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La Chupadera in the Dominican Republic

La Chupadera
La Chupadera
Caroline Baehner

Last night on the Plaza bookstore, my friend asked me to First Friday. In the middle of a snow storm, freezing temperatures, and his new European convertible...
Regardless. We got lost in the galleries, with all the space used for bright paint, form, image. Until we walked by one window, one of my favorites (besides Mod), Spyn Studio, ran by Luis Garcia. Latin America. Bright colors. Figurines. Sunshine. Loud, happy music. Liquado de bananas. Platinos fritas. The sun, shining at 130 degrees. All from the window, a slice of heaven.
And thus, I was transfixed. We separated, went ahead, to hear some live music coming from another window, and I ducked in to see what my longterm favorite Latino artist, Robert Bustamente, had painted.
Summer of 1992. Stepping off a jet plane onto the red carpet. Star tratment for a sophomoric Kansas girl, into the bright, glimmering Dominican sun.
At first, the sunsets over the camposinos, cattle, and fences ate at my heart. Early mornings long distance running before coffee, rising naturally with the sun, watching Dolores (my Dominican host mom) chop heads off chickens, kids racing shirtless to play streetball, or climbing to the tops of crooked trees for sour coconuts for us gringas.
By noon, with the scalding sun directly overhead, siestas underneath the infrequent tree, our volunteer work of digging latrines came to a rest. No electricity in town save one house, where the housewives gathered at lunch to giggle over novelas. And us dumb Americans stuck out in the fields.
A staple diet of yucca, fried bananas, and milk of cow heated with cinnamon and I dropped poundage. Antonio, my California partner, longed most for his mom's American food so far away from home: IHOP root and tooty. We giggled in bed at siesta, counting rat tails from my tin roof, looking for which rat was fattest.
We broke all the rules that summer: no amorous conduct, no kissing locals, no drinking beers in discotecs, no smoking, no motorcycles, no leaving your village, no hitchhiking. We worked hard to not get sent home.
I come away richer after First Friday in the Crossroads, despite seeing it in their eyes, that tug of the heart, that longing of one's birthplace. Amigos de las Americas vols love to talk about Amigos, and this Bustamente is one reluctant artist. But thank you for reminding me.

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