Members of the cultural organization La Vanguardia joined students and young professionals from colleges across the country for a conference from March 8 to 10 to highlight the work being done by Dominicans in the United States. The event, hosted at Columbia University in New York City, served as a celebration of the Dominican identity.
“It’s imperative for students to have these experiences because it allows them to fulfill Hamilton’s promise of knowing thyself,” says Aguilar Fluffy Aguilar ’19, the president of La Vanguardia. “We all share various Latinx identities and it’s our purpose to make sure all Latinx folks feel included and heard on campus.”
Three of the eight Hamilton students who went to the conference are of Dominican descent. Mariani German ’19, Anaidys Uribe ’19, and Emily Rojas ’21 are some of the Dominicans who make up the small Latinx and black populations on campus.
“Being Dominican at Hamilton means being the only one like me in the room because there’s so few of us,” says Uribe. “Taking a weekend away from Hamilton at this conference was definitely refreshing.”
Some notable Dominican speakers at the conference included Massachusetts State Representative Andy Vargas, Mayor of South Hackensack Yris Encarnacion, actor Sergio Vargas, activist writer Gabriel Ramirez, and former U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay Julissa Reynoso.
“We hope to highlight our rich Dominican heritage that often goes unnoticed” said representative Vargas. “We’re always moving forward with all of the hard work generations of Dominicans have done over the years on and outside the island.”
All participants of the conference received an individualized schedule of panels and workshops to attend. Discussions included learning about the Dominican diaspora, understanding the stigma surrounding mental health within the Latinx community, addressing negative attitudes towards Afro-Latinas, and addressing issues regarding machismo.
“There were various Dominican panelists that spoke towards the Afro-Dominican experience,” says Uribe. “I connected the most with the queer Dominican poet Gabriel Ramirez since he had so many identities that I found myself identifying with and was immediately captivated by the way he spoke about his experiences. It really resonated with me and the work I’m doing with my Africana Studies thesis.”
Traditional Dominican dancers and singers performed at various points in the conference. Dominican food including mangú con los tres golpes (a puré of plantains with eggs, fried cheese, and salami), tostones (fried plantains), and habichuelas con arroz blanco (beans and white rice) were served throughout the weekend.
“Our cultural identity is a part of us and we walk with it every day,” said Mayor Encarnacion. “We are beautiful people doing amazing things in the world and that should be celebrated.
La Vanguardia is an on-campus club at Hamilton that provides its members a space to be expressive of their identities while feeling at home. They hold weekly meetings celebrating cultures across Latin America, discussing important social issues, and building community for those of Latinx descent and allies as well.
The trip was made possible with funding from the Renyi Student Leadership Development Fund and Student Assembly.
“It was amazing to be surrounded by so many influential and successful Dominicans at the conference,” says Uribe. “It validated so many of my experiences as a Dominican woman living in the United States and gave me a new sense of pride in my heritage and culture.”