I always had mixed feelings every time a Dominican man or woman would say, “Las mujeres de La Vega (o Santiago, o El Cibao, o Jarabacoa o cualquier lugar) son las más bonitas”. The argument back and forth will go on depending where the people in the group were from. Women were flattered of course if they were from whichever place was pointed out or gently insulted if they were from another town. I couldn’t figure out why I felt uncomfortable even when I agreed as a lesbian that the women from my town are pretty attractive. It wasn’t until recently, after reading an article a friend sent me that I understood what bothered me about men claiming the most beautiful women live in their town: women are seen as a tourist attraction. The Huffington Post’s article is entitled “23 Food Reasons Colombians Know What’s Good”
The article is about Colombia’s best dishes but the introduction to the list hit me like a slap in the face, woke me up and made me realize what really bothers me about this discourse of viewing women as tourist attractions, as cultural sexual objects, and as property. “What makes Colombia unique goes beyond the passion and joy of its soccer team, its magnificent biodiversity, the beauty of its women and even the folkloric sounds of Vallenato and Cumbia heard across the country. In fact, its true beauty comes from the warmth of its people.” Judging by the last sentence of this quote, women are not people, they are separate from those who are “warm”; they are a cultural factor like music or food and not part of the people who experience those cultural factors, who in turn are men. Men are the people. I see this type of discourse about women in the Dominican Republic all the time. It is in the everyday conversations, public opinion and general discourse. According to general knowledge, “Las mujeres del Cibao” (the women from the region of El Cibao) are the best looking of the country. Ask any men from the Dom. Rep. and they will agree, especially if they are from that region.
After reading the article, written by a woman nonetheless, I decided to write my thoughts on the subject and I asked my girlfriend who has a blog if she would publish it.
I wondered if there were other countries whose discourse glorified women’s beauty as a tourist attraction. I know the advertising for most of the Caribbean countries have women in bathing suits on beautiful beaches, sunbathing or plainly posing their backside to the voyeuristic camera. But I think in Latin America the problem is accentuated by a general cultural trait that both “glorify” and exploit women. I believe this started during the “Conquest” of the Americas. The verb conquistar or to conquer has both a romantic and violent meaning, especially in Spanish. Actually in Spanish conquistar is a mostly romantic action, with an emphasis on the wooing, the persistence, the hard work, not necessarily with violence like in English. When studying the colonization of the Americas, in Latin America and of course in Spain it is referred to as “The Conquest of the Americas”.
The United States I believe does not refer to the process of occupation and colonization of North America as a conquest. The conquista obviously euphemizes the violence that the Spanish inflicted on the native women, the land and all the native people of the Americas. It is still part of the colonialist discourse in Latin America that the Spaniards were better than the English in the Conquista because they mixed with the native women, taught the natives Spanish and told them about the “true” god. I believe that’s where the exploitation of women in Latin American started. It is not to say women from the United States are not exploited, they are in a different way. They are just not advertised for the foreigners to come and fuck them. I have not heard nor read anywhere that the women of the United States are such beauties worth seeing on your way to Venice Beach, the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon. It is not part of a national discourse like it is in many Latin American countries.
Many Dominicans pride themselves on talking about the mulatto beauties that men from “all over the world “come to see, encouraging the European countries and the US, to flock the country. This attitude towards women, the fact that prostitution is practically legal, and the government’s investment in tourism has helped make the Dominican Republic a heaven for sex tourism. Even though Dominican authorities will never claim responsibility, the Department of Tourism’s official campaign, “Dominican Republic Has it All” not only encourages sex, but it relies on it to attract men.
The campaign’s 3 minute official video for has women and beaches the first 20 seconds of it. It opens with a beautiful light skin mulata and then moves on to the other tourist attractions. Not much left to say about the ad on Times Square.
Also, with its “All inclusive” approach and packages, the Dominican Republic is promoting sex as well. Women are an amenity included as part of the package even if you have to go outside the resort to get laid. Many friends of mine, gay and straight, have shared stories of how as soon as you check in, sex is on the menu. One Mexican diplomat I had the opportunity to work with told me how surprised he was that as soon as he checked in, he and members of an Latin American delegation were offered an opportunity to leave the hotel to meet women. They all did.
If you are a man and you have gone to any resort in the last 10 years, you know what I am talking about.
Resort employees always approach men offering them “anything” they want. I know sex tourism is not exclusive of Spanish speaking countries. Brazil has an international reputation because of its women. In my Spanish classroom in New York City when I assign a report or project about a Latin American country, every year I have a couple of boys who want to do it on Brazil because they would like to visit to meet the sexy women. It’s out there. They have reputation of having beautiful women so my high school boys go there and fuck them. That’s all. I personally heard men and women bragging about the beauty of Venezuelan, Colombian, Cuban and Puerto Rican women.
We need to stop. Women are not a tourist attraction. We need to stop glorifying Las mujeres de mi tierra because that discourse objectifies women; it makes them a product, a site to visit while in town. I am tired of the machista heterosexual rhetoric that exploits women’s bodies: Stop! We are neither a fucking tourist distraction nor a tourist fucking attraction.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: Yoseli Castillo Fuertes was born in the Dominican Republic in 1972 and at 16 migrated to the United States. She is a bilingual-dominican-latina-lesbian poet-activist-teacher-aunt. Castillo believes in the transformative power of a kind gesture and that dreams are not a figment of your imagination.
“Dreams are plans with no deadline…” ~ Yoseli Castillo Fuertes