The relationship between my Colombian mother and Dominican stepfather fostered a cultural dynamic that’s had a profound influence on my work. Over several years I've traveled to Bani, located in the Dominican Republic, the city where my stepfather is from. I still vividly remember my first time traveling to the Dominican Republic. The hot glaring sun touching my skin, the warm breeze in the air and the anxiety of being somewhere unfamiliar to me. However the most profound moment of that first trip was my interaction with the people of the Dominican Republic. I was no longer in my safe haven of Brooklyn, NY in fact I was now in Bani, Matanza about to meet my step-fathers family for the first time. It was here that I was first awoken to the idea the not only was Dominican identity diverse but so was the identity of the Latino. As a young boy it was a profound cultural experience that showed me that Latinos came in various skin complexions and that our identity was not to be confined in this narrow box of thought. However in past year this diversity I was first exposed to has been threatened by political and social crisis. In September 2014, the Dominican Supreme Court ruled to strip an estimated 210,000 individuals—mostly Dominican-born Haitian descendants—of their citizenship. Recently, the country demanded all Haitian Migrants come forward and apply for legal residency or face deportation. A reported 280,000 Haitian migrants filed by the June 17th deadline to register. Less than two percent have been granted legal residency.
I came back not as that young boy but a man compelled to see its impact on the city of Bani. This issue has brought into question what constitutes Dominican Identity. As a photographer I wanted to capture the cultural diversity of this country that I first saw as a young boy all those years ago, through the eyes of its people. Through my portraits I wanted to visually bridge the gap that had been created by this social divide. Various faces make up the identity of this country, and that identity goes beyond skin complexion. The term Banilejo is one assigned to those born or living in Bani. The term doesn't discriminate on the basis of color, class or creed. The title serves to unify the community. This project, at its core, is a celebration of the diversity of Dominican identity and the individuals that form it.