I’m finished watching the sun rise over the Caribbean Sea before I head out for the official program of the ASWAD conference, where I am scheduled to speak on race and politics after the Obama presidency. So far, every step of the way, my trip has been filled with so many new connections. Beginning with my flight, where I met an older Dominican couple. We talked, laughed, shared snacks and stories. Even though my Spanish is limited, and their English was non-existent, we somehow made it work.
Then, following the flight, I happened by chance to have someone overhear the hotel I was going to as I told the bus driver. This man was also African-American, and was also a presenter at this conference, and he told me he was at the same hotel. On the bus, we discussed where we are from, what were our intellectual interests of study, and what we are presenting on. He, the professor, was shocked that I was an undergrad speaking at an international conference. He offered to mentor me, in addition to introducing me to other conference participants that can offer me good advice on my future. Already in a country that I know nothing about, but I know I’m not alone.
At the hotel, I find out that my University’s credit card did not go through. So I’m in a new country, and technically homeless. This is my low point. But they are kind enough to allow me to spend two nights no charge until my UMass colleague arrives with the money. I then met a Liberian man, living in Haiti and working for a Human Rights organization, but a frequent vacationer in the DR. He’s gracious enough to show us around and give us a good time. This is all happening in less than 12 hours.
I remember growing up, and seeing my father, always opening up to all the black people he met. Even if he didn’t know anything about them, he knew that the color of their skin connected them, and that was enough for him to extend his hand. Now, in a foreign city, but where everyone is as dark as me, and I see how far the connection of skin goes through the hospitality that has been offered to me from complete strangers.
It’s a connection of shared struggles and experiences. It’s a connection that transcends boundaries and languages, and then reaches out and embraces the soul.
Here’s to four more days on the island of Hispaniola.