I can not begin to explain how excited I was for, what I considered, my first major trip outside of the United States to Spain. Of course, I had traveled many times abroad being that I was first-generation
Dominican and every Summer when school was out, my mom shipped us off to Dominican Republic to spend Summers with my grandmother. I had also lived in Honduras, teaching English to 9th, 10th, and 11th
graders. It was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life, but that tale is for another story.
In addition, I had visited other parts of Latin America, including Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica,
and various other smaller islands in the Caribbean. So why was I super excited when my boyfriend
decided we would travel to Spain that Summer? Well first it was Europe, I mean come on! Second
besides the art, culture, music, and food, I was super intrigued in discovering why Dominican Republic,
mi isla bella, was so keen on emulating Spanish culture. I mean what was up with all the hype. If there
was one constant thing in all my trips there, it was this need to do what the Spanish did. The more you
adopted the Spanish culture and looked Spanish, the more, for lack of a better term, “FINA” you were.
Clearly, I had not yet really understood the impact of colonization on my people.
So here I am 24, making my way throughout Spain and holy crap did I love it. A culture where
people prioritized siestas, well-being, great dinners, and time off. I mean hello, how could you possibly
not love it? The party scene in Madrid…Amazing! Something about beautiful Sevilla, a hot maze of a city,
made the romance between my man and I steamier and sexier. And then there was Barcelona; a city on
a beach with great food and a vibe you just cannot describe. I recommend everyone check it out, at least
once. Oh Barcelona, how I loved you but soon found out how little you loved me back. I will never forget
my first experience in discovering this when I was on my way to la Sagrada Familia. Riding in a cab with
bae, I was describing to him how rude a Spanish pedestrian had treated me when I had asked him a
question in Spanish.
Here I am telling my boyfriend the story and the cab driver interrupts and asks me what my background is. I tell him that I am Dominican American which instantly led him to make a face and tell me, “Listen Dominicans who come to Spain only come to prostitute, it’s better you keep speaking in English.” Que? I was dumbfounded…Ugh did he really just say that? And more importantly, did I just stay shut and not defend my fellow Dominican women? Instead, I was embarrassed, embarrassed to be a Dominican woman and then ashamed that I was embarrassed. How dare I be ashamed to be Dominican; an island that had only showed me love since I was a little girl. I could not begin to describe how pissed I was for not standing up for myself and especially for not standing up for
So, years later, here I am, still thinking about this situation. I have yet to revisit Spain, even though I would of course go back in a heartbeat. The good outweighed the bad for me. However, if I do, and I find myself in a similar situation, I know how to respond now. I would simply say in the politest Latina way… Do not ever disrespect Dominican women by thinking you can look down on us. I do not care if there are a million Dominican prostitutes in Spain, keep your judgments to yourself for you have no idea of the circumstances that brought them here.
Spain colonized, raped, and enslaved my ancestors, made colorism in my island an unbearable social problem, and robbed us of countless natural
resources. Still, instead of hating you, we forgave you and even loved you so much as to adopt cultural aspects of your country. Your people can learn a ton from my people, especially in the areas of love,
compassion, and forgiveness. Lastly, I will speak Spanish all around this country if I damn well please because I am proud to be a Dominican woman, and I will never let anyone take that away from me. My people love Spain and although Spain does not love us, we don’t need you to, for we are a powerful force, a vibrant people y orgullosos as hell of where we have been and where we are going!
Hello, my name is Jessenia Rios and I am a born and raised New Yorker and first generation Dominican-American. I absolutely love to travel! Traveling allows me to disconnect, destress, reinvent myself and, most importantly, meet new people with extremely different experiences, cultures and ways of living from my own. Through travel and exposure, I came to discover myself and place in the world. It was because of my experiences abroad that I was inspired, alongside my sister, to open little Lola & tots, a cultural and educational playspace in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn NY. We believe that through early education and cultural exploration, we can create a world that is more accepting and tolerant of differences in one another. Therefore, it is through a cultural lens that we create and offer programming to our community. I also founded a nonprofit called Women Who Thrive, an an organization whose mission is to unite all women of different backgrounds through wellness solutions and a community of sisterhood. Travel has shaped me in more ways than one and I invite you all to travel with me as you read through my stories abroad!!