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May 13, 2017

Alternative Spring Break in the Dominican Republic

By: Gisel Saillant

Part 1: Background Planning 

gloria-bernabe-ramos1

Gloria Bernabe-Ramos, Associate Director of the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies (CLACS)

This class has been a process… enough said.  The Latin American Caribbean and Latino Studies 2009 Alternative Spring Break to the Dominican Republic was an experience that I’m still digesting after arriving back in the U.S. Monday morning. 

Maybe I should start with the battles of finding an organization in the Dominican Republic that would host the class, and one with a focus on academics and community service learning. The patience and planning, which took an entire semester, can be credited to the Associate Director of the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies (CLACS) Gloria Bernabe-Ramos, who created a rich curriculum about the politics and culture of the country. Contacting organizations with agendas and strict missions was a challenge, as UMass students interested in participating were screened as “party animals.” Other organizations just didn’t have the capacity to host such a large class at once. 

Additionally, Community Service Alliance (CSA), an organization based in the Dominican Republic, was instrumental in putting this trip together. According to their website, CSA has a  mission to, “Channel human and financial resources brought by volunteers and students to communities and organizations in the D.R, not only helping to respond directly to local needs, but also to facilitate life changing experience for participants.” With the help of this organization, Professor Gloria Bernabe-Ramos was able to plan this trip with an academic and community service learning foundation. 

Maybe I was selfish enrolling in this class. Being born in Dominican Republic and being absent for the past 11 years, I was eager to return to it. But I knew there was something more that pulled me to this class and it was not only to soak up the sun or to live the landscape, but the privilege in going to work with communities. Learning about the influence different organizations have on the population made me think critically of the disconnect they have with the culture and the people. I felt it was important for me to physically represent a generation of Dominicans. 

Dominican-Americans from first to third generations that care about the well-being of the country have all been part of these programs. I browsed through all the past groups that attended these community service trips to the D.R and did not find a face that resembled mine. I wish not to discourage past groups, as I clearly see their good intensions. But still, diverse images and depth of people of color is missing from the media, and these omissions I think perpetuate the power structure that exists, creating a reality about “who cares?”, and “who engages?” with people.

Gisel Saillant can be reached at gsaillan@student.umass.edu.

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