In the streets of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, the fast-paced rhythms of merengue echo through the city, letting the listener know that a celebration is nearby. This is how Sharina Maillo-Pozo knows that she is home.
Home, for Maillo-Pozo and many other migrants, is something ever-changing. Maillo-Pozo learned to remake her home in other places, most notably New York City, while still holding a space in her life devoted to the Dominican Republic.
“Migrant subjects, myself included as both a migrant and an immigrant, are like turtles. We carry our houses on our backs,” Maillo-Pozo said. “So I have had two houses — well, two homes more than anything — and my homes have been the Dominican Republic and Manhattan.”
Maillo-Pozo was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. It is there that she found her love of music, dance and food.
“Even though I’m new to Athens, I want to be a part of Athens."
-Sharina Maillo-Pozo, UGA professor
In regards to food and dance, there’s always a twist. A common Dominican meal is rice and beans, which Maillo-Pozo eats at least twice a week. Dominicans may throw in butternut squash or some other item, and they always make the seasoning by hand, which Maillo-Pozo claims is necessary.
“Marcel Proust, who wrote ‘Swann’s Way,’ talked about his connection with madeleines. There was a connection between that food and memories,” Maillo-Pozo said. “So, rice and beans are that for me. It’s for that reason I told you I carry my house on my back… and in my stomach!”
Aside from food, part of the research that Maillo-Pozo conducts relates to popular music and literature, and her experiences with music in her home country have greatly contributed to this.
“Merengue is dance and music traditional to the Dominican Republic, and it’s an essential part of who I am and what I do,” Maillo-Pozo said.
One of her favorite musical groups from the Dominican Republic is Los Hermanos Rosario. The band fascinated Maillo-Pozo, as she admired Francis Rosario for being one of the main leaders of dance during a time in the Dominican Republic when seeing such a thing was rare.
In addition to Los Hermanos Rosario, the song “Volvió Juanita” by Milly y Los Vecinos is another favorite of Maillo-Pozo that marks a classic for Christmas celebrations in the Dominican Republic. “Volvió Juanita” tells the story of a Dominican woman who returns for Christmas in the Dominican Republic.
Christmas in the Dominican Republic is a special time for Maillo-Pozo, which she describes as hot and full of celebration. Although sometimes she doesn’t miss Christmastime because of the loudness of celebrations, Christmas in the Dominican Republic is a memorable part of her life.
The music during this time is always on, because where there are parties, there is music. Silence is never possible, because there is always music on in the background.
“I miss the Christmases in my country,” Maillo-Pozo said. “It’s not the white Christmas and jingle bells of New York. It’s the Christmas of palm trees — tropical, with merengue in the background.”
When Maillo-Pozo moved to New York City to be with her grandmother who raised her, she found a different but equally important sort of Christmas celebration.
“Almost every December 24, I would go walking around my Dominican neighborhood to feel a bit of what Christmas was like in my house,” Maillo-Pozo said.
Christmas was not the only celebration that holds meaning for Maillo-Pozo. Carnival in the Dominican Republic, a series of celebrations throughout February, is something Maillo-Pozo described as ever-present in her mind. Due to the large population of Dominicans in New York, Maillo-Pozo found ways to celebrate the festivities in her new home away from home.
Similar to her Christmas Eve ritual, Maillo-Pozo walked around her neighborhood in Washington Heights to feel the environment of joy. February of 2019 will be her first Carnival season away from New York since she moved to the United States in 1998.
Maillo-Pozo attended City University in New York. After receiving her doctorate degree, she worked in the state university system in New York for four years. The lack of time for her investigations or projects led her to search for a job elsewhere. Five weeks ago, Maillo-Pozo moved to Athens.
“It’s a gigantic change, but I can tell I have a lot of things I can do here,” Maillo-Pozo said. “The University of Georgia has a great reputation, and to be a part of that obviously made me proud.”
Maillo-Pozo teaches intro to Latin studies in Spanish, as well as other classes that have to do with the Latino experience.
Having only been in Athens for five weeks, Maillo-Pozo is still getting used to the area, from things as simple and seemingly mundane as figuring out where the supermarket is to realizing how busy and important football games are in Athens.
“Even though I’m new to Athens, I want to be a part of Athens. I don’t want to feel like a foreigner, because to feel that way in a place means that you aren’t completely engaged,” Maillo-Pozo said.
Maillo-Pozo discussed the difference between a foreigner and a migrant. To be a foreigner, according to Maillo-Pozo, is to not feel like a part of a space. When someone talks about being a foreigner, it’s because they are “apart from” instead of “a part of.”
This sentiment of “apart from” versus “a part of” also plays a part in the experience of other Hispanic-Americans in the United States.
“One example would be the case with Mexicans and what has been the case with Puerto Ricans,” Maillo-Pozo said. “They’re ‘a part of’... but many times society perceives them as ‘apart from.’”
Despite this, Maillo-Pozo wishes for everyone to think about the experience of migrants, because the United States has remained a country of migrants since its founding.
“We’re always traveling and carrying our homes on our back again and again, so sometimes we need to feel part of something. I came from somewhere else, but I am a part of here,” Maillo-Pozo said. “We live here and we contribute in so many different ways to the community.”