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In The Devil behind the Mirror, Steven Gregory provides a compelling and intimate account of the impact that transnational processes associated with globalization are having on the lives and livelihoods of people in the Dominican Republic. Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the adjacent towns of Boca Chica and Andrés, Gregory's study deftly demonstrates how transnational flows of capital, culture, and people are mediated by contextually specific power relations, politics, and history. He explores such topics as the informal economy, the making of a telenova, sex tourism, and racism and discrimination against Haitians, who occupy the lowest rung on the Dominican economic ladder.
Innovative and beautifully written, The Devil behind the Mirror masterfully situates the analysis of global economic change in everyday lives.
All right reserved.
La República Dominicana es un país creado por Dios para el
Turismo, me he atrevido a decir algunas veces, estimulado por
la belleza de su potencial.
[The Dominican Republic is a country created by God for
Tourism, I have dared to say sometimes, excited by the beauty
of its potential.]
Don Angel Miolán, director of
Dominican tourism, 1967-1974
I had been in Boca Chica for two weeks and still had not seen Minaya.
I made it a daily practice to walk from one end of the beach to the
other to cultivate relationships with people who, like Minaya, made
their living selling goods and services to foreign tourists. I would begin at
the fortresslike Coral Hamaca Beach Hotel and Casino at the eastern end
of town and walk west, pausing along the way to speak with vendors,
guides, and touts who worked at the bars and restaurants along the
beach. Midway along the trek I would stop at an Italian-owned restaurant
to visit my research assistant, Milquella Reyes, who worked there as
a waitress. I would then continue to Hostal Zapata, a midsized hotel
owned by Gabriel Zapata, aDominican who had lived in Washington,
D.C., for many years. I had stayed at Zapata's hotel often, and, sharing
an interest in politics, we had become friends.
Next to Zapata's hotel was the Boca Chica Resort, the second of the
town's all-inclusive resort hotels. Rumor had it that the site had once
been occupied by the beach house of the mother of Dominican dictator
Rafael Leónides Trujillo Molina (1930-1961). West of the Boca Chica
Resort was a large parking lot used by Dominicans who visited the beach
from the capital and elsewhere. Scattered throughout the lot were food
stalls selling fried fish, yaniqueques (johnnycakes), and beverages.
Beyond the parking lot the beach continued for another two kilometers
until it reached the neighboring town of Andrés, signaled by the towering
red-and-white-striped smokestack of Ingenio Boca Chica. With few
exceptions, the western end of the beach was used by Dominican visitors,
especially on weekends and holidays when busloads of people arrived
from the capital.
My daily tour of the beach was also an effort to persuade people that
I was not a tourist in an economy in which wealth differences between
foreigners and most residents were enormous, indisputable, and endlessly
reiterated by the symbolic and spatial order of things. To that end,
I would often carry a clipboard with me and wear long pants and a dress
shirt with two pens prominently displayed in the pocket. It was the only
time in my career that I have tried to look like an anthropologist.
I had met Minaya two summers earlier and made it a point at the end
of each trip to buy two or three shirts from the huge bundle of garments
that he lugged back and forth along the beach in the afternoon heat. We
had spoken often about his work and my own, and he had introduced me
to many of his coworkers. Like the other vendors, Minaya was a good listener.
To sell things to tourists, one had to be alert to subtle inflections in
the voice that suggested some direction in their fickle desire to consume
or a shift in the precarious balance between interest and irritation.
It was March 2001, and tourism was slow in the wake of the global
recession. Many of the vendors, hair braiders, and others who worked
the beach had gathered under the palm trees in front of the Boca Chica
Resort. Within the walled compound one hundred or so tourists were
stretched out on chaise longues. Every so often vendors would approach
the low concrete wall, display their wares, and then retreat once more to
the shade of the palms.
I found Minaya resting against a palm tree with his cousin, a cigar
vendor. Minaya explained to me that he had just returned from San Juan
de la Maguana, his birthplace, where he had attended a funeral. His
brother-in-law had been electrocuted while trying to jerry-rig an electrical
connection to his home from the power line that passed above it-a
tragic, yet not uncommon, accident. Since business was slow, Minaya
told me, he could leave work early, and he invited me to his home in
Andrés for dinner. It was his daughter's fifth birthday, and his wife was
making sancocho, a hearty soup often served on special occasions.
Minaya slung the motley bundle of garments over his shoulder, and
we headed for the narrow alleyway next to the Hotel Don Juan, where
the vendors gathered at the end of the day and stored their goods. It
was also the meeting place of Boca Chica's Sindicato de Vendedores
(Vendors' Union). Here the vendors gathered daily to discuss their trade,
resolve disputes, and organize their activities so as to ensure that on any
given day there would not be too many selling the same commodities in
the same places. When business was slow, the síndico (union president)
staggered the work schedules of members to ensure that everyone sold
enough to make ends meet.
Vendors lined the shaded alley, some wearing the pale blue smocks
issued to those who were licensed by the Policía Turística, or POLITUR,
the specialized tourism police. Two Haitian women sold fried fish and
sausages from a rough-hewn wooden stall. Neatly arranged stacks of
clothing, cigar boxes, and wood carvings imported from Haiti were set
up along the alley's walls. Manolo, the union president, was involved in
a heated discussion with a jewelry vendor about the power plant that
was being built across the Bay of Andrés by the AES Corporation, a U.S.-based
global power company. From the alley we could see the plant's
bulbous liquid gas tank and the delicate silhouette of the jetty where
tankers would one day dock. The jewelry vendor was arguing that the
new power plant would solve the problem of the apagones (blackouts)
that were a daily occurrence in Boca Chica and across the nation.
"Ven acá" (Look here), Manolo snapped, glaring at the man. "The
blackouts are not the result of a lack of power," he insisted. "That's a lie.
There is plenty of electricity in the country. What is happening is that the
power companies, the foreigners, want to make more money. They make
the blackouts to force the people to pay more. It's an abuse."
"Yesterday," a cigar vendor chimed in, "they killed two in Capotillo,"
referring to two men who had been shot dead by the National Police in
a poor barrio of the capital during protests against the blackouts.
In fact, the recently privatized power distribution companies had been
shutting down service to neighborhoods in the capital and elsewhere
where bill collection rates were low. Intended to discipline a recalcitrant
population and the Dominican government into paying newly inflated
electric bills, the power outages had incited widespread, unrelenting
protests throughout the country.
In Boca Chica the power issue had become a lightning rod for public
debate about privatization, economic justice, and the behavior of foreign
corporations within the nation. The daily blackouts were often greeted
with cries of "Sé fue la luz!" (The lights have gone!), a refrain sampled
from a popular merengue, and caustic commentaries on the nation's
economy and political leadership. In everyday speech, Dominicans
punned the noun poder (power) to form such phrases as "Aquí, no hay
poder" (Here, there is no electricity/political power).
For beyond the inconvenience, the blackouts injected a rhythm of crisis
into everyday life, disordering the taken-for-grantedness of neoliberal
assertions of economic development and giving rise to a "heretical discourse,"
as Bourdieu (1977: 170) put it, of social justice and defiance. Graffiti
spray painted onto the wall of the AES Corporation's office in Boca
Chica read, "El pueblo demanda poder!" (The people demand power!).
Minaya enjoyed controversy and turned to me. "Tell me, Gregory,
they say that we pay more for the lights in this country than they do in
New York. Is it true?"
I replied that I didn't know but that I thought that an average electric
bill might be about $30 a month. There was a pause as we made the
"Five hundred pesos," Minaya remarked. "The same, maybe less."
We left the beach and headed for Calle Duarte to hire motoconchos
(motorcycle taxis) for the three-kilometer trip to Minaya's home in
Calle Duarte was Boca Chica's main street and ran parallel to the
beach from the western end of town to the Coral Hamaca Beach Hotel
and Casino, about two kilometers to the east. Midway along Calle
Duarte were the town's Catholic church and plaza. Facing the treeshaded
plaza were the police station and the offices of the ayuntamiento,
or municipal government. Clustered around the plaza were an assortment
of bars, restaurants, money exchanges, gift shops, and other businesses
that catered largely to foreign tourists.
Crosscutting Calle Duarte was Calle Juan Bautista Vicini, which
extended north from the plaza to Carretera de Las Américas, the highway
linking Boca Chica to the capital in the west and to San Pedro de
Macorís in the east. North of the town center were a patchwork of residential
neighborhoods interspersed with budget hotels, grocery stores,
and other small businesses. Calle Vicini and the grid of paved streets continued
on the other side of the highway, where I lived, but soon dissolved
into unauthorized settlements (arrabales) of cinder-block and wood-frame
houses, connected by a tangle of dirt roads.
We reached the town plaza and hired two motoconchos for the trip to
Andrés. Because I wanted to photograph the sugar factory, we took the
road that skirted the coast, past Ingenio Boca Chica and the Port of
Andrés, and farther on to Punta Caucedo. Along the way trucks loaded
with equipment and building materials roared past us, kicking up dust
and gravel as they made their way to the unfinished power plant. Ingenio
Boca Chica appeared to be abandoned. The corrugated steel panels that
covered the factory's milling and boiling areas were missing in places,
and chunks of machinery were strewn about the yard. A security guard
dozed at the entrance, a shotgun cradled in his lap.
I asked Minaya about the factory. He drew his index finger across his
throat, muerto (dead). Ingenio Boca Chica and other government-owned
sugar mills had been recently "capitalized," that is, leased to private corporations,
which were expected to invest in them and enhance their profitability.
As yet, the factory's new operator-a Mexican multinational
corporation-had not begun the renovations needed to return it to operation.
As a result some three thousand workers had lost their jobs. Once
a bustling, albeit poor sugar settlement, or batey, Andrés was now a
community without an economy.
We continued on foot along the coastal road, and Minaya told me
about his life. He had been born in San Juan de la Maguana and had
come to Andrés in 1988 to work at the ingenio (sugar mill), where his
uncle was a foreman. With no formal schooling, he told me, his employment
prospects had been bleak. At the factory he labored as a vagacero,
whose job it was to remove the spent cane after milling. It was backbreaking
and poorly paid work, and after a few months on the job he
quit. With money borrowed from his uncle, Minaya purchased his first
stock of goods to sell on the beach. "It's better to have your own little
business," he told me, "and have more freedom."
After years of scraping and saving, Minaya bought two adjacent
wood-frame casitas on the outskirts of Andrés and sent for his mother,
brother, and three sisters from San Juan. Other family members soon followed.
Eventually, Minaya bought a cinder-block house next to the others
and married a woman from his hometown. His brother and cousins
worked with him on the beach as vendors, and two of his sisters managed
a colmado (grocery store), which the family rented from a neighbor.
Minaya enrolled his youngest sister in elementary school at the age of
We turned off the coastal road and followed a narrow dirt path that
led into Andrés, past crumbling wooden houses and newer cinder-block
buildings that were stalled at various stages of construction. Minaya
pointed to the house that his eldest sister was building-a roofless, concrete
rectangle with cavities yet to be filled with windows and doors. The
poor, he explained, built their houses "little by little" as they saved
money to buy fixtures and allotments of cinder blocks.
We arrived at his home, located at the end of an unpaved cul-de-sac
at the edge of town. Children were gleefully sifting through the remains
of a birthday piñata while their mothers stood by, cake in hand, impatient
to leave. Minaya noticed me peering at the tangle of illicit wire connections
to the power lines overhead and grinned. "In my house," he
quipped, "there is power."
We entered the enclosed porch, and Minaya brought out chairs from
inside. He told me how he had gathered his entire family on the cement
porch when Hurricane George flattened his mother's house and blew
away the roof of his own in 1998. "There were twenty of us gathered
here on the patio-who knows, maybe thirty." He gazed at the cement
ceiling. "But this ceiling is strong. It stayed."
Minaya's wife, Jocelyn, and his three sisters came out to greet us with
coffee, followed by a procession of nephews, nieces, and cousins. With
her second, newborn child in her arms, Jocelyn told me about her business
selling hair care products to neighbors. Poor economic conditions
had prompted many women to create microenterprises to contribute to
household budgets. An assortment of plastic bottles and glass jars were
neatly arranged in a homemade display case on the porch. When we finished
our coffee, Jocelyn invited us inside to eat.
The main room of the two-room house was divided by a wall unit
that separated the living room from the cooking area in the rear. The
family of four slept in a small side room subdivided by curtains. A sofa,
a coffee table, and two chairs were squeezed into the front room. A television
set and portable CD player occupied the wall unit, along with
family photographs, a porcelain serving dish, and empty bottles of
imported liquors, which I had often seen displayed in the homes of poor
families. Less a display of conspicuous consumption than a keepsake of
special occasions, the bottles were symbols of the just, though infrequent,
desserts of hard work.
After dinner Minaya invited me to the family's colmado. Minaya's eldest
sister was busy serving an elderly woman, who was complaining about
the size and price of each item as it arrived-an onion, two carrots, a bullion
cube, and a clump of tomato paste sealed in a plastic bag. Minaya
chuckled as he reached into the freezer for a beer. "No es fácil, Doña
Julia," he said. Not looking up, the woman agreed, "No, life's not easy."
We sat out front on plastic chairs. Minaya's cousin Feo was playing
dominoes with friends. It was now dark, and we could see the warm
glow of the massive Coral Hamaca Beach Hotel across the bay and the
headlight trail of cars driving east on the highway toward San Pedro de
"Tell me, Gregory, how is the book going?" Minaya asked.
"Little by little," I replied. I took the opportunity to remind him about
my work. I told him that I was writing about the changing economy-tourism,
privatization, and so on-and about the impact of these
changes on people's lives.
Minaya thought for a moment. "Here we are all poor," he said, grinning
as he did when preparing a joke in his mind. "So you will have to
write a very big book!"
We stayed at the colmado for another hour, bringing each other up to
date on our lives. Just as I was about to leave, Minaya asked about my
trip to Cuba the year before. I replied that although there were shortages
and other problems, people seemed to have enough to eat and access to
health care and other essential services.
"But, Gregory," he countered, leaning toward me, "they say that in
Cuba there is no freedom-there is no democracy." His face became
stern, wrinkles forming across his brow.
"Yes, that's what they say." I did not want to argue politics with a
Excerpted from The Devil Behind the Mirror
by Steven Gregory
Copyright © 2007 by The Regents of the University of California.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
List of Illustrations
1. The Politics of Livelihood
2. The Spatial Economy of Difference
3. Structures of the Imagination
4. Sex Tourism and the Political Economy of Masculinity
5. Race, Identity, and the Body Politic
6. The Politics of Transnational Capital