Colorism. Discrimination. Anti-Blackness. These are all terms that can dominate conversations centering Dominican identity. While it’s no secret the Caribbean nation, which neighbors Haiti, has a complicated history and racial dynamics that are still felt today, there’s also a narrative that doesn’t get as much visibility: unapologetic Blackness.
It’s a layer Afro-Dominicana Griselda Rodriguez-Solomon, PhD set to showcase through her photo series, “Playing In the Sun.” The name of the project, which is a response to the antiquated belief rooted in colorism that a person should stay out of the sun or risk getting darker, came to Rodriguez-Solomon in the yoga pose, savasana.
“I just got this idea deep in my belly, ‘Playing in the Sun,’” she says of her aha moment in Ghana.
Created by Rodriguez-Solomon and her husband, Idris Solomon, a photojournalist, their project encompasses both the complexity and beauty of being Afro-Dominican through a diptych photo technique.
“The images were the best way to capture not just the beauty but the complexity and the diversity within this very convoluted identity,” says the professor, sociologist and doula. “One thing that’s very important for me and this work is to demystify this idea that Afro-Latinos are homogenous. That we all look alike, that we all come from the same background; we all have the same experiences.”
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The phrase “El negro tras de las oreja”, or “Black behind the ears”, is a common expression used in the Dominican Republic. It captures the complicated, and often misunderstood relationship that the country has with its African ancestry. By denoting that Dominicans are “Black behind the ears”, the phrase calls out the African aspect of Dominican identity being ever-present regardless of its denial. • A denial of Blackness, as a pivotal anchor in the formation of the Dominican nation, runs deep and pierces much of daily life. This denial laces Dominican history. It has also led to tumultuous relationships with its neighboring country, Haiti. Extreme measures are often taken to ensure that this Blackness remains "behind the ears". • Children are dissuaded from playing in the sun for fear of darkening their skin. Yet, Afro-Dominicans have defied these messages and embrace a Black identity. They proudly play in the sun. • Join us nxt Thursday at the Center for the panel discussion “Playing in the Sun", the last past of our Sankofa Series. "Playing in the Sun" is photojournalist project which highlights Afro-Dominicans and the journey of self-actualization. The project's' participants will share stories of being Black Latinos in New York City. • "Playing in the Sun" will take place at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (120 East 125th Street, East Harlem / El Barrio) on Thursday, July 12th, from 6pm to 8pm. The panel will be led by Dr. Griselda Rodriguez-Solomon (@griselda_819). • Admission: $7 for students and seniors; $10 for the general public. • This is an inter-generational dialogue and all experiences are welcome. • To take part in this powerful conversation, register online by visiting: • www.bitl.ly/cccsankofa3 • #CCCADI #AfricanDiasporaHome #AfricanDiaspora #AfroLatina #AfroLatinidad #AfroLatinos #AfroLatinx #AfroDominican #AfroDominicans #AfroDominicanos #AfroDominicanxs #RepublicaDominicana #DomincanRepublic #Ayiti #Haiti #Representation #RepresentationMatters #Sankofa #PlayingInTheSun • Slideshow images courtesy of the "Playing in the Sun" photojournalist project by Dr. Griselda Rodriguez photos by @idrissolomon repost @cccadi
The photo series, which was unveiled in July at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) in Harlem, captures the Afro-Dominican experience through the lens of several island and U.S.-raised Dominicanos through photography and ethnographic interviews weaved into a multimedia experience. The diptych technique helps capture each subject’s multidimensional story, displaying a portrait on one side and a significant item—a photo, a passport of an elder, and the like—from that person’s life on the other side.
Similar to each of the Afro-Dominicans featured, Rodriguez-Solomon underwent her own unique journey into her identity. “I grew up being Hispanic and then I became Latina, and then it wasn’t until my twenties I was like I’m Afro-Latina, I’m Black. This is a part of my identity that’s been denied and I’m very proud of it,” she shares. “My own process of coming to terms with my Blackness happened in my early twenties when I was in college and, specifically, when I went to Senegal. That was around 2001, 2002, when I really started to delve deep, exploring the African connection within Latin American countries and Latino identity.”
Some of the participants had a parallel experience in understanding their Blackness, while others always knew and embraced their Black identity due to their upbringing or treatment as a darker-skinned Latino, she notes.
Internalized hatred, pain, anti-Blackness and hair, connecting the big chop and embracing of one’s hair texture to pride in their Blackness, were a few of the themes that came up in the interviews.
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In January of this year I participated in a portrait project where a group of Afro-Dominicans and I shared our stories of how we came to self-identify as Black Latinos. Aside from feeling a sense of enlightenment in sharing my story, I connected with so many other Afro Dominicans who’ve had similar struggles to mine in growing up (struggles with Hair, feeling too black to be Latina, too Latina to be black, etc). In a way it felt like a family reunion with relatives I’ve never met and have always sought after. 💕 💕 This Thursday the artists responsible for this program will officially launch the project by hosting an event (dialogue) centered on what it means to be Black, Dominican and proud. “Playing in the Sun” highlights a narrative around Black Dominicans that is rarely promoted. The discussion is often around Dominicans hating Blackness and Haitians. We are spinning the narrative on its head 💪🏽. For info on the event + purchase tickets, click the link found on my bio (flyer on slide 3). @idrissolomon @griselda_819 #playinginthesun #afrodominican #afrolatino #dominican #dominicana #afrodominicana #blacklatina #afrocurly #curlyhair
“Playing In the Sun” has received a lot of interest, and the creative pair has photo shoots lined up nearly every month for the remainder of the year and plans to host another showing in NYC. They’ve also received inquiries on expanding the project to include Afro communities across Latin American to which they’re considering tackling in the future. The photos have sparked deep, complex yet healing conversations around Afro-Dominican identity, and that’s their hope as the series expands.
“What’s key for me is this is a project rooted in a lot of love,” says the co-creator. “We already have enough pain within us with the trauma of enslavement and our own complexes with our identity, and I feel like the only way we’re going to heal is through love. This work is birthed in a lot of love.”