Tonight, MTV is launching the show Washington Heights. The series will profile a group of friends who live in the uptown section of Manhattan known as "The Heights". After watching the trailer, I felt especially skeptical and curious as to what can of worms this show might open up. My friend and I, Washington Heights natives, were ready to critique, denounce and trash the entire series before it aired. We got "guidos" and "guidettes" thanks to the Jersey Shore. What will this show do to well...people like me? I, for one, don't feel like any of the characters could possibly relate to my story or that of any of my peers. But the bigger question is, what identity standards will the show set for Dominicans who live in the Heights?
My mother was born in the Dominican Republic in a small town called La Vega. I was born in New York Presbyterian Hospital the morning of June 26th. I grew up in the Washington Heights, a Dominican's home away from home with the exception of Miami. The deli across the street was my bodega and my English wasn't quite great until I fully learned it in the 2nd grade. I am a product of countless ESL classes and a passion to make my mother happy with good grades.
Ironically, the better I spoke English the more difficult it became to relate to or communicate with my mother. Our conversations became struggles. I would search for the best Spanish words to express my thoughts and always drew blanks. Explaining concepts or ideas was always a task and mirrored a full PowerPoint presentation. My mother's confused faces made me frustrated. We somehow couldn't comprehend each other. It came to the point where, now, my Spanish is butchered enough to be a disgrace to fluent Spanish speakers. Consider this my first apology: perdónenme.
I'm discrete about my nationality unless someone asks directly. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I take pride in my Dominican heritage. I do, however, find it hard to assert myself as the Dominican in my social circles without feeling like I'm automatically being placed within the walls of a stereotypical bubble. The "where am I from" question always comes when people hear me speak. They ask in attempts to identify an accent. I don't have an accent, I sound like a "White person," I say "like" and "umm". I reference Taylor Swift and Katy Perry before I mention anything about Aventura and Juan Luis Guerra. Consider this my second apology: perdónenme otra vez.
It's understandable when friends or family members say things like "you're so white washed" or "you're so gentrified!" Should I be offended? Of course, no one wants to be stripped of their identity because they do not act a certain way. I admit, I'm not the best example of a true Dominican, for that you may need to make your way to the D.R. Dominican-Americans are different, just like Italian-Americans, Asian-Americans, Cuban-Americans and every other sub-group. I'm American and my parents are Dominican. I dance Bachata and can be obnoxiously loud. My identity is a mash-up of both cultures. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'm not a "real" Dominican or that I know everything that is innately American. Chimichurris and hot dogs; I'm just a modified breed of people. I'm also just one example of someone who lives in Washington Heights. It's nice to know MTV wants to tap into the Latino market and tell the story of people in my neighborhood. I'm just more concerned with how they'll do this.