When I was ten years old, my family moved to New York City from the Dominican Republic, where I was born. My family’s journey took us everywhere from Manhattan’s lower east side, to the northern Adirondacks Mountains and suburban Upstate NY towns. Maintaining our cultural integrity through that was tough, but my family and I drew strength, solidarity and comfort from our Dominican identity, our music, our food and even the stories of our countries troubled past.
The valiant heroes and brutal villains in those stories served as examples of good and evil. During my teen years, my “Dominicaness” helped me make sense of my own story, angst and sense of self. I’ve always felt proud, and grateful for these wonderful cultural gifts. “Trujillo,” the dictator, was the greatest villain in the stories I grew up with. I heard many stories about Trujillo’s tyrannical rule and acts of oppression against the people. Still, there was one dark part of the story about the massacre that I missed even after years of hearing countless stories told about his rule.
My childhood narrative was that Trujillo committed countless horrible acts, and forced, manipulated or bribed people to carry them out for him and Dominicans suffered but overcame through struggle against him. This romanticised view was forever changed for me after a conversation with my cousin “Eddy,” a historian who studied the massacre. During that conversation, he uttered the words “we did that..."
That was the first time that I fully heard that our people were also complicit in the tyranny. I was devastated, and wondered why this had been kept from me by everyone. But as I recalled the countless times my family members had told me those stories, I had to acknowledge that they had been telling me all along. I just never let myself hear it. I shielded myself from making the most painful realization about myself and my beloved homeland.
Miguel Elias Diaz