Yale-NYU K-12 Summer Institute: The Colonial Period in Santo Domingo

Street sign on the Calle las Damas in the Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo

For my reflection of the visits to the different Taino – Colonial settings and museums, I have to state that as a Dominican student growing up in this country in the late 60’s all of the 70’s, I had limited knowledge of the level of history, the richness and above all, the great significance that 1492 and the century that follow meant to the encounter and development of modern day society in the Americas and the impact on the rest of the world.

Studying the Tainos from a historical, anthropological, sociological, political and humanist   perspectives has allow me to developed a very different and paradoxical view of their way of life, systems, social structure, rituals, and above all – more in accord with the reality of their times and not the romanticize, embellished or infantile view that was presented in my early 8 years of education in the Dominican Republic, or the obligatory week long imposed curriculum of my high school years in suburbia schooling USA – often titled “Celebrating Columbus”.

I live in the Diaspora.  If one wants to learn about one’s history, the best thing to do is to go there.  Sadly enough, I must admit that what sparked my desire to reflect on my history was not my many, many visits to the Dominican Republic, or my newly minted “Cedula” that functions as my ID and gives the background of my dual citizenship.  No.  It pains me to say that even thought as a committed teacher of Spanish and Latin American studies, it was not the hours of preparation to deliver an educational unit that was more than just a celebration, but a critical and thought provoking exposition and discussion of the living history of the real founders of the Pre-Colonial Americas, los indios.

What made me pause was a walking tour of a 10’ x 6’ cold stone room which was the setting for the indictment of the Conquistadores in the early XVI Century in Salamanca, Spain.  By invitation of the Junta de Castilla y León, I attended a global congress of teachers being held in Salamanca, the summer of 2010.  I love museums, and history fascinates me.  I went to the Convento de Santiago and when I entered the room and read the inscription on the 3×5 plaque on the wall, I knew that I entered into history.  Nothing but stones, the cold seating against the wall, allow for a face to face of the monks, priests, bishops, and such.  The voices of the conquistadores, the encomendadores, the encomendados, and the natives known as indios were represented during the discussions.  I set there and heard the accounts of Montezino’s homily chastising, and clearly condemning the Europeans of the treatments of the natives – and it moved me.  My revolutionary heritage and my gut told me; “you need to know more”.

I received my invitational e-mail from Yale – NYU Colonial Latin America Institute from PIER and I applied for this opportunity to explore what started in Salamanca and brought me here to mi Quisqueya.  As I arrived at Las Américas´Airport, my normally fast exit from the plane and customs was slowed down by the beautiful images of the landscape, gorgeous faces, and the idiosyncrasies of everyday life of the island plastered in huge murals.  The photographs portrait the best reason (as if one is needed) to come and enjoy God´s playground as locals like to called.  The trip started in true Dominican style, there was a strike.  A national – everything stops – strike.  Well, almost everything, people don´t stop having fun.

After an orientation of the program and the adjustment made to account for last minute changes, we began our tour of the colonial part of the city, La Zona Colonial.  Visiting the fortalezas )the walls defending the city from pirates and enemies, the museums that hold valuable indicators of the colonizers power and influence, el Arcazar de Colón, the house of the Admiral’s son and his family.  We entered the Pantheon, where all of the national heroes are buried and the perpetual flame that pays tribute and reverence to who they still are in Dominican History.   We walked the oldest street in the hemisphere – Calle Las Damas and the first cathedral – Santa Maria, La Menor.  The obvious presence, rarely spoken – of our share African heritage and influence in present Dominican Republic.  And one after another impressive – structures or areas considered or declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO .

The history is rich in flavor and I am hungry for more.  Can´t wait to savor it all.

Posted by Francisco Garcia-Quezada — Spanish Teacher at North Rockland High School

Francisco was an educator-participant in the Yale University PIER Yale University CLAIS NYU CLACS Summer Educator Institute on Colonial Latin America in July 2011.

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