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Navigating Identities in the Dominican Republic

Peace Corps’ ICDEIA approach seeks to reflect and support the diversity of the United States through its staff and Volunteers, who represent a broad collection of social identities, including race, ethnicity, color, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, marital status, and socioeconomic status, among others.

How might a Volunteer’s social identities impact their service?

The information below provides additional context about how different social identity groups may experience service and what types of ICDEIA-related support you can expect from the Peace Corps.

Accessibility and disability considerations

As a Volunteer with disabilities in the Dominican Republic, you may face a special set of challenges. There is very little of the infrastructure, like ramps, railings, and elevators, needed to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities compared to those in the United States.

Staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations in training, housing, jobsites, or other areas to enable them to serve successfully, safely, and effectively.

Gender role considerations

Dominican society has elements of machismo which is manifested in gender roles and what is accepted behaviors by people in the community.

Unwanted attention and sexual harassment are usually directed at women by men. Men often hiss and make comments to women walking by. How one deals with this usually depends on where and when this happens and by whom. Although this may not prevent all sexual harassment, Volunteers use a range of strategies to address this behavior, which allow them to function effectively.

Dating for American women in the Dominican Republic can be a sensitive subject, as cultural perceptions of dating and male-female friendships are quite different from the U.S. Women are expected to be conservative, and sex outside of marriage (for women) is not looked upon favorably; perception of casual sexual behavior may jeopardize one’s safety or ability to develop mutually respectful relationships.

Male volunteers may be expected to assume “machista” attitudes and behaviors. There may be expectations of how they look, behave towards women, and how they present themselves. A male Volunteer might be singled out if they do not adhere to those expectations and may need to develop strategies to navigate these pre-defined Dominican gender norms.

Considerations for LGBTQI+ Volunteers

Generally speaking, in the rural and small towns where Volunteers work and live, there is limited understanding of expressions of gender identities other than cisgender. Similarly, while diversity of sexual orientations may be more understood in these communities, there is little acceptance of same-sex relationships.

It is suggested that LGBTQI+ Volunteers explore the safety and integration implications (with the support of staff if needed) prior to sharing this part of their identity with community members.

Generally speaking, Volunteers have told us they feel they can be open with other Volunteers and staff, and that they are able to identify support mechanisms and networks outside of their host community.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Due to limited exposure, some foreign nationals may have misconceptions about the diversity in the United States, expecting all U.S. citizens to be White.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers:American Volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as American in the Dominican Republic. It is common for all people of East Asian descent to be referred to as “Chinese” and be called “China/Chino.” Micro-aggressions around martial arts abilities or language/accent may be common. Volunteers of South Asian and Pacific Island descent may also experience microaggressions and may not be initially viewed as U.S. Americans. People of Asian descent have a reputation in the Dominican Republic for being good at business as well as hardworking.

Black/African American Volunteers:Some Black Volunteers find they blend in and may be presumed to be Dominican. Others may be presumed to be from other countries in the Caribbean, including Haiti. Migratory enforcement, harassment, and widespread deportations by the Dominican Migratory Police disproportionately targets individuals with darker skin. There have been incidents of American citizens who have been mistaken for Haitian nationals. All Volunteers will likely observe frequent acts of racism, especially towards Haitians. Volunteers receive training on how to interact with law enforcement and if asked, should be ready to provide their legal documents to local officials.

Latinx/Hispanic Volunteers:Dominicans identify as Latino. It is not uncommon for Dominicans to identify cultural connections, and thus develop friendships quicker, with Volunteers who identify as Latinx, speak Spanish, or both. As mentioned previously, these Volunteers may not be believed to be U.S. American and local people may give priority to their Latinx identity. There also may be a greater expectation of Latinx Volunteers to speak fluent Spanish and understand complex and deep-rooted cultural norms/activities/jokes, etc., that they otherwise would not expect of a non- Latinx Volunteer.

White Volunteers:Will likely experience privilege in many ways. Navigating this and being an ally to Volunteers and locals who may not have the same experience will be important as a Volunteer. One such privilege may be not having your U.S. citizenship questioned and automatically being assumed to be American, while many of your fellow Volunteers of color may experience the contrary. At the same time, white Volunteers may stand out more and receive different types of unwanted attention more often because of this aspect of their identity.

Age considerations

Older Volunteers may find that their age provides them with privileges that younger Volunteers do not have. Host families and community partners may cater to them more and/or view them as immediate “experts.”

Frequently older Volunteers are the oldest person in their group; however, they usually find support and friendships among Dominicans, Peace Corps staff, and fellow Volunteers.

Religious considerations

Christianity, predominantly Catholicism is practiced by most Dominicans. While some people practice more faithfully than others, prayer, religious idiomatic expressions, and references to God are tightly woven into many aspects of Dominican society including government, the education system, and private businesses.

Many Volunteers participate in religious activities as an integration tool, while others continue to practice their Christian faith alongside community partners during service. Some Volunteers prefer not to participate in religious activities at all.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Couples are likely to be treated with more respect because the community sees marriage as a responsibility. If the couple does not have children, they may experience pressure to do so, be asked frequently why they do not have them, and receiving comments / assumptions about their inability to have them.

Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to conform with local traditional gender roles especially around cooking, cleaning, and other home responsibilities.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Peace Corps Dominican Republic has an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Collective that works to intentionally foster an inclusive and equitable culture within Peace Corps. EDI leadership consists of Volunteers who work with staff to provide support to the PC/DR community, and seeks to strengthen inclusion and belonging for Volunteers, staff, and host country partners through its programming, training and administrative practices.