An Idea Called Tomorrow

Sonia BasSheva Manjon

Sonia BasSheva Manjon – Invisible Identity: Mujeres Dominicanas en California , 2009

Image by Sonia BasSheva Manjon

“Invisible Identity: Mujeres Dominicanas en California” a photographic/video installation documentary examines the stories of four generations of Dominican women in a single family who immigrated to California. The use of storytelling in collecting oral histories embraces the collective and collaborative process among and between the women, makes space for authentic voice, and allows the ethnographic process to be present without getting in the way.  This project began with the question of identity within physical space, the identity of the story collector, a Dominican American woman living in California questioning issues of race, ethnicity, and culture, and the perception of living silently between two worlds (Dominican and American) and belonging to neither. To understand this dilemma, it is important to understand the stories of the women who came before her in order to uncover the history of how she came to be Dominican in America.

Also included in this documentary are the comparative stories of her sisters.  Their examination of living a bicultural existence and what it means to them.  The matriarchs in the documentary, Abuela and Mami, migrated to American from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in the early 1950s.  One begins to understand the similarities of the women’s experiences, even though they speak of experiences that span 40 years.

The three sisters are identified in this documentary as Hermana, Gemela and Yo. Their stories are significant in revealing a more contemporary understanding of the hyphenated (Dominican-American) existence navigating between the Dominican culture and American identity.  The fourth generation is represented through Sobrina, the youngest in the group, yet the most important link in the future of this family. The ultimate goal is to predict what will happen to the subsequent generations of children in this family through her stories.  Her children represent the fifth living generation in the family.

As more immigrants struggle with the difficulty of maintaining their cultural identity, and the children of immigrants are finding it harder to identify with their parents cultural traditions, this project aims to give voice and recognition to those Dominicans who seek to maintain their cultural identity and traditions while living in California.

Sonia BasSheva Mañjon, PhD, is vice president of diversity and strategic partnerships at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.  She is the former executive director of the Center for Art and Public Life at the California College of the Arts in the Bay Area and has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and nonprofit administration.  A former dancer, Dr. Mañjon began to study video documentary and photography in graduate school as a way to capture the oral histories and ethnographies’ of the women in her study.  Other projects include a full-length video documentary Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture: Tapa Making and Community Collaboration, 100 Families Oakland: Art and Social Change, a video documentary and book detailing a three year city-wide art collaboration, and Crafting a Vision for Art, Equity and Civic Engagement: Convening the Community Arts Field in Higher Education, an edited publication from a national community arts symposium. Sonia earned her Ph.D. in humanities, transformative learning and change in human systems and a Master of Arts in cultural anthropology and social transformation from the California Institute of Integral Studies.  She received a Bachelor of Arts in world arts and cultures with a dance emphasis from the University of California, Los Angeles.  Mañjon currently lives in Middletown, Connecticut with her sons, Zyan and Ezra.

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