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Abstract

At the first Hamilton family reunion, held in Samaná, Dominican Republic, in 2002, I took the opportunity to question my aunts and uncles about our family’s history and to share the story of our migration to the town with the mass of youngsters gathered for the event. Most of my cousins were amazed by the intricate details of movement, displacement, and transformation because they had never heard these stories before. The reaction that stood out came from a younger cousin brought up in Brooklyn. With a disconcerted look, he asked innocently, “So we’re black?” It had never dawned upon him, even when staring at his own reflection, that we had come from blackness. He had absorbed the ideological myth of Taino and Spanish inheritance that was espoused by elite segments of Dominican society as a way to elevate themselves above Haitians, the blacks on the island. In the context of the United States, my cousin, unaware of the difference between race and ethnicity, had always envisioned himself as Dominican and hence different from the African Americans he lived among.

As a descendant of the African American community who resettled in Samaná, I was motivated by my own historical ignorance of their migration and the various moments of uncertainty they had faced. My research started as a struggle to produce a response to the constant questioning around race and name that I was subjected to growing up in Puerto Rico. Because I had included my mother and her family’s origins in Samaná in my research, my responses seemed inadequate. The last name Hamilton did not fit into the Puerto Rican or the Dominican national self-identity dominated by surnames of Iberian origin. Yet the intricacies of my family histories were never passed on to my generation, the details lost in the minds of my aunts, uncles, and mother, who defined themselves as Dominican and nothing else. As I discovered these details, I began to see myself within the larger context of the Diaspora, no longer bound by national imaginings. Our family history was like many of the African Diaspora, except that our migration was back to the colony instead of to the metropolis. With the ascertainment of our history came the burden of dissemination.

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