“We are all da same,” he said, placing his fingers on my milk-white arm. “Our skin color not da same, but inside (placing his hand over his heart) we are one people.” -– Shaggy
He was twenty-five, Dominican, tall and loved basketball. He could “doonk” (dunk), he said and had a mean left “huk” (hook) shot. I told him I was the captain of my basketball team back in the day and how much I loved the Michigan State Spartans. Michigan, as a state, was foreign to him, but he understood Lansing was near Detroit, and that the Tigers played there. “Cabrerra!” he said. “He is from Venezuela, no?”
I taught him to say “Tigers” instead of “Teegars.” He taught me to say the words sky, stars and boat in Spanish. He learned English in school, which landed him a job at the new resort in Cap Cana, catering to the predominantly white and privileged. He taught Spanish lessons at 9 a.m., darts at 10 a.m. and water aerobics at 10:30 a.m. to the mostly out-of-shape vacationers, who sauntered pink-faced to the pool every morning – only after a cup of strong Santo Domingo coffee and a mucho-grande all-inclusive breakfast.
He made each day “Eh-so” (meaning fantastic) with his infectious laugh, Sidney Poitier good looks, and constant charm. When it looked like the Yoga class was not going to attract enough participants, he talked my husband into trying it for the first time. At the “Beach Party,” he went out of his way to ask a young, shy girl in a new dress to dance.
He told me he was paid only two hundred dollars a month, most of which he sent home to his family nearly two hours away. He worked 12 hour days and made good money — for his country, that is. But he wanted to know about America. “What does a bed cost?” he asked. “How much money for food? What about the ghetto?”
That last question threw me. He said some people from the Dominican Republic did not go to the U.S. because they were treated differently than in their own country, like people from the ghetto. He said there are bad people in every country, no matter their color and some people drink too much (I suddenly remembered the tacky American woman who had lifted her shirt in the restaurant showing her bra the night before).
“In America,” he said, “you make more money, but you must spend more, too.” Not so good, we agreed. I told him how much a bed/rent cost and what we pay for milk. He was shocked that we also paid for water and utilities. Life was slower and simpler in his country; not perfect, but good. I mistakenly assumed he wanted to come to America. “No,” he said, “I will never leave. I am happy here.”
It is Sunday today and I woke up feeling happy to have crossed Shaggy’s path. I am going to church in the small chapel during the 1 p.m. service to accommodate the late sleepers; not to give thanks for who I am or for what I have, but for the privilege of being in the same “boat” with this young, but very wise man. Am I privileged like Alexander de la Cruz (Shaggy’s real name)? Yes. Am I lucky? Maybe. Am I different? No.