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Afro-Dominicana Janelby Ramirez On Studying Abroad & ‘Coming From America’



What have you learned about yourself while studying in Europe, traveling and living abroad?

I’ve learned that I am a dynamic, aware being. I keep changing, but my core values have really come to the forefront of my personality, and those are stagnant. I also have learned to use uncertainty to catalyze rather than paralyze me, and that letting go is vital to a good life. Letting go has made me realize that freedom exists in a moment. I’ve been blessed to be able to experience many moments of freedom while studying, traveling and living abroad, and to me that is the greatest lesson I’ve learned thus far.

How do you identity? Do you consider yourself Afro-Latina, or use another term to describe your race and/or ethnicity?

I identify as a New Yorker with deep roots in the Dominican Republic and a consciousness that I am of Afro-Latina ethnicity. I consider my ‘race’ to be human, because I agree with those who say race is a social construct and we need to make an effort to give less energy to racial divides that were only created to separate us. That being said, I am aware that society is too deep into the programming, and we don’t live in a world where most people think the way I do, so I try to educate myself and others as much as I can.

What is your earliest memory of identifying as Afro-Latina/’Blacktina’? How did you come to identify as such?

It’s kind of a trivial one…my cousins and I were always making up performances to songs, and when the Spice Girls came out, they all immediately said I should be Scary Spice because I’m the ‘Black’ one, but I wanted to be Ginger because she was my fave! We had another cousin performing with us who was a bit “Blacker” than me, so they gave me the pass and let our other cousin be Scary. At that moment, as innocent as it was, it was really clear to me that I was seen as a ‘Black’ person. However, I never identified as being an Afro-Latina until I was in ‘Cuse [Syracuse University]. Before that, I just identified with being Dominican. During college, I started to think critically about all of the racial dynamics in Dominican culture, and started making maps in my head about what it meant to be an Afro-Latina. I went to a writer’s workshop taught by an Afro-Colombian woman, and I realized all the congruence and since then, I’ve said I am Afro-Dominicana.

Do you think your international travels have impacted the way you identify? If so, how?

Absolutely. People abroad just see me as “American”, and that is surprisingly kind of refreshing. They are intrigued to know where my family comes from, originally, and, therefore, add an extra anthropogenic value to my roots that I didn’t get back home. The people I have encountered abroad all love my hair, are willing to learn my “Dominican Spanish” and taste my sazon. They want to know about what it meant being raised by immigrants in NYC, and want to learn how to dance bachata. Basically, they are willing to explore all these other parts of me in a way that isn’t imperialist or degrading. They are genuinely interested in who I am as a person, and it’s made me appreciate all the different parts that have made me. That is the best impact I think I could have ever hoped for.

Who inspires you?

My family. I am so blessed to have such a huge, loving family. We are far from perfect, but the way we love each other has no faults. They inspire me to be the greatest version of myself and I just hope I make them proud.

Oh, and I also wish I could be an Oprah/Anthony Bourdain hybrid, so yeah, they inspire me a lot, too. (laughs)

What’s next for you?

I can be existential again and say ‘only heaven knows’ but I believe in manifesting your own destiny with concrete goals, so:

In the next two years after I am done with my master’s, I’d love to work for an NGO [non-governmental organization] dedicated to social causes working towards the sustainable development of tourism, or with a hospitality consulting firm that designs sustainable models for hotels and restaurants. After that, I want to open my own bed and breakfast in paradise, aka Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic.

I also want to write lots of books. And go to a met Gala. And have brunch with Oprah.

In the immediate near future, though, what’s next is 2nd semester of grad school, which will be taking place in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Super excited about that and the CFA content that will come of it….lots of #goals so I am living life as fearlessly as I can to make it all happen.

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