By Clara Galvano Rivera
Carolina Torres doesn’t know how to cook Dominican sancocho very well, and she’s OK with that because she has excelled in so many other areas that being an ace in plátano cutting is not at the top of her list. What is on her list is her passion for helping others, which started with her parents, who came to New York in 1993 from Santiago de los Caballeros, in the Dominican Republic, seeking the American Dream. “As I was growing up, my mother’s credo was “querer es poder,” Torres says. And that is what Torres has been doing her whole life. Her list of accomplishments can make your head spin, but one item on that list is especially significant. In 2008, when she turned 15, an important milestone for any young Latina woman, did she ask her parents for a big Quinceañera party with all the trimmings? No. She decided to throw a party honoring her birthday at an orphanage in her home town! Before she left NYC, she even held collections in which family and friends donated articles for the children. The smiles and happiness she witnessed that day inspired Torres and her family so much that they continue to donate to the orphanage during the Christmas holidays.
Carolina Torres is definitely special, and the above is just one example of how Torres has lived her life – and she’s only 23! As a Girl Scout, her trajectory within the organization has been stellar. She received the Silver Award, entitled “ESL Classes,” for her community work in teaching ESL to adult Hispanics in her community. The Gold Award, entitled “Take Control Today, Be Healthier Tomorrow,” given to only 5% of the girls, was given for her work in holding health fairs to promote healthy living. In 2011 she was honored to receive the “Future Woman of Distinction Award,” which came with a scholarship!
LatinTRENDS would need three pages to list all her achievements to date, but we are highlighting her work with the American Girl Scouts because it is truly exemplary.
Her biggest concern about Dominicans living here? “My aunt was funny in pointing out that I don’t know how to cook a sancocho. We do need to remember our roots. I think I do. I am rooted in our culture. I love reading Junot Díaz, I think he embodies our culture and brings me back to what I grew up with. My parents always ask me to speak Spanish at home. I love our music and especially old-school music like Antony Santos.” Aside from her travels to the orphanage, she still has lots of family in the Dominican Republic and loves it when people from all over come together to celebrate big events like weddings.
Getting back to the differences that exist between Dominicans on the island and those in New York City, what happens when you visit D.R.? “Well, the differences are definitely more noticeable when I travel there. There is definitely something about us New York Dominicans that is different – maybe it’s the loss of identity that I mentioned before, but people living on the island pick it up right away. Have we assimilated too much? You hear people saying things like ‘Oh, you’ve changed. You are not the same person you were before.’ But we really are, it’s just that we have picked up a different style. I get it. I know my Spanish is not the best. My accent is not like theirs, so they notice. I don’t want them to feel we are separating ourselves from them, but I don’t want them thinking they are better than us or that we are better than them. It’s just different here. We are all Dominicans.”
Torres has indeed done a lot and has developed a passion for helping others. She currently works under the New York State Department of Health with the Early Intervention Program as aBilingual Service Coordinator. This firecracker graduated from Stony Brook University, class of 2015 with a BS in Health Science, with a concentration in Emergency and Critical Care. She wants to continue being an active leader in the medical and health care fields, especially for children. It is evident that the passion that has fueled her life, this passion for helping needy children will figure in whatever she decides to concentrate on. She plans to pursue a masters in either Public or Global Health. Is an M.D. in her future? “I’m not sure yet,” Torres says.
LT: What is your biggest concern about Dominicans on the island and Dominicans in the U.S.?
CT: A loss of identity. We get so tied up with our lives here that sometimes we forget our traditions, even our language.
LT: How are Dominicans in NY different from Dominicans on the island?
CT: Our style and accents are different and people on the island pick that up.
LT: Are you connected to the island and if so, how do you maintain that connection?
CT: I still have lots of family on the island and love to get together with them