So let me start off by saying that I truly appreciate Orange is the New Black. I love the cutting-edge narratives and their intersectional approach, the unfolding of the prison industrial complex and its atrocities and, of course, the tremendously talented actresses who make up the cast of this witty drama about a women’s prison in upstate, New York. BUUUUUUT like most (if not all) shows about people of color, written by mostly-white writers, it falls short at adequately portraying the lives of marginalized people. Often leaning on inaccuracies and one-sided stereotypes that do more belittling than representing. More importantly, not taking those moments of ignorance as opportunities for teachable moments to expand and elaborate on the systems that exacerbate our conditioning does EVERYONE an injustice. This season, in particular, upset me. I heard buzz of a Dominican takeover in the upcoming episodes, so I was hype to see what they were going to do. And what did they do? Laid a huge mojón on the Dominican community. I mean, why was I shocked, right? What was I expecting? An accurate portrayal of the second largest Latino population in the U.S.? *scoofs* Nah, apparently that’s a bit too much to ask.
There were various cultural and political fallacies I peeped in the season, not to mention their awkward casting of Dascha Polanco, a Dominican native, as a Puerto Rican on the show… but I’m going to focus on the issues I felt were more pertinent. So let’s start with Maria’s story and the portrayal of Dominican gang culture. In S.4 E. 2 (at 10:45) they show Maria’s father ‘Leon’ holding a machete in the air while boldly talking to his compadres/gang brothers about la patria (the motherland). The tough speech about territory and drugs then (somehow) turns it into Maria’s birthday party and the scene erupts into a colorful interaction with loud Merengue, dancing and Dominican cake. While I thought it was cute how they showed Leon giving back to the community and those in need, that’s not usually how things go. NOW let’s remember, the Dominican Republic is a VERY Catholic country and despite its, sometimes, contradictory lifestyle there are lots of taboos within the culture and gang life is certainly one of them. “Gang bangers” in D.R. aren’t as glorified as was portrayed in the episode, on the other hand, they’re often seen as social pariahs and Dominican families are known to shun family members who’ve joined gangs. It would’ve been great to see a more realistic scenario, because the romanticized representation of how Dominicans see gang life didn’t do it for me.
Then there’s the scene (at 18:15) where Maria starts talking to Blanca about not inciting conflict with the whites in the TV room and continues to say that “…we’re all the same. we’re all Mestizo, we all eat rice and beans” when talking about Latinos which is not only stereotypical but offensive and completely baseless. Latinos are a diverse group of mixed people of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds, who like to eat way more than just rice and beans. ALSO who doesn’t love rice and beans? What kind of bullshit is that to say, anyway? All in all, even resorting to using rhetoric of that nature without touching base on the multi-faceted Latino community, even amongst Dominicans themselves, was another bust! Womp.
Lastly, my favorite fail of all, was the scene (at 7:46) where Angie is talking to Leanne about the influx of “Mexicans.” Leanne corrects Angie and goes on to say that Dominicans talk a lot, like baseball and say they’re not black although they share an island with Haiti, when asked to describe what they’re like. I mean, I understand they’re supposed to be sounding ignorant, but you can’t just reference Dominican anti-blackness and not give some historical context. That’s just fucking irresponsible. Would’ve been nice to mention Trujillo, his dictatorship (and coup) and the anti-Haitian propaganda he used. Better yet touching base on slavery, entirely, and its impact on the developing world, would’ve been just dandy. Let’s not forget that Hispañola was where Columbus first landed in 1492 and that the Dominican Republic (like many other colonized Caribbean countries) suffers from institutionalized racism and colorism. The point is this, if you want to hold the Dominican Republic accountable for centuries of anti-Blackness, do it! But you better damn sure hold the institutions that exploit and promote these circumstances accountable too! If you’re going to be offensive, at least be on point, it ain’t that hard.
All in all, what I CAN say they did justice to is our ultranationalism, that Dominican pride. No matter where you go in America (or in the world for that matter), you’re likely to bump into one of us. You may see one with blonde hair and blue eyes, another with brown skin and green eyes or maybe one with kinky hair and dark skin, but what they’ll all have in common is la patria. Yea, some of us are loud, love beisból and are still working through generations of internalized oppression that can make us seem intolerant, but that’s not all! We’re also known for our happiness and warmth like the Dominican sun that gives us vitality, passionate like the songs we sing and dances we sway to and sweet like the sugar cane we’re known for. Ultimately, what we can take from OITNB and other shows about black and brown women written by white people is that it’s time for us to start writing our own stories and shed the heavy skin of the stereotypes that weigh us down. In a way, I thank those hopeful writers. They’ve inspired me to take it upon myself to not only create dialogue around these issues but voice them and in turn empower others to do the same. So to all my marginalized people (but especially to my fellow Dominicans), use this as motivation to start writing, talking about, singing and expressing your true essence to the best of your ability. We are a growing community and with numbers comes power, the power to take back our history and rewrite the script! Don’t let stereotypes define you, rise above them COÑASO.
… Stay tuned for my follow-up piece on Dominicans, anti-Blackness and the FACTS, where I’ll unravel some historical context, truth and hopefully shine a light and on the issue of colorism in D.R.