June 11, 2019
My Dominican identity was formed in my grandmother’s house in Queens, New York. That is, I’m a second-generation Dominican-American. So, when I heard that the inaugural Dominican Writers Conference would be held at The City College of New York, my alma mater, my interest was piqued.
As an assistant editor at a literary publisher, attending conferences is my absolute least favorite part of the job. But, after some urging from a good friend—a Dominican writer, also from Queens, incidentally—I decided to attend. I am so grateful for the urging of good friends.
The Dominican Writers Conference offered a full day of workshops, panel discussions, manuscript reviews, author readings, and networking held in honor of the inestimable writer, Josefina Báez, who is also an actress, director, educator, and founder of the Ay Ombe Theatre Troupe. I was excited to catch a panel titled “The Importance of Place: A Conversation.” Moderated by Ser Álida, the panelists included Lorraine Avila, Gina Goico, Aura Maria Estrella, Paloma Valenzuela, creator of The Pineapple Diaries (think a Dominican-American Insecure), and Led Black, founder of Uptown Collective. In the course of their conversation about the impact of place upon the work and network of creators from the diaspora, Led Black quoted Jay-Z and shouted out the Dominican chimi trucks and weed spots of Washington Heights—a great start to the day.
The theme of the conference was vague: “Dominicanish.” Expanding on that, the website asks, “We are watered down Dominicans of the diaspora, but are we?” Created by a cadre of Dominican women writers based in New York City who share a deep-seated desire to ensure that stories of the diaspora are being told by the people of the diaspora, the conference aimed to “offer emerging and established Dominican writers, and the communities that support them, an event that celebrates the important works generated from the diaspora, and renders opportunities for more Dominican writers to break into publishing.” To that end, a panel titled “Owning Our Narratives: How Dominicans Are Reshaping the Newsroom,” moderated by Jennifer Gil-Velazquez of La Galería, brought together some of this city’s most talented young journalists, including Concepción de León and Sandra García of the New York Times, Marjua Estevez of BET.com, Amanda Alcántara of NPR’s Latino USA, and Isabelia Herrera of Remezcla. Their discussion covered how to navigate the numerous challenges of working in media, how to champion inclusion and diversity, and how each of them are working to transform the common perception of Dominicanidad.
At some point during the conference, I overheard someone refer to themselves as a “cuenta cuento,” a Dominican term that translates roughly to “storyteller.” It occurred to me that I had only heard the word used with a negative connotation; I was always led to believe that telling stories was akin to gossiping, exaggerating, or babbling. Hearing someone else use the term to describe themselves, proudly, made me proud to be a storyteller, too, just as I am proud to be Dominican. At the inaugural Dominican Writers Conference, I was in the company of other cuenta cuentos. We were all engaged in telling our stories, committed to supporting each other, and dedicated to taking control of the narrative of our collective experience. —Danny Vazquez, Assistant Editor, MCD×FSG