Genesis Lara

Génesis will begin the second year of her PhD in history this fall. Supported by ISS, the UC Consortium for Black Studies, and a HIA Tinker Grant, her summer research will take her to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and New York City.

9/12/2016: Broken Concrete and Neo-liberal Fallacies 

“If this was another kind of story, I’d tell you about the sea. What it looks like after it’s been forced into the sky through a blowhole. How when I’m driving in from the airport and see it like this, like shredded silver, I know I’m back for real. I’d tell you how many poor motherfuckers there are. More albinos, more cross-eyed niggers, more tígueres that you’ll ever see. And I’d tell you about the traffic: the entire history of late twentieth-century automobiles swarming across every flat stretch of ground, a cosmology of battered cars, battered trucks, and battered buses, and an equal number of repair shops, run by any fool with a wrench. I’d tell you about the shanties and our no-running-water faucets and the sambos on the billboards and the fact that my family house comes equipped with an ever-reliable latrine. I’d tell you about my abuelo and his campo hands, and how unhappy he is that I’m not sticking around, and I’d tell you about the street where I was born, Calle XX, how it hasn’t decided yet if it wants to be a slum or not and how it’s been in this state of indecision for years.

But that would make it another kind of story, and I’m having enough trouble as it is with this one. You’ll have to take my word for it. Santo Domingo is Santo Domingo. Let’s pretend we all know what goes on there.”

--Junot Diaz, This is How You Lose Her (9-10)

There aren’t enough words in either English or Spanish to describe the Dominican Republic. From the moment the wheels of the plane touch the tarmac and the plane explodes in applause, I know that I’m back.

I firmly believe that Santo Domingo is a place that can be heard even from outer space. The bachata that pours from the colmados, the merengue that blares from every single car on the road through rolled down windows, open in futile attempts to capture that fickle Caribbean breeze. Then comes that moment, when day gives way to night, as we wait for the electricity to come back on spent talking with friends and family about everything and anything. Complaining about the heat, the politics, work, and life…no matter the topic, those conversations had after dark in Santo Domingo will always be some of the best conversations of my life.  

Every day, on my way to the national archives, I would drive by the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, past the signs commemorating the university as the first and oldest in the Americas. One sign simultaneously alluded to the origins of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the lasting legacy of colonialism. I remember conversations with family and friends discussing nepotism and state neglect in the country, the name of former dictator Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961) was mentioned with a combination of anger and wistfulness. No, the history has not disappeared; it is visible, covering an island caught in between so many worlds…whispering stories that confront you when you least expect it.

I remember walking to my uncle’s office one day. An old friend of his, one that I had never met, was visiting. He took one look at me and said that I looked just like my great-grandmother; a grandmother I had never met, mother to a grandfather that I barely remember. I am connected to a woman that I have never even seen a photo of. But she’s my history, a history that hurts and fills me at the same time. It’s the type of history that I notice when I realize that my mother and my aunt organize their kitchens in the same exact manner, despite the ocean that separates them. Despite a failed revolution, state corruption, American interventions and the trauma of immigration, in my mother’s kitchen I find my aunt, and in my aunt’s words, I find a self that I didn’t know existed. Hundreds of photos of government sources and pages and pages of oral history interviews do not tell me as much as quiet evenings with the Democratic convention on my laptop, salsa playing from the radio, and my family and I trying to discuss where in the hell do we go from here?

I could spend hours outside looking at the streets in Santo Domingo. The barefoot kids running through the streets, weary mothers attempting to feed their families and fathers gathered outside colmados searching for jobs that don’t exist. The disillusionment is palpable. The same combination of exhaustion and hopelessness that I see on my father’s face every day when he comes home from work. I sit there and wonder if it can’t be fixed on the island of Hispaniola, the island (Haiti & the Dominican Republic) that gave birth to colonialism and all of its problems, can it be fixed anywhere else?

Most of the time, I like to think of myself as an optimist. I like to think that the fact that people go to work, that radio commentators skillfully critique corrupt government practices, demonstrate that hope is not lost because we are still invested. We still care. That despite the heartache that is etched on people’s faces, all isn’t lost.

Every time I lose myself in hopelessness, it is these everyday acts of resistance that remind me that all is not lost.

But sometimes, when faced with such overwhelmingly pain, it’s hard to remain optimistic. It’s hard to hold on to the belief that a history book can help change the trajectory of the world we live in. It is hard to hold on to the hope that if we only hold on long enough, things will get better.

When I am lost in these thoughts, I remember a perfect day at the beach, laughing with my cousins, dancing bachata underwater, exchanging book recommendations and sharing our dreams. I remember my aunt holding her umbrella against the burning sun as she headed to work ready to educate the next generation of Dominican youth. Or quiet evenings at my aunt’s house telling me of the political meetings that used to be held at her house when the country was trying to shape itself after a dictatorship and later an American intervention.

Every time I lose myself in hopelessness, it is these everyday acts of resistance that remind me that all is not lost. I’ve always said that my family and the neighborhoods we live in gave me the greatest education in the world. Every single professional decision that I’ve made in my life has been with my family and families like mine in mind. Families that survive the unthinkable and keep moving forward. Families that create communities from broken concrete and neo-liberal fallacies. Families that love silently but love powerfully enough to survive a world that doesn’t love us.

I always feel love when I’m in Dominican Republic. Angry, painful, resentful, healing and invincible love. 

9/2/2016: Where Time Didn’t Stand Still

In the weeks leading up to my departure for Havana, Cuba I received an endless stream of messages from friends remarking how radical my upcoming trip to Cuba was. As excited as I was, I didn’t consider my trip radical. Perhaps it was because I had traveled to Cuba two years before, but for me, going to Cuba was not something drastically different. To me, Cuba was beautiful, complicated and magical: three words that I would use to describe the entire Caribbean. I thought Cuba was radical because even after centuries of abuse, in Cuba, as in most of the Caribbean, people are still critiquing, questioning, and living their lives—proving that we have not given up, we are still fighting for a better future.

Thoughts of the future were a constant theme during my three-week stay in Cuba. Considering the current political situation in the country, it’s not surprising. On the one hand, people that travel to the island say that Cuba seems to be a place trapped in the past. Perhaps because we live in a society obsessed with ignoring the past, a place like Cuba, which readily displays the inescapable impact of the past on the present, appears so different. But instead of being trapped in the past, what I think Cuba demonstrates is the inescapable fluidity of time. We sometimes think of time as a linear process, but in Havana, a place where yesterday, today and tomorrow constantly collide with one another, we realize that while time does move forward, its remnants are not left in past. They travel with us, and very rarely do they leave a clear-cut answer.

Thoughts of the future were inescapable, and it wasn’t just me preoccupied with questions of where we have been and where we are going. My stay in Cuba coincided with the Republican National Convention. In my conversations with friends and acquaintances in Cuba, the question of “y que é lo que esta pasando ayá”, (and what is it that is going on over there) was a popular one. Soon we would get into in-depth conversations about racial politics in the United States, capitalism and the role of the United States in Latin America. As the conversation ebbed and flowed over the next few weeks, several things were evident. The coming elections will be pivotal for both countries. The elections are a symbol for two countries that soon will have to make drastic changes in order to respond to the social and political upheavals occurring in Cuba and the United States. Both countries must prepare for the future by solving modern day problems rooted in centuries of abuse and injustice.

During my time in Cuba, I often compared Cuba with the United States. After a couple of weeks in Cuba, I couldn’t seem to find many differences. There was great pain suffered at the hands of leaders that seem to be completely disconnected from their people. There was great wealth that often was accessible to foreigners but not the actual people that live in our countries. Injustice and despair stood side by side with political slogans extoling freedom, justice and virtue. In short, the differences seemed to evaporate.

Injustice and despair stood side by side with political slogans extoling freedom, justice and virtue.

A forty-minute flight from Miami, Florida to Havana, Cuba takes you a place that is so separate yet so familiar at the same time. Maybe it’s the Caribbean girl in me, but I felt at home. The more I talked with friends, the more I walked through the streets of Havana the more I saw the common threads that connect more than divide us. The resilience of people to keep on fighting despite the heart aches and traumas of attempting to survive in a world where the odds are inevitably stacked against you.

I think that is the thing about Cuba. Its history makes you understand how the struggle of poverty and abuse is a long one…one that hasn’t ended and has us trapped still. Especially in a country where every billboard and every street corner is evidence of a revolution that attempted to overcome a 500-year legacy of colonialism, and the high price that is to be paid for that attempt.

I think that Cuba allows us to see how connected our struggles are and that our liberation is more than presidential elections and trade negotiations. The decisions that we make in the coming months must be rooted in mutual recognition, in mutual understanding and in our common struggles for freedom and justice.

7/19/2016: The project

My research project centers around the mid-20th century developments that led to the Dominican Revolutionary efforts beginning in 1961 and ending with a United States occupation in 1965. A central element of the project is tracing the relationships between Dominican exiles in places such as Cuba where the Dominican Revolutionary Party was formed (and their relationship with Cuban political leaders of the day, several of which later became prominent leaders of the Cuban Revolution) in comparison with Dominican resistance efforts on the island during the 31 year dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, one of the most vicious dictators in Latin American history. Ultimately, this project seeks to explore the racial, class and political complexities of this revolutionary movement, occurring right after the Cuban Revolution, and its importance to understanding the impact and legacy of the Cold War in the Caribbean and Latin America.