A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the Daily News about this new reality show
debuting on MTV called Washington Heights. By association I figured it was about Dominicans
because, well, the Heights is synonymous with Dominicans. I read the premise of the show
and the bios. I was confused about my feelings because I felt proud and jealous. Any person
who lived or lives in the heights feels like they can and should be the best ambassador of the Heights and its culture.
That's just how proud we are about our neighborhood.
Headed home on the uptown A, I seethed with jealousy because I always romanticized,
along with countless friends, about a reality series based in the Heights - featuring us, of
course. Throughout the years, over many beers and shots my cohorts and I talked about how, if
given the chance, we would showcase our unique idiosyncrasies, our flaws, our humor and our
altruistic doctrine. In short, our dopeness. So as I devoured the article and tried to understand
my shook-ness, I tapped into my anger energy and began shooting victim laden and judgmental
Are these cats Dominicans? They don't look Dominican....enough. Do they speak Spanglish? Where they born here, or there? Current gentrification notwithstanding, I digressed to my childhood and thought - what's up with the white chick?
While getting off the train and ascending the stairs, pride came over me. How could I
not be proud of this occurrence? My Shakespearean love affair with the Heights was now going
to be showcased for the nation to see. I grinned a bit and anticipated the premiere.
With mass texts already sent to my fellow uptown urbanites - young ones particularly and Latinos specifically - I sat up and began watching the show. This isn't my Washington Heights, I thought to myself. I didn't feel the energy of the penny candy buying, kick the can playing, gun shot hearing (and running), out the window momma screaming days that I know too well. Twenty minutes in, I walked out the room disappointed. I did, however, rush back in when I heard what I thought was a fight. I was right. Right there on the screen two women were brawling and rolling around on the floor. Ok, I said out loud, this may work. So I sat down and watched the second hour. Afterwards, I checked my Facebook page and read many conflicting comments. Some loved it. Others felt it wasn't Dominican enough. One post stated that it wasn't entertaining enough.
After reading the post a bit, I revisited the authenticity of my initial sentiments and
challenged my own assumptions, interpretations and limited beliefs on what is and what
constitutes Dominican-ness, by extension, Latino-ness, urban experience and our overall edict.
The fact of the matter is that some of us watch certain reality shows in order to escape our own, while some of us watch those we can relate to in hopes of being inspired by them. Where you fall will determine which lens you use(d) to connect to, or form your opinion of -- Washington Heights. For this particular show, I wanted to relate, not escape. And for the most part, albeit three episodes in, I couldn't relate - holistically.
Washington Heights, the show, represents a part of me that once was. The hunger, the rawness of the all-consuming esoteric environment dominated my youth and complimented my angst. I sensed that from the cast as well. Generationally we are different, yes. The sheer fact that this reality show even exists speaks to the generational gap(s), particularly as it relates to communication, opportunity and advancement. What is not generational however, though paradigm shifts have occurred, are issues of language, acculturation and assimilation that an early immigrant group such as Dominicans still experience. What is not generational are the ills that still plague our community and have serious implications for socio-economic and political advancement on a personal and cultural level. It does, however, give me great pride to think that a major network has given a group of young people largely from Washington Heights a platform to represent their community, our community. What's even more promising is that the show's focus is on following these youngsters on their quest to achieve their dreams, not a Jersey Shore-esque showcase of buffoonery, sex, alcohol, arrested development and saccharine infused issues. I am proud that, in the seeming shift that MTV is making, youngsters from the Heights were chosen to lead that vision through their eyes and experiences.
I am a thirty something, first generation Dominican, with multiple degrees, who grew up and still lives in the Heights and listen - from the professional who grew up there to the individual that is trying to raise a family there to the omnipresent lost youngster that roams the streets - I can identify with the skepticism surrounding the show's potential success, possible failure and overall criticism. But I truly believe that our sense of protectiveness is what is leading to our nervousness. We all want to be represented fully and holistically I get it. But that is not possible. Historically, culturally and demographically we are not a homogeneous community and we will never be. The reality is that the face of Dominicans in the Heights is changing and so should our perceptions of it. I am going to give this show its due respect and keep watching. I think I have a moral responsibility to the neighborhood that gave me my swagger, my sense of familial piety, and steely resilience. I am no longer concerned with this show batting it out of the park. Don't we always?
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