In the Dominican Republic, Carnival is a festival that happens every Sunday in the month of February, culminating on the final Sunday that also serves as a celebration of el Día de la Independencia, 27 de febrero. This year, Independence Day fell on Saturday, so it was a packed weekend!
Carnival happens all over the island in many different cities and towns. Perhaps the biggest and most famous parade happens in the city of La Vega. My program and I chose to stay in Santo Domingo and go to Carnival down Maximo Gómez, one of the biggest streets in the capital.
Down the entire stretch of the road were barricades, bleachers to sit on, and vendors selling everything from temporary tattoos made with spray paint to Presidente, the beloved Dominican-made cerveza. Giant figurines lined the streets, as well as arches that proclaimed “Carnaval Santo Domingo 2016.” As afternoon turned into evening, the streets filled with people and the parade began.
One of the unfortunate repercussions of being female at Carnival is that you need to watch out for golpes. All the male characters dressed up in their vibrant costumes carry light, balloon-like balls on strings that they use to whip women from behind with as they walk by. Fortunately I wasn’t hit too many times, but the few times I felt the sting of one of the golpes I also felt my blood boil at the patriarchal, machista culture that allows these types of degrading occurrences.
The link between the last and biggest day of Carnival and Independence Day in the DR is no coincidence. It is interesting to note that the country that the DR is celebrating independence from on February 27th is actually Haiti, not Spain. Because of this, Independence Day is somewhat controversial. Some argue the holiday perpetuates anti-Haitianism and fails to recognize the real imperialist threats to the country propagated by Spain and the United States. Perhaps as a result, Independence Day becomes linked with and overshadowed by the festivities of Carnival. If you ask a Dominican what the big holiday in February is called, they will most likely say Carnival and not 27 de febrero.
I feel lucky to have been able to witness the parade and a key part of Dominican culture. I also feel lucky to have both peers and teachers here who challenge me to think about the day we are celebrating and the forces at work behind it.