Good People

DominiRicanIsh, Genealogy

For years it’s been common family knowledge that my great grandmother was Taino from Puerto Rico; however, for centuries, scholars believed that the Taino people were extinct after the invasion of Christopher Columbus. How could this be a possibility? Even without the backing of science, my family stuck by this claim.

Mama Rosa. August 2nd, 1935

A few years ago, geneticist Maria Nieves-Colon led a scientific study that confirmed Taino DNA is still very much alive and flourishing through the veins of many decedents of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. Thanks to the recent advancements, my AncestryDNA results showed that I carried 15% of Indigenous DNA. Those who know me well know that I can become obsessed with research, so I decided to investigate the minute I got my results. 

Taino Symbol Collage by Remezcla.com

The word ‘Taino’ translated means “Good People” and references to the Arawakan Natives that settled in the Caribbean from South America. The land was blessed, abundant and the Taino’s’ respected it. As inhabitants of their land, they mastered agriculture and cultivated crops like yuca, corn, and sweet potato. According to historical accounts, Taino’s lived their lives as happy, gentle, and friendly people. They were skilled craftsmen and invented things like the hammock and the canoe. The communities were inclusive, self-sufficient, and thriving before Christopher Columbus’s arrival and Spanish rule. 

Columbus’s first unintentional stop in the new world was the Bahamas, where he had his first encounter with the Taino people. Columbus quickly noticed the gold the Tainos were donning and went back on his ship, the Santamaria, searching for more. The Santamaria crashed on the northern part of the island Hispaniola which today is known as the Dominican Republic. Columbus left several men on the island to set up a colony and sailed back to Spain, where the Europeans celebrated him. The Spaniards and the Taino’s relationship started out promising as Taino’s nature was generous. 

“They will give all that they do possess for anything that is given to them, exchanging things even for bits of broken crockery. They were very well built, with very handsome bodies and very good faces…. They do not carry arms or know them…. They should be good servants.”Excerpt from the Diary of Christopher Columbus. 

After some time, the relationship between the Tainos and the Spaniards began to disintegrate. Spain was quick to claim the islands that Columbus invaded and gave him the title of governor. Columbus returned to Hispaniola with ships to fill with gold for the king and queen of Spain. Instead, he found a local chief had murdered the men left behind. The Taino chief in charge was said to own an abundance of gold on his land and war quickly broke out between the two groups. Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors overpowered the Tainos and drained the land of its gold.

Photo Credit: http://www.History.com

The Taino way of life was dying, and enslavement resulted in the inability to sustain life quality. Taino’s over the age of 14 were forced to give gold to the Spaniards, and those did not produce enough gold were brutally punished. If the Taino people were not dying at the Spaniards’ hands, they would die from the diseases they had carried over for which they had no immunity.       

Photo/Artwork by Joos van Winghe and Theodor de Bry

“They forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were so many sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual’s head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow of their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by the feet and, ripping them from their mothers’ breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks. Others, laughing and joking all the while, threw them over their shoulders, shouting, ‘Wriggle, you little perisher.'”- A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolome De Las Casas. 

Within a few decades of the European invasion, more than 90% of the Taino population was exterminated. Some natives fled to the mountains to escape Spanish rule, but many fell victim to the Spaniards’ advanced weapons. Many Tainos starved and committed suicide at alarming rates, including killing their children so they would not have to be subjected to the enslavement and horrendous acts carried out by the Spaniards in the name of Christianity. 

Photo Credit: sciencephoto.com “Hatuey was a Taa no chief from the island of Hispaniola, who fled to Cuba during the Spanish conquest. According to Bartolome de las Casas Hatuey entreated the Taa no of Caobana people to join him. The Taa no chiefs in Cuba did not respond to Hatuey’s message, and few joined him to fight. Hatuey resorted to guerrilla tactics against the Spaniards, and was able to confine them for a time. Eventually, using mastiffs and torturing the Native people for information, the Spaniards succeeded in capturing him. On February 2, 1512, he was tied to a stake and burned alive. In 1552, the Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas published A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, an account of atrocities committed by landowners and officials during the colonization of New Spain. Engravings appeared in Narratio regionum Indicarum per Hispanos quosdam deuastatarum verissima by Theodore de Bry in 1598.”.

The actions of Christopher Columbus and his men were criticized by many in his colony. Word got back to Spain about the tortuous and barbaric acts Columbus used to govern Hispaniola. He was found guilty of crimes against the Spanish and the Natives. Christopher Columbus was arrested and sent back to Spain. He was no longer permitted to visit Hispaniola. He had one last voyage in the Caribbean before dying in prison. 

Portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519

A study funded by the National Science Foundation found that 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans have American Indian mitochondrial DNA. This is believed to be a link to Taino ancestry. So traces of Taino can be found engraved on stones in mountainous reigns of the Caribbean and can be found embedded in the DNA of many descendants of the Caribbean. 

“You know what? These people didn’t disappear. In fact, they’re still here. They’re in us.”- Maria Nieves-Colón. 
https://remezcla.com/culture/tainos-present-day-puerto-ricans/

Yuiza Loiza | Painting by Puerto Rican Artist Samuel Lind

The terrorist reign of Christopher Columbus left a devastating impact on the entire population of the Taino people. However, it did not put a dent on the Taino impact or influence in our culture today, and on a day like today, it should not be overlooked. The English language has incorporated words that come from the Taino origin. Words like hurricane, canoe, tobacco, and hammock all derive from the Taino language. Inventions of the Taino’s are still used today. The generosity and giving nature of the people in Boriquén is still alive today. Christopher Columbus was not a hero. He was a terrorist. This why I will always choose to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day.

Bad Hair Doesn’t Exist.

DominiRicanIsh

At the age of seven, my roots decided to take on its pure form, and my strands grew out thick and curly. For my mother this was unfamiliar territory and became hard to maintain. She cared for my hair the best way she knew how which included a strict hair regime of routine relaxer treatments and blowouts. As a little girl, I thought nothing of it. It was the norm, and I, like many others at the time, equated straight hair with beauty. 

As the years went on, relaxer treatments became less glamourous and increasingly torturous. Everything about it began to feel like a punishment. The length of my hair slowly faded, and the presence of spilt ends took over my life. I hated it! At the age of 18, out of frustration, I did away with relaxers forever, and I unintentionally transitioned. The day I cut my relaxed ends off, I watched as my hair spiraled up. My jaw dropped instantaneously as I had lived most of my life without knowing what my hair looked like without processing. I was both amazed and worried. My curls were there, but I lacked in length.

I continued to straighten my hair faithfully and made frequent trips to the Dominican Hair Salon, a place where God had blessed the styling tools, and the hairdressers could effortlessly turn a fierce pajon into a silky-maned paradise. There were days where I would march my way to the salon, determined to leave with my neck snapping side to side so that those on the block could bear witness to the fabulousness of my fresh blowout. 

This day was no different. I was on a mission to tame my tresses. Upon entering the salon, the smoke from the blowers floated in the air, and the hairdressers darted their eyes towards me. To my disappointment, my preferred stylist Milagros was nowhere to found.   

“Hi… Wash and Set, please?” I timidly pleaded. Without Milagros, I would have a tough time communicating.

“Espera 20 minutos. Siéntese por favor”. One of the hairdressers responded while the rest continued their work.

The comradeship surrounding the women in the salon was magnetizing. The absence of men allowed the freedom of fierce feminine expression. They shared incredible stories, participated in perpetual debates, and engaged in endless laughter; all things I wish I could have been a part of. Undoubtedly my broken Spanish played a role in my inability to do so. They were so proud, so confident, and so happy right where they were. It was typical that I would sit quietly, and people watch or get lost in a novel while waiting for my turn. 

“Ven.”  The shampoo girl called me over.

I cautiously gave her a fair warning, “I’m sorry. My Spanish is not that good. I can understand, though.” I admitted.

“That’s okay.” She politely smiled as she turned the water on.

Her technique was firm but gentle. I expected her nails to be like talons scraping across my sensitive scalp; however, my experience with her was the complete opposite. This shampoo girl was a breath of fresh air, and when she massaged my scalp, I felt all of life’s given tension flee my body. 

“Your rizos are very pretty.” She said. 

“Really?” I was stunned.

“Si, claro.” She said while lathering my strands. 

“Thank you!” I beamed. “Growing up, all I heard was Pelo Malo. It’s surprising to hear you say that.” 

Pelo Malo no existe.” She began laughing, “Si tu te alisas demasiado, your hair can break.”

And there it was. The divine intervention I most desperately needed. It wasn’t found in the “sacred” hands of hairdressers but rather in the laughter of the shampoo girl. She gave me confirmation of what I was feeling deep down all along; my hair was just fine the way it was. I left the salon feeling a different type of confidence. 

At home, I got lost in the Natural Hair abyss on YouTube. I learned where these self-inflicting beauty standards originated and how deeply rooted these ideals continued through generations. It took years for me to shed off the stigma of “unruly” hair and step out in my natural glory. My hair is full of life and I no longer seek to have it straightened every few weeks. 

Pelo malo no exsite…

Who knew one statement could have such an impact? #DominiRicanIsh

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Check out my sisters hair Curl Smith product review!

Link: https://gajanutrition.com/blog/Curlsmithreview

Her IG post on natural hair!

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Let’s get real for a second. I am a Puerto Rican and Dominican woman. My pride in my heritage runs deep. 🇵🇷 🇩🇴 • • • Growing up my hair was difficult to tame because of how curly it was. I would relax my hair every six months. This chemical process is extremely damaging. Having “Pelo muerto” Or “dead hair” was something that many women I knew with curly hair sought after. • • • People would use words like “nappy” and “kinky” when they would talk about curly hair. I still hear people using these terms. Over the years I guess I internalized this and felt that my curly hair wasn’t beautiful. I fully own that I am personally responsible for my own perceptions and feelings, but we cannot ignore society’s contribution to the message being sent to women of color and curly or natural hair. Just type the word “beauty” into your google search bar and have a scroll. • • • There is nothing wrong with straight hair. In fact, I like to straighten my hair from time to time. However, this comes from a different space. I don’t straighten my hair because I’m self conscious about my curls. I straighten my hair because I like to change my look up sometimes. • • • I say this to acknowledge all of my sisters who struggle with loving their curly hair! Be wild. Be bold. Be beautiful. Embrace your mane. Embrace the lioness. You were not created to be tamed! You are a GODDESS! • • • #naturalhairjourney #naturalhair #hair #naturalhaircommunity #curlyhair #teamnatural #naturalhairstyles #curls #naturalhairdaily #natural #hairgoals #healthyhair #hairgrowth #naturalista #afro #naturallyshesdope #healthyhairjourney #naturalhaircare #type #bighair #coils #healthy #latina #veganlatina #beauty #hairgoals #lionness #dominican #puertorican

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Aa, Bb, Cc, Ch, …¿Qué?

DominiRicanIsh

It was the year 2003, and boredom dominated my 8th grade Spanish Class. The room was dull, uninviting, and rather than pay attention, my mind engaged with all of life’s possible scenarios induced by pubescent angst.  I spotted the kid next to me brushing white-out on his teeth, and to my surprise, I wasn’t surprised at all. The class was that boring. And then it happened, the scenario I feared most of all.

“Okay, tell you what! The entire class will walk out of here with an A if one of you can say the Spanish alphabet from beginning to end without looking at your notes.”, said the Spanish Teacher while folding his arms in frustration by the lack of attentiveness.  

Every student shifted their attention in my direction. I stopped scribbling to look up from my desk. The eyes of my peers were beaming towards me in desperation. There was an expectation for me to accomplish this impossible task and be their hero. 

“Jasmin, if one person in the class can say the entire alphabet in Spanish, everyone will walk out of here with an A. ” The Teacher looked at me with all of the enthusiasm in the world. Hopefulness glazed over his face. In his mind, indeed, the only Hispanic student in his class surely had the knowledge to do so. 

“Come on, Jasmin! You can do this!” One classmate bravely cheered me on.

Suddenly the entire class began to chant my name.

“Jasmin! Jasmin! Jasmin!”

“I’m sorry I can’t.” I defeatedly murmured to the class. Their shouts of encouragement and pleas overpowered my soft-spoken voice. As someone who only had a handful of friends at the time, the cheers from my classmates felt uplifting. This feeling lasted only for a brief moment.

“Everyone quiet down and let Jasmin speak.” The Teacher silenced the room. 

My heart raced, and I felt droplets of sweat forming on the top of my forehead. Everyone wanted me to save them, even the Teacher. After all, who doesn’t want an easy ‘A’? I started to say the alphabet. 

“Aa, Bb, Cc, Ch, Dd….” I purposefully faded the sound of my voice as a ploy to cover up the fact I didn’t know what came after Dd. 

 “Speak up so we can hear you!” A student yelled from the other side of the class.

I sighed in defeat. My body trembled from the anxiety. “I’m sorry, Mr., I don’t know it.” 

The Teacher palmed his face in response. The truth was revealed. I didn’t know how to speak Spanish, and everyone’s heroic view of me shattered. My classmates were groaning with disappointment as the bell rang. Amid the shuffle of packing away our things, I overheard some say, “Is she even Spanish?” “Why didn’t she just say the alphabet?” “We didn’t get the ‘A’ because of Jasmin!” I sat frozen in my seat and waited quietly as the teacher left the room. The cloak of shame dressed me that afternoon, and I wore it all the way home. 

I had the nerve to wear my heritage as a badge of honor, yet I couldn’t speak the language of my ancestors who fought tooth and nail to make way for their children and their children’s children. “Is she even Spanish?” I’ve had to fight against this stigma my entire life. 

Here’s my PG-13 response to this question years later:

No, I am not “Spanish”, but rather the product of two beautiful humans who are descendants from a pool of afro, euro, and native lineages in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. I am beautifully mixed and have every right to be proud of where my heritage originated. My broken Spanish is not a disqualifier or a tool for your judgment on my worthiness. Last time I checked, we were all in the same class together. We should have all known the material by then. Why was I singled out? #DominiRican-Ish.

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