EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 25, 2014

Sample Dominican culture at celebration

By Yadira Betances

---- — LAWRENCE — This year’s Dominican Independence Day celebration in the city is all about the children.

The Lawrence YMCA has teamed up with Casa Dominicana, a Dominican cultural center, to offer a sampling of music, dance, food and arts as local Dominicans celebrate the 170th anniversary of their Independence from Haiti on Feb. 27, 1844.

“We wanted to take the opportunity to create a space and bring everyone together for a great event where we can learn about Dominican culture,” said Jennifer Mejia, marketing manager for the Merrimack Valley YMCA.

Mejia was raised in Lawrence of Dominican parents, and it wasn’t until her teenage years that she gained a better appreciation for her parents’ culture. She traveled to the island as a student at Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, where they did community service projects. She wrote her senior thesis on the life changing trip.

“It opened my eyes to the country in a different way,” she said.

Then she participated in a quinceanera, a coming of age party celebrated for Hispanic girls when they turn 15. The party’s choreographer was also involved in the Dominican parade.

“Once you learn more about the culture, you become more intrigued and proud,” she said.

Jose Ayala of Casa Dominicana is glad they are partnering with YMCA.

“Our goal is to reach the children and their families. We need those children, who in a few years, will be adults to say, ‘Let’s celebrate our independence in honor of our parents and our roots,’” Ayala said.

Stelvyn Mirabal and his family have been keeping Dominican traditions alive for more than four decades.

Mirabal, along with his three children, other family members and friends, have marched throughout New England, New York and New Jersey dressed as “Diablo Cojuelos” Spanish for “Limping Devils.”

Mirabal has a collection of 82 costumes, 20 of which will be on display at Lawrence Public Library, 51 Lawrence St., now through the end of February. His group is called, Asociacion Carnavalesca de Massachusetts.

The bodysuits run the gamut from elaborate to grotesque. The caped suits feature rhinestones and feathers in aqua, fire engine red, hot pink, royal blue, forest green, silver and banana yellow. They are embellished with round mirrors, bells, and squares in red, white and blue that are symbolic of the Dominican flag.

The costumes are paired with grotesque masks some with three horns on each side; horns with thorns, broad face similar to a duck with a long horn; others with blood shot bulging eyes, jutting eyes and over-sized fangs.

There was a point when Mirabal was ready to hang up his costume, but his children, Melissa, 19; Leonardo, 12; Clara Sofia, 10, insisted he continued.

“That made me extremely happy because they want to continue the tradition there is a renewed interest to participate,” Mirabal said. “It shows that what my father and I did are beginning to bear fruit.”

Dominican Independence day events:

Thursday, 6 to 8 p.m., Lawrence Public Library, 51 Lawrence St., The documentary, “The Birth of a Nation” about Dominican history and its independence will be shown. Discussion follows. Free.

Friday, 6 to 9 p.m., Lawrence YMCA, 40 Lawrence St., Cultural dance performances by Batuteras Internacional (International Baton Twirlers), Dynamic Kamotion, Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence Dance Academy, Lawrence YMCA Dance Academy and Taller Boriqueño. Members of Asociacion Carnavalesca de Massachusetts and musician Alan Bernabe, as well as food, contests, arts and crafts. Cost is $2 per person.