Religious School

5-year old Rita in a religious school uniform.

5-year old Rita in a religious school uniform.

As a young child, I attended a religious school with nuns. The Dominican Republic is a strong Catholic country and a very high proportion of the population is Catholic, so it isn’t a surprise that my mother decided to send me there. The nuns really focused on preparing their students for a life of education; as such, there was a strong emphasis on culture, society, and music. There was a strong emphasis on education and on socializing us. We always took our education seriously. I think that is where I received my values on education, behavior, etiquette, proper speech, and posture—it was all from the nuns. They were very punitive.

My memories of those times with the nuns were hearing Gregorian chants. The environment in my country at that time was not very sophisticated—people would not have known what a Gregorian chant was, and yet I was here in religious school, where there was a strong emphasis on attending a religious life and attending mass. Religious school was essentially for families of privilege. Not everyone could afford it. And it still is the case. Not only religious school, but private school in my country, is still really for the well-to-do families that can afford it; public schools are for everybody else. My mother was able to pay for it through her seamstress salary and the child support that she was receiving from my father.

During that time, I lived with my family, so every day I would go to school, come home for lunch around 12 or 12:30, and then go back to school until 5 or 5:30. That’s the tradition in my country. After I was sent home at the end of the day, I would go walking. Kids at that time walked everywhere. And I would meet up with my girlfriends and we would study together.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a large percentage of Dominicans who are practicing Catholics in my country. I’m sure that the other percentage that doesn’t live it or practice it also feels the imposition from Catholicism. For me, it was key in my development as a child, clearly because it helped develop the (religious) values that I still uphold today—that is, the belief in something greater than myself: the belief in kindness and the value of kindness, compassion, and humility. And with the qualities I had as a child, I wanted to become involved in change very early on, so I became one of the youth leaders for the religious youth group in town; when I arrived in New York City, I once again got very involved in the church in my community in Washington Heights. Coincidentally, the name of the church was the same name of the church in La Romana.