to see.
The situation is comparable to the student-led March For Our Lives movement in the United States. Both are examples of what can happen when the youth raise their voices against authority. They might be fighting for different causes but have a common goal: ensuring a better future for the following generations.
I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and, despite being constantly told I don’t look Dominican at all, there is nothing I take more pride in. My friends here at Northwestern lovingly make fun of me saying that I can’t go a whole day without mentioning the tropical paradise that is my homeland.
Whenever I mention that I come from the DR, people usually allude to the sandy beaches in Punta Cana or say something along the lines of, “Wow, there’s a lot of great baseball players from there!” But to me, it’s home.
As much as I love my friends here at NU, I know they didn’t care that much. I was constantly thinking of those back home and how these protests were seven minutes away from my apartment (I double-checked with Google Maps). I was infuriated by the lack of international news coverage the protests in the Dominican Republic were getting - if you Google “Dominican Republic News” there are more articles on baseball or Coronavirus than there are about the protests. I was frustrated by those who brushed me off when I talked about it or clearly weren’t interested. As an international student, I felt helpless. The only thing I could really do was spread the word. My Instagram was flooded with reposting videos and articles about the situation, and yet I knew that people were quickly tapping through what meant the world to me.
Because I wanted to support those fighting back home, I ended up going to Chicago’s own protest in Millennium Park for Dominican Independence Day on February 27th. Amid the vibrant laughter and playful banter of Dominicans, I was reminded of why I am so proud to be from my country. Although I was in a crowd of strangers, we were singing and dancing to the tunes of Juan Luis Guerra while sipping on ginger tea that was being offered to us to stay warm. I didn’t know most people there, yet we all felt right at home as we took pictures together and joked around like we were at a family reunion. Despite being so far away, I felt at home.
Since the suspension of elections in the DR, protests continue. Every day, citizens gather in front of the JCE holding up signs. Student protests keep going, and classes are interrupted for daily scheduled cacerolazos – a reminder that the fight is not over until we get answers from the government. There have been protests globally in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, the U.S. and more. Because of the pressure, the central electoral board changed their voting methods to manual. Citizens, however, continue to seek answers and transparency.
If people should take something away from this, it’s the value of being an advocate for what you believe in. I was very hesitant at times to continue to talk about something that meant so much to me in fear that it was not what others wanted to hear. But I cannot be more grateful that I didn’t. Because it led me to finally feel at home despite being 1,899 miles away.
If there’s one thing that’s for certain about Dominicans it’s this: We’re loud. And whether the government likes it or not, we’ll make our voices heard.
Editor's Note: The views presented in this story belong to the writers and are not necessarily reflective of North by Northwestern as a whole.