Dreaming of Lo Agrio and Dulce
Learn how the Dominican writer Dhayana Alejandria became interested in literature and how her interest in higher education was born.
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The Dominican born author, Dhayana Alejandrina, is breaking barriers through her writing by promoting active conversations about mental health, self-love, and openness to unapologetically share one’s emotions.
Dhayana grew up in the barrio Simon Bolivar, a small neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Specifically in a tiny street called ’20 30’ that could only fit one car at a time, making parking impossible. The typical power outages that are common in developing nations, and that Dhayana grew up accustomed to, did not deter her from having a joyful childhood surrounded by friends and family.
As the only girl out of three brothers, and the youngest, she is grateful for the treatment she received growing up. She started playing volleyball at the age of five; memories that are often accompanied with great moments she shared with her father, her biggest supporter, aside from her mother of course.
“My childhood was joyful [and] memorable because I spent a lot of time with family and friends,” pointed out Dhayana, who found leaving the Dominican Republic extremely challenging. “I developed a really strong friendship with my dad, after my mom moved to the United States before.”
The bond she shares with her father is like no other, often “I would talk to him about boys and he would teach me about life,” Dhayana emphasizes. “He was really someone I could be myself with and not feel intimidated because I was always the baby girl, but he still made me feel comfortable, same with my mom.”
Dhayana’s passion for writing isn’t surprising to her parents, who both share a love for writing, especially her father who would write poems for her birthday. “He wrote me a book full of poems, prose that he would write, and my mom would show me some of her writing,” Dhayana states.
Prior to moving to the United States in 2009 at the age of thirteen, Dhayana was playing volleyball at Centro Olimpico Juan Pablo Duarte and was being scouted to be an official member of the Dominican Republic’s volleyball team, the selection, as a libero; indoor defensive specialist.
One of the hardest things for Dhayana was coming to the United States and finding that there was no volleyball team at her new school, the Susquehanna High School in Harrisburg PA. “I felt if I could have one thing, was to play volleyball,” Dhayana confessed.
“Being ripped off my culture, friends, language, I need sport,” enunciated Dhayana.
Like many immigrants who don’t speak the language, Dhayana sat in the front of the bus all the time and would place her backpack in the seat next to her, “I was afraid of people talking to me. I didn’t know what I was going to say,” she explains.
It wasn’t until her English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher presented her to Angelica Otero, a fellow student who was in charge of being her translator in every class, and resulted in being her life-long best friend.
Although she faced many challenges, she was able to learn the language in a year and a half, something she credits to listening to English music while in the Dominican Republic.
Her journey to learning the language came at a typical expense migrants are too familiar with, bullying. Dhayana faced bullying in school, especially when reading out-loud or doing class presentations because of her accent. “My confidence was down,” she lamented. “I had to carry my mother’s sadness, the feeling of not knowing what to do, or wanting to help and not knowing how.”
Zoila, Dhayana’s mother, never learned English. “As an immigrant child, you’re the one doing the paperwork. You’re the one translating. You’re the one making the calls,” she reiterates. “You are forced to grow up without even knowing that you are even growing up.”
Dhayana shouldered a lot of her mother’s emotional sadness as hers. “She would be crying and I would be holding or I would be hugging her,” explains Dhayana. This prevented her from expressing herself, further finding a refuge in writing.
“I would hold my tears and I would hold my needs back because I needed to be there for her,” Dhayana disclosed.
Sadly, this is the reality of many immigrant children, who don’t realize until they are older that they had to grow too soon.
The Agridulce author explains that “immigrant kids come here with a focus. Our parents may not tell us, but I felt I had a responsibility to have A’s and never fail a class.” This is the reality for immigrants seeking to better their circumstances from their native nation.
Dhayana continued to persevere, attending college for two and a half years, with scholarships in academics and one for track. She soon found a new passion, javelin throws, “I did really well with that in college,” states Dhayana.
Currently, she has a Bachelor degree in Business Administration with a Spanish minor from the University of Maryland, and soon a MA in Human Resource Management.
Her dream of becoming an author only intensified when she moved to the United States. She recalls having pictures of her bedroom in the Dominican Republic, “I would write on the walls. I would write a lot whether it was my emotions towards somebody or how I felt at the time,” Dhayana recalls. “I had an indirect influence from my parents who loved to write, [and] I’m [an] overly emotional, passionate person, who [writes] love letters to other people. Always found myself doing that, expressing my feelings on paper felt like me, more than expressing them [out-loud].”
Having the ability to write on paper makes things real for Dhayana; a sacred relationship she can explore in her writing.
When she moved to the US, her writing changed a lot. “In my writing you can see a transition of me writing a lot in Spanish to writing in English,” Dhayana explains. “The poems [weren’t properly constructed] but it was honest, and it showed that I was learning and trying to adjust.”
When she moved to Japan in 2015, she started writing her poems in a document and everything felt like a story. “Ever since my dad, my mom writing and me moving, I always had that dream that I am going to have a book. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, or how long it's going to take me, but it is going to happen,” Dhayana emphasizes. “I feel like all of us have a little art in us.”
Trust the Process
Motivation means different things to different people. However, Dhayana views motivation as the relationship with yourself, and your ability to allow yourself to make mistakes while having grace through the journey.
There were countless moments when she didn’t feel supported or motivated. “We all have that responsibility of getting to know ourselves better, so we know what it is about ourselves that keeps us going, and reminding ourselves that we are humans,” explains Dhayana. “We’re going to make mistakes.”
She believes “rejection is redirection,” and trusting the process will eventually show a favorable outcome, and in the process she experiences what success is all about; “Success looks like allowing myself to make mistakes and continue to learn more and pass that along,” elaborates Dhayana. “When you are willing to get advice, but also give it, I also think that is success.”
One of her biggest accomplishments is self-publishing her book Agridulce and pursuing her dream of being an author.
She understands how important it is to represent her family, her community, and pave a way for future generations to come. “You are a representation of your family everywhere that you go and the way you carry yourself,” she states. “The way you talk to people and what you do in life, that intensifies when you take into consideration your community and what you’re doing.”
Therefore, it is important for her to keep being herself and continue to foster a supportive community within her Instagram page.
She knows too well what being a self-published author means as an immigrant child. “We have the love of our parents, we see them struggling, in a way that is sad but motivates us. But we want to do better for them,” assures Dhayana. “But we want to show them and give them everything they didn’t have.”
A young woman, who grew up in a barrio aspired to be an author, continues to be a sounding voice of the importance of representation, and having “more people of our background out there, so we feel more seen.”
Words of Wisdom
Dhayana has two simple mottos in life: “slow and steady wins the raise,” and “rejection is redirection.” She wants for others’ to not be afraid of experiencing rejections because “rejection can teach you something you don’t know,” assures Dhayana.
Her advice to college students is to focus on time management. She worked full-time throughout her bachelor’s and master degree, and continued to take additional responsibilities that only emphasized the importance of time management.
Aspiring authors should “stay true with their heart and what aligns with their purpose,” she explains. “Stay true to your voice and your authenticity without having to please everyone else,” something she found herself doing and was able to explore in her book Agridulce.
To learn more about Dhayana click here.
Stay tuned for AL DÍA’s book review of Agridulce.