A Discussion with Julian Peña, Worker at Christ's Home, Dajabón, Dominican Republic

With: Julian Peña

May 22, 2017

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in May 2017 undergraduate student Mary Breen interviewed Julian Peña, a worker at Christ’s Home (El Hogar de Cristo) in Dajabón, Dominican Republic. With ties to both Haitian and Dominican cultures, Peña has benefited from a new perspective of equality through his work at the shelter. He believes a solution to the racism at the border lies with help from God and people’s ability to step into another person’s shoes.

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I am 24 years old. I was born in the capital of the Dominican Republic, but my mom is Haitian.

Do you identify with both or one country?

When I am on this side, I am Dominican. When I go to that side, I am Haitian, since I speak both languages equally. 

How long have you been helping at Christ's Home?

I have been here more than two years.

How did you get involved with the shelter?

I came to the Dominican Republic from Haiti before Christ's Home existed. Father Mario [Serrano Marte, S.J.] called to me at Loyola, a Jesuit institution where I work, and he asked me to work with the Haitian boys from the streets at Christ's Home from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Since I work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Loyola, I did not have a problem with this. If there is a problem, I try to understand and resolve it. I stay with them and work with care, since the boys that come here are like my little brothers. I am the person that receives them in the afternoon. I wait at the door for them to come, and I send them to wash in the bathroom. Another woman works inside the house. When they arrive, I pass my hand over their heads. They can play and now there is a television. The boys have to wait for dinner and then they receive classes. Other than Noris [de los Santos], there are other professors. One teaches classes of painting and agriculture. Another teaches classes of values, way of living, and clothing. When I leave at 8:00 p.m., another man comes who sleeps with them at the house. 

For you, is it important that Christ's Home was founded by a Jesuit and run as a project of a Jesuit institution?

Yes, because before there were many boys that slept on the street. There were some that treated them well, but others did not and to them everyone is not equal. There is racism, and sometimes the racism does not allow people to help others. There were people that hit them and hurt them, but now there is no one. This makes me happy, because before, anything that was robbed, someone would say it was them because they are on the street. It was not them, but they could be blamed. After Father Mario began picking them up, now there are not boys on the street. What happens at 5:00 p.m. is that they come here united. They come united because they know there is a house for them that gives them support in every sense. 

Why do you think the division between people continues? How is the racism reinforced?

For this, it is more difficult because at the border, the majority of Dominicans are white, so almost no one wants to allow in the black race. You know the Haitian race is very black, so that is why when anything happens, people say, “No, it was this Haitian!” In my family, my dad is black and my mom is black, but I did not want to know about the black race. If I could have changed my color, I would have done it. I asked my dad, “Why was I born black?” I said these things before. Then, I began to work with these boys. Why does racism exist? We are the same people. We have the same blood. We are humans. Still, there is racism against others. This was the focus of my change of the way I was being, but some people do not think this way. That is why it is difficult to change racism.

How would you like to see the situation change at the border?

I would like that the Haitians and the Dominicans get along much better. Sometimes they argue and fight at the border. They close the border. If something happens and a Dominican goes to the other side to work in Haiti and is given the blame for any little thing and killed, just like in the Dominican Republic. I would like them to be better.

How do you think a change is possible?

For this, no more than God can do it—a miracle from God. 

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience working at Christ's Home?

I have learned many things. I never worked with boys, and working with boys is something very beautiful. The care I feel for them is inexplicable. Before, I did not have this and I looked at people for their looks or their size, but we are equal. 

How have the boys impacted you?

They have changed me. Now, I am more humble. 

What are your wishes for your future?

I would like to be a big painter or a musician.

Where did you learn these skills?

I learned painting in the capital here. I learned music with the help of my good friend. I went to his house and he had an instrument.

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