An American in Flight

Posted On February 26, 2021

Waking up to the thick dry air, my sister Xiomi, next to me on the double bed lent to us by our aunt, Tia Juana, who slept on the couch in the next room, I had forgotten where I was. I thought I was still in my bedroom in Queens, New York. The street vendor pushing along his cart full of plantains and shouting out the repeated refrain in an attempt to make his pesos for the day, sounded as if he were right next to us. The restless roosters making it known that the new day had begun with their morning melodies, roamed within my aunt’s backyard.

Ears perked up, I was quickly brought into the present.

The night before, I had landed at Las Americas airport in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. The summer trip itself was my high school graduation gift from Xiomi, my first time to ever board a plane, and my first time in another country. However, it might as well have been another planet. Although it was where my parents were born, I did not feel any particular connection to the country other than to my relatives. I was ‘la Americana’ to them which I found amusing because in New York I was seen as ‘una dominicana’. I soon realized that although I had the same curly dark hair, brown almond-shaped eyes, caramel brown skin, and other physical features as my family, there was much less else we had in common.

Tia Juana shouted out to us from the next room that the ‘bath’ was ready for us. The bath being a huge 50-gallon blue plastic bucket filled with cold water. My aunt apologized that the heat wasn’t on so she couldn’t boil water to pour in. There I stood in my physician aunt’s home in disbelief, shock even. Luxury suddenly became a relative word at that moment as I longed for my high-pressured steaming hot shower back home. With no other choice, I convinced myself that the freezing water would feel amazing with the unbearable heat of the day.

There is nothing like a cold bucket shower to bring one into the present.

Bathed, dressed, and fed a protein-filled breakfast of mangu, scrambled eggs, and fried salami, the first order of the day was at hand; my aunt showing us off, I mean, introducing us – her American nieces – to her neighbors and work friends at the clinic.

The humor, laughter, and warmth of the family I had only known from afar mirrored that of the family I grew up with in New York. It knew no borders and had no price tag.

Walking over on the dusty dirt road, I immediately noticed the curious glares of the street vendors under their rainbow beach umbrellas and neighborhood folk sitting on their colorful front porches protected by iron gates. My white Nike sneakers, light grey Old Navy sweatpants, white Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt, and white Adidas visor might as well have been a giant American flag. I wished I had gotten the memo. Even my fast-paced walking stood out to the slower pace of this new world while the fast-paced Spanish of the natives ran circles around my lagging prose.

I was taken aback at the seemingly intimate greetings with strangers which involved a full embrace and kiss on the cheek. A brief back and forth, and off to the next acquaintance on my aunt’s list before meeting my paternal cousins for the first time. The humor, laughter, and warmth of the family I had only known from afar mirrored that of the family I grew up with in New York. It knew no borders and had no price tag. With so much newness to take in, I clung to this familiar, comforting, and perhaps universal aspect of my journey as a point of connection; a way to relate to people with whom I had little else in common.

Love, I discovered, was not bound to place nor time, but ever present.

The ten-day adventure took us north to Santiago with its colonial-era homes where my maternal aunt and her family lived and to the eastern region of La Romana where we met my maternal cousins who worked at and thus had access to the world-renowned luxury resort, Altos de Chavon. My sister and I swam in a heated pool overlooking the Atlantic ocean while dark-skinned servers dressed in crisp white linen guayaberas brought us pina coladas. Although growing up in Corona, I had been witness to much wealth disparity from the homeless people who slept in the park known as Park of the Americas across from where I lived and played as a child to the high-rise CEOs of the midtown Manhattan corporations where I traveled to as a commuter student at Hunter College, the gap in this foreign land of my descendants was astronomical.

My perception shifted. With all the flavors, the aromas, the rules of engagement that I once knew and was so sure of, replaced by a different way of being in the world, I saw a new side of myself. How much I could camouflage against this new backdrop compared to what was embedded in me, unveiled clues into what remained; in other words, who I am within. I was hooked. I was bitten by the infamous travel bug which would fasten me onto flights farther and farther away; Hawaii, Italy, Argentina, and India during my university years and ultimately to live in Japan from where I would embark on solo and group trips to Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea. Each destination offered a glimpse into another way of existing in the world and thus another piece of the puzzle of me.

One could say it is the ultimate gift of travel or, in other words, a precious present.

Written by Esperanza Urbaez

Originally from New York, Esperanza is a writer, content creator, and producer passionate about traditional Japanese culture, the vegan lifestyle, and travel adventures in Kansai.

Related Posts

Meet Our Business Member J’Nique Nicole 

Meet Our Business Member J’Nique Nicole 

Legacy Foundation Japan recognizes the immensely talented and driven singer J’Nique Nicole for our September ’22 Business Member Spotlight. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, she now lives in Kawasaki City. 

read more
Support Your Community This Holiday Season

Support Your Community This Holiday Season

And throughout the entire year! One way we can support our communities is through business patronage. This holiday season, consider purchasing goods and services from your community. By purchasing locally [...]

read more