Why I Founded a Magazine for Dominican Women
Why I Founded a Magazine for Dominican Women
Dominican writer and organizer Amanda Alcantara always felt like she had one foot in New York and one in the Dominican Republic. As someone who was "ni de aqui, ni de alla," she'd always been interested in the culture, politics, and experience of living in the Dominican diaspora — or what it means to be a Dominican living away from the island — but as she struggled to understand her own identity, she realized there weren't very many spaces physically or online where she could connect with other Dominicans and talk about their unique situation.
So she and two friends decided to create that space themselves. Earlier this year, they launched La Galería, a magazine intended to be a place where Dominicans could reach out to one another and talk about their community and history and explore their culture together. Alcantara sat down with Cosmopolitan.com to talk about her new publication, her co-founders, and what it means to be an Afro-Dominican woman in the world today.
La Galería is basically a magazine for and by Dominicans living in the diaspora. It's a space to talk about identity, culture, and the nostalgia of living in another country away from home. The name is a reference to the space we're trying to create, because la galería is the name of the front porches on the houses of the Dominican Republic. It's the place where people sit down to have a conversation. The weather over there is amazing, so you're not always invited into the living room. Instead, you usually sit down on la galería to play dominos and talk politics. We decided to have a rocking chair as our logo, because we also want to keep in mind that people have galerías even if they don't have a physical space in front of their house. Even if you have a very humble household, you will still probably have a rocking chair or two where you can invite people over to talk.
The beginning of the magazine has a very elaborate story. I was going through a very hard depression for about a year. I was on antidepressants; my therapist even sent me to the hospital once. At the time, I hadn't been to the Dominican Republic in about four years, so I decided to go in August of last year for about two weeks. I had an incredible time. When I came back, my therapist said that was probably the best therapy for me. That was when I realized that a lot of my depression comes from being an immigrant and having the experience of having to be in two places at the same time. Although I was born here, I grew up in the Dominican Republic, so my past is there. I returned here at the age of 16, so my education and my work is here. My friends are here. And I think this is something a lot of immigrants experience, everywhere.
After the trip, I was having a conversation on Facebook with two friends, Shakti and Dorothy. Shakti actually writes for a magazine that does the same thing as La Galería, but for Puerto Ricans in the diaspora. It's called La Respuesta. In that conversation, she said, "You should start the Dominican La Repuesta." The idea came from there.
So I put out a call for writers, and that's how we got the team together. I met my two co-founders, Isabel Cristina and Ynanna Djehuty. Ynanna is a badass Afro-Quisqueyana doula. She is a great writer; she's the author of Hija De Mi Madre and Odas de la Mujer de Miel. Isabel is a recent graduate of City College of New York with an English major and member of the grassroots feminist organization Sister Circle Collective. She does a lot of the magazine's logistical work. She is also very creative and handles our Facebook page. We kind of like to think of ourselves in terms of the natural elements. So I'm air, apparently. Ynanna is water. And Isabel is earth. She grounds us in a really nice way.
Combined, we did all the work necessary to put together the magazine, and we launched February 5. I think [the fact] that we are three Dominican women who identify as having African descent also puts us in a special place to talk about the intersections of gender, race, and class. We get to talk about issues of race, identity, sexuality, and machismo from not only a second point of view but also from a first point of view — from our own experiences.
Ynanna wrote an article about Amara "La Negra," a black Dominican woman who made a remix of a song and included the word toto, which is slang for vagina. Amara was attacked for it. She had to apologize for releasing that song. Ynanna's article was a critical look at how Amara was criticized for using her sexuality as empowerment. We published another piece where we interviewed a Dominican woman in the Dominican Republic who opened up a salon called Miss Rizos for women who want to keep their hair natural and embrace their curls. We've also written about Carnival, Puerto Rican solidarity, and what it means to be sex-positive.
But I also think the fact that we're all women has definitely led people to attack us, in person, but especially online too, because we're challenging the notion of what people — women — from the Dominican Republic should be. I wrote one article on the situation happening with Haiti right now — tensions between the Haitian government and the Dominican government have run really high for a long time — and a lot of people I know said, "Oh, she can't say that, because she's not in the Dominican Republic. You can't talk about what's happening in the country." People have also been trying to discredit us for not being "Dominican enough" because we're not living in the Dominican Republic. But that's one of the reasons that La Galería emerged in the first place: to recognize that there is a huge population of Dominicans in different cities of the United States, especially in New York. So it's important to say that just because we are not in the Dominican Republic itself does not mean we don't identify with the issues that happen over there and that we don't have our own issues. It's like we have our own culture itself: diaspora Dominicans living in the Heights or in this city or in other cities or countries.