Nueba Yol: A Dominican Immigrant’s Tale

Para la versión en español, clickea aquí

Synopsis

Nueba Yol (1995) tells the story of a middle-aged Dominican man named Balbuena. After his wife dies, he finally decides to go to the US with the help of his questionable friend, Fellito. Immediately, he is confronted with the reality of overwork and the dangers of New York’s city streets. By the end, he decides to go back to the Dominican Republic and marry a fellow compatriot he met in the US.

Balaguer’s Dominican Republic & the Rise of Immigration

Joaquin Balaguer

After coming back from exile, Joaquin Balaguer strengthened his ties with US policymakers and became president with the military completely under his command. He immediately began purging dissidents and journalists like Orlando Martinez in what became known as a kind of Dominican Dirty War. He promptly accused the previous president, Juan Bosch, and his party, the PRD, of trying to destroy the country and set up anti-terrorist police action. For a while, his measures seemed to be working with the economy doing well. However, when sugar prices began to fall, President Carter and the Dominican citizens collectively convinced him to leave office. The PRD won their first election since 1962 and all seemed well until corruption scandals enveloped the party. Balaguer was promptly elected in 1986 and everything was business as usual.

His final downfall was met with his ambitious public works project, the Columbus Lighthouse, a mausoleum monument in Santo Domingo. Many were already weary of making a monument to Columbus whose legacy is ambiguous at best, but when Balaguer tore down a neighborhood, diverted funds, and drained power causing nationwide blackouts, the country was livid. 

The Dominican Diaspora

By the 1994 elections, pressures were mounting domestically and internationally, but this time Balaguer would not concede to PRD candidate Francisco Peña Gomez whom he believed, because of his dark complexion, was in cahoots with the Haitian government. After nationwide protests and US pressure, he compromised and agreed to leave in 1996, ending an important era in Dominican politics. Throughout this period, the Dominican Republic saw a huge growth in immigration. During and after Trujillo’s reign, hundreds of thousands of Dominicans left for America, specifically New York City. There, merengue clubs, Dominican restaurants and newspapers can be found in the diaspora’s capital, Washington Heights. Many leave with the hopes of returning to their homeland after a few years, but rising instability has not always allowed for that. Though, Dominicans abroad remain an important part of the country’s economy. Dominicans abroad account for ⅕ of international visitors, 60% of houses are bought by Dominicans abroad, and most families rely on remittances. Nueba Yol wrestles with the quandary of leaving an unstable country and finding a place within the diaspora.

Fellito’s America

Nueba Yol

The analysis and criticism of the American Dream is split between two aspects: the allure of unimaginable riches & the honor of hard work. The seductive allure is well represented by Balbuena’s friend, Fellito, who got him into the country. Fellito introduces him to America while at the same time corrupting him. While still in the Dominican Republic, Fellito takes Balbuena to the US consul’s luxurious house, a taste of the kind of money he can make once he gets to the US. and viewed as a corrupting and laughable element of American society.

Later when they get to the US, Balbuena realizes just how corrupt Fellito is as he is wrapped up in the drug business. Balbuena cuts ties with him and the next time he sees him, he is alone, on the run from fatal mistakes he has made. Fellito represents the economics and politics that tend to alienate migrants from their countries of origin. Fellito is no longer in contact with any of his old friends from the DR precisely because he has let the seductive luxuries take him in and spit him out.

Hard Work vs Overwork

Nueba Yol

While Balbuena is too honorable to become a drug dealer like some, he is not totally in love with the American idea of work. First, it’s hard for him to find people willing to hire him because of his lack of papers, and when he does find work they give him very little pay and a world of chores and tasks to do. After a while, in America, he falls less in love with the idea of coming to the US to work until he dies, and more in love with a fellow Dominican woman he meets. She is on her way out of the country. She believes she has enough money in order to achieve her real American dream: being able to live comfortably in the Dominican Republic. The film rejects the American Dream. By the end of the film, he goes back to the Dominican Republic with her and they get married. In a voice-over, he talks about the glories of the American dream but in the end, he says it is just that: a fantasy. It does not exist. This final line serves as a message to all migrants that America should not become their own dream. They should look towards building a future in their own country rather than suffer the endless overwork in the US.

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