Gender & Identity Life

My life on an island feels more like life in prison, and I have no way to change it

It was a little past 8 p.m. when my friend took an Uber home and I decided to walk the two minutes to my apartment. It was a Monday evening, and we were returning from “two for one mojito” at our favorite little spot in the neighborhood of Los Jardines in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

My hair was in a messy bun and I hadn’t retouched my makeup from earlier in the day. I rocked my favorite pair of black leather booties with a two-inch kitten heel. Ever since I had 15 stitches on my right knee from a hiking accident a taller heel isn’t really an option. I wore black skinny jeans and a beautiful dark magenta huipile (pronounced wee-peel) from Guatemala.

I crossed the street to the farmacia (pharmacy) so I wouldn’t be in the dark. And it was there that two men solicited me for sex. It was more than typical catcalls, more than the whistling, this time it was an actual solicitation. Was it the fact that we had made eye-contact for a split-second prior to my crossing the street? Did they believe this form of recognition, what I refer to as scanning my surroundings, to be an open invitation for sex? Or was it the fact that I was clearly not Dominican, not gringa, so they assumed I was Venezolana ? There were two connotations for Venezolana. One meant a person from Venezuela. The other was slang for a sex worker.

Either way, I know better than to converse with two perverts at night so close to home. With my head held high, I clutched a pink mini-pepper spray my dad gifted me when I had moved to Costa Rica in 2011 and quickly continued on my way.

It had only been a few seconds since my encounter, when I let out a breath of relief to have safely turned the corner, now with my apartment building in sight, just a minute from opening the gate and unlocking the glass door to enter the complex.

I thought I was safe, until I heard, “Oye mami, que tu haces? Ven mami” (Hey baby, what you doing? Come here baby!) from a creep in the driver side of a gray, tinted window, four-door Camry. In high school, my best friend drove the same car except her car was black and the windows weren’t tinted.

This guy slowed his car down and continued to harass me.

He also attempted to solicit me for sex. It hadn’t even been a minute since my last encounter, and already again, twice in less than a minute. The other two stayed behind, this one didn’t. He had a car, followed me, and approached me even though I told him NO and ignored his advances. I quickly walked to the nearest bar and waited for him to leave. He waited a few minutes, and finally left after the bouncer asked him why he was blocking their entrance. The bouncer was an acquaintance. He knew.

The bouncer made sure the car was out of sight and walked me home.

I was livid. No woman should have to experience or expect this inappropriate misogynistic kind of behavior from grown people. I am not a sex worker – and even then, there’s nothing wrong with sex work as long as that is the employment that person chose for their income. However, I chose teaching and writing. It’s not fair that I have to take extra precautions to walk home.

There’s no reason I should have to clutch pepper spray every time I decide to step outside and do more than transfer my body from a place to an automobile.

A woman has the right to walk in the street. A woman has the right to walk at night. A woman has the right to wear whatever she sees fit. A woman has the right to be alone. A woman has the right to say NO.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I was solicited. I wish it were the last, but it won’t be.

By Shahrazad Encinias

Journalist with sense of adventure, passion for knowledge, and understands how to communicate, respect, and represent people in undeserved communities. Teaches English, Journalism, and Social Justice to pay the bills. Graduated from Cal State Northridge with a BA in Central American Studies and a minor in Spanish Language Journalism, and a dual MA in Journalism and Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona.