Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Dominican Republic
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In the Dominican Republic, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in the Dominican Republic.
Outside of the Dominican Republic’s capital and tourist centers, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes.
The people of the Dominican Republic are known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present. In particular, there are still subtle to overt forms of racial discrimination that are seen on a regular basis towards darker-skinned persons due to the historical tensions between Dominicans and Haitians.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in the Dominican Republic, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
The Peace Corps staff in the Dominican Republic recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
- 1 Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
- 2 Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
- 3 Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
- 4 Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
- 5 Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
- 6 Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
- 7 Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Female Volunteers should know that Dominican society has elements of machismo. Men often hiss and make comments to women walking by, and women must learn to deal with this by completely ignoring men who behave in this way. Most female Volunteers never fully accept this sexual harassment, but, rather, develop a tolerance within which they are able to function effectively. Dating for American women in the Dominican Republic is also a sensitive subject. The Dominican culture follows its own guidelines as relates to male-female relationships; for example, female Volunteers who live alone should not invite males into their home unless they have intentions of beginning a serious relationship with the man.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
In rural sites and even in some cities, Volunteers are usually the only foreign resident and receive extra attention, especially because of their racial or ethnic background. Volunteers in certain areas of the country are more prone to racial discrimination than others. African-American Volunteers in the northwest or near the Haitian border, for example, may be asked for their passports. Most Volunteers of color say that despite initial confusion regarding their nationality and discrimination, they are well-received in their communities.
African-American Volunteers may face some unique challenges. They are sometimes mistaken for Dominicans or Haitians. If seen as Dominican, this can lead to an expectation of Spanish fluency; if seen as Haitian, it can result in poor treatment by Dominicans. African-American Volunteers should be prepared to face mild cases of discrimination and racism. However, Volunteers should remain open-minded and calm. Many of these situations are due to lack of education and the history of the Dominican Republic. On the other hand, misidentification with black ethnic groups other than Haitians, such as members of the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean population, may lead to faster acceptance. Female African-American Volunteers should also be prepared to face issues concerning their hair. The straightness of a woman’s hair is considered an important quality by many. Though natural hairstyles are accepted, they are not as highly looked upon as straight hair. Relaxers, usually manufactured locally, are available for Volunteers who wish to use them. US brand name hair products may be available but they may be more expensive.
Hispanic American Volunteers may be surprised to find that some Dominicans are unaware that not all Hispanic Americans are of Mexican origin. Because there is a small population of Dominicans of South Asian descent, some Asian-American Volunteers have been misidentified as Dominicans, especially in urban areas.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Approximately 5 percent of Volunteers in the Dominican Republic are seniors. The vast majority of other people in the Peace Corps community are in their 20s. Service in the Dominican Republic can present significant social and logistical issues for senior Volunteers. Dealing with family emergencies, maintaining lifelong friendships, and arranging power of attorney for financial matters may be more problematic for older Volunteers than younger ones. Still, senior Volunteers find Dominicans, the Peace Corps staff, and fellow Volunteers to be very welcoming.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Homosexual or bisexual Volunteers are not able to express their sexual orientation as openly as they may have in the United States because of cultural differences and machismo in the Dominican Republic. Because of prejudice against homosexuals in Dominican society, it is wise to know your community and co-workers well before disclosing your sexual orientation.
While there are certainly homosexuals in the Dominican Republic, they do not have the level of acceptance found in much of the United States. Although some Dominicans consider homosexuality immoral, their view of homosexuality among foreigners may be quite different from their view of homosexuality among nationals. Styles of hair and clothes and earrings on men may be considered inappropriate by Dominicans.
Most Dominican homosexuals probably have migrated to larger cities, but many Peace Corps Volunteers are posted in small communities. Relationships with homosexual or bisexual host country nationals can happen, but as with other cross-cultural relationships, they may not be easy.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Volunteers are frequently asked about their religious affiliation and may be invited to attend a community church. Volunteers not in the practice of attending church may be challenged to explain their reluctance, but it is possible to politely decline if the church or religion is not one of your choice. Most Volunteers find effective ways to cope with this and feel quite at home in the Dominican Republic.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in the Dominican Republic, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In the Dominican Republic, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. What is more, there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in the Dominican Republic without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/ Dominican Republic staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Being a married couple in the Peace Corps has its advantages and its challenges. It helps to have someone by your side to share your experience with, but there are also cultural expectations that can cause stress in a marriage. It is important to remember that you are in a foreign country with new rules and you need to be open-minded about cultural differences. A couple may have to take on some new roles.
A married man may be encouraged by Dominicans to be the more dominant member in the relationship, be encouraged to make decisions independently of his spouse, or be ridiculed when he performs domestic tasks. A married woman may find herself in a less independent role than she is accustomed to or may be expected to perform “traditional” domestic chores such as cooking or cleaning. She may also experience a more limited social life in the community than single Volunteers (since it may be assumed that she will be busy taking care of her husband). Competition between a couple may become a difficulty, especially if one spouse learns faster than the other (e.g., language skills, job skills). There also may be differences in job satisfaction and/or different needs between spouses. Younger Volunteers may look to couples for advice and support. Married couples also are likely to be treated with more respect because the community sees marriage as a responsibility. They may be asked when they will have children.