Love Language taste like Agridulce
The Dominican born author, Dhayana Alejandrina, is breaking barriers through her writing by promoting active conversations on mental health and self-love.
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Agridulce is a collection of poems and prose written by Dhayana Alejandrina, a Dominican born author. Agridulce explores the most complex of emotions like love, and dives deeper into the importance of mental health and self-growth. The book is divided in two sections: Lo Agrio (The Sour) and Lo Dulce (The Sweet).
Agridulce is a compelling collection that evokes the desire to thrive, to seek one’s voice, and to propel our creative mind to choose art beyond our momentary circumstances. Lo Agrio (The Sour) explores one’s inability to find the courage to speak our truth, and whatever that might be or look-like. Oftentimes fear interferes with our ability to move forward, something Dhayana understands and has experienced in her life. Finding refuge in others’, instead of finding a home within oneself represent the sourness of self-hate and self-rejection. At times, Agridulce offers a moment of silence and deep thought. The opportunity to get lost in what can be, if only, if simply, we start to love oneself, and choose the sweetness of what life can mean.
Lo Dulce (The Sweet) is the painful realization that love can hurt. That love itself is painful, but worthy of being embraced. Yet, in the midst of all the pain, healing is possible. Inner peace is possible. Self-love is possible. From the perspective of someone with a passion for reading, my favorite poem from the book is “Home.” It felt like the perfect way that the writer used to exhort the reader to build a sanctuary within themselves.
I had the pleasure to interview Dhayana Alejandrina and ask some questions regarding Agridulce.
Jennifer H: What inspired you to write Agridulce and what does the title mean?
Dhayana A: Agridulce is bittersweet. The original title of the book was ‘sweet and sour,’ but changed it after someone else reached out letting me know that her book was titled the same. So I sat with it, ‘do I keep my title or change it’, and I’m like ‘Dhayana don’t you speak two languages?’ And I was like Agridulce. It's perfect. It allows me to talk about my roots, where I come from, and it represents what the book is exactly about. It felt right at home.
I got married young. I got married when I was 18. He is military and that’s why we moved to Japan. Being overseas for four years was tough. We were so young and I experienced a lot of emotions; I was writing them all the time. A lot of times I did not have a voice. I felt like I didn’t have a voice to even speak about them. I didn’t have the courage to talk about them. Everything was written down. I would look at them, it felt like a story. I need to put this together somehow. It's going to happen, this is going to be it. Because everything that I was going through I felt like writing Agridulce was meant to close and open a door. I am leaving this behind but I’m walking away with so much more. I’m actually expressing it but giving myself the permission to talk about it. This is how I feel, this is what I didn’t say and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Also, it motivated me to not hide true emotions, we sugarcoat things, we don’t tell people how we truly feel because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. But it is really important to talk about how we feel, truly, depressed, upset, lost, confused, so Agridulce has all of it. I felt so many different emotions and that’s why I felt motivated and inspired to write because I know there are a lot of people out there who do not have a voice, who feel they should not talk about it or perhaps is not important enough. But if you read through my book, there are so many things you relate to, and that comes to tell you that there are people out there who feel the same but perhaps they don’t have the space, or the voice, or the strength to talk about it and that’s how Agridulce came alive.
JH: What message do you want people to take away from the book?
DA: What I really want people to take away is we are put on this earth to experience so much, and often in times, we don’t allow ourselves to. Whether that is the feeling of happiness or whether that is a feeling of sadness. Every emotion has the power of teaching us something about where we are in life or how we feel. But emotions are temporary, and you have to be careful with what type of emotion we carry inside throughout life. Because emotions define what we are feeling at the moment, but not us. That’s why sometimes you are really happy and you think about a memory from the past and boom, you’re sad, really sad, and cry, so you have to allow yourself to feel so you can learn. That’s what I want people to take away from my book, to feel everything, so they can learn more about themselves and about other people, because at the end of the day that’s how we relate, through experiences.
JH: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
DA: Learn to love the way you write. Learn to love what you have to say. I say this because I opened my Instagram account in 2018 and I did it to express how I was feeling. I did it to express the feelings that I was unable to say to people because I was afraid; I didn’t accept my voice and didn’t think what I had to say was important. Also, I just didn’t have a strong relationship with myself. So I doubted a lot of the things that I felt or I dismissed a lot of the things that I felt. And so, when I opened my account there were a lot of insecurities with what I had to say. I tried to change to please people. I thought that what I was writing was not good enough or that I needed to change my words to sound more sophisticated, use big words in my poetry, I started to feel less than. If I had to tell my younger writing self something is to do what you love with enough grace while you do it because, this is how you present yourself while you are writing. This is your voice. If somebody is reading a poem from somebody else without reading the name perhaps they recognize who it is because that’s your voice, that’s how they write. I don’t have to change that. I can only get better at what I’m doing. I do quotes, I do prose, I do long poems, short poems, that’s fine. I don’t have to remind myself to do just one thing. Just be gentle, do it with love, there’s no actual deadlines to what you have to do, as long as you are doing it with passion. You don’t have to change it.
JH: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
DA: To slow down. You’re in a rush. Now I really sit with what I write. This is the poem I wrote today, I’m going to revisit it tomorrow or in two days. When I have a fresh perspective, when I can really look at it with time, instead I’m going to post it right now, especially if it's a longer poem, I give myself time to just ‘what is this that I’m writing? Is this for me to share, personal to me. Because I don’t have to share everything. I have learned to take my time, social media is its own thing, it’s always going to be there. I don’t want to feel pressured by how many times to post today, or being the best seller. Cause you have that indirect pressure. My book really taught me ‘you need to be present with what it is that you are doing’ and I have a life outside of writing too. So it also taught me that. Your writing out of your experiences. You’re writing out of what you are living. What you are going through, your interactions with people, out of your fears, out of your inspirations, of who you want to be, family, so connect with that and don’t rush that. That’s a big deal for me. I have projects that I want to work on but I give it time. Maybe I’m in this downloading phase, I’m just receiving information, emotions, challenges, and sitting with it and hoping with the best way possible. I feel like I’m just receiving all this information for when it's finally over and it's time to write, it is going to be crazy, so I gave myself that permission to do nothing but receive and drop notes.
JH: Why did you decide to self-publish your book and what does being a self-published author mean to you?
DA: The way that I published Agridulce is self-published but I had help with grammar and formatting, but ultimately I wanted to experience the process and show myself that I could do it. Allow myself to make mistakes, learn how it was supposed to get done, to get the help when needed, I honestly didn’t think about wanting to publish the book traditionally, to pitch this book, I didn’t know how to, I had not clue how to do that, if it wasn’t because I contacted Angy, from Dominican Writers, and she talked to me about a lot of things in regards to self-publishing, I honestly wouldn’t have known half of what I was doing. But I allowed myself to do it because I wanted to learn, to teach others the process, this is what works, this is what doesn’t work for me.
JH: What are the common traps for aspiring writers?
DA: Losing their authenticity and honesty to please their audience. I think sometimes we want to adjust so much to what is being done outside that we continue to lose our voice and think that what we have to say is not important. I think that’s a big deal when it comes to traps. As well as feeling pressured to push content, to push books without actually taking the time to dive deeper to what is being created. We have this idea that we have to push and do these things at a certain time by a certain date, there’s no actual limitation or deadlines when you’re a writer, because you think you are going to have it done, it’s going to work out the way you see it and sometimes it just don’t.
JH: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
DA: That was with my dad. I must have been between the ages of 8-10. He tried to compare me to somebody or say something, straight Dominican dad, very serious. All my cousins were really scared of him because of how serious he looked. But I knew the other parts of him. I knew how funny he could be. I knew how gentle he could be. So I also knew I respected him a lot to not cross the lines. But my dad gave me a lot of space to be myself. He did allow me to speak up without telling me to shut up. He never made me feel like I couldn’t speak if I wanted to. So I was comfortable enough to talk to my dad about boys in school, to laugh about boys who sent me letters or to tell him jokes.[So I recall telling] him to his face ‘my name is Dhayana not this person, so don’t do that.’ For the longest, my entire life, my dad always brings that up. He tells me to keep that everywhere I go, like this is who you are. Those words did a lot. I was young but I had this fierce heart and I was comfortable speaking what I felt. He made me feel comfortable to speak how I felt with him. So that was the first experience where I felt like my words meant something. I carry myself with confidence when I speak.
JH: Do you view writing as a form of spiritual practice?
DA: Definitely. I don’t know where my mental health would be without writing. I think mental health and creative expression have a direct connection with how you feel. I mean creative expression can be painting, singing, dancing, writing, sculpting, all of that is creative expression. Not just writing, but when people tap into that creative flow, you’re allowing yourself to be present in the moment. You allow yourself to feel everything that perhaps you are overwhelmed by and you reflect it into this art, and that does calm you down. It actually allows you to see what you cannot see. Whenever I see an empty page and there’s a lot that I’m feeling, it is almost a safe place for me to unfold, to really connect with myself and say the things that perhaps I’m not allowing myself to say out-loud. I think that’s healing.
JH: What is your favorite poem from the collection and why?
DA: Pg. 85, ‘Love Language.’ This poem puts together everything that I’ve been through. Just because I lost myself so much to try and love people, and be there for people, and I put myself on the back-burner. I didn’t give myself enough love. I didn’t give myself enough respect, enough grace, enough patience, but I did that for everyone else. I learned the hard way what I needed to do. But when I did, it finally clicked. I’m in a happier, healthier place in my life and I have to love myself the most and that isn’t selfish. If I don’t love myself how can I love other people? If I don’t love myself or respect myself enough, how can I have expectations for other people to do the same? When I’m constantly disrespecting my boundaries, when I’m constantly disrespecting my values. So ‘love language’ really gave me a voice. It really hits every point of the story and that’s why I love it so much.
To learn more about the author's life and academic career, click here.