Bar Bulletin

September, 2004

SINGING THE SONG OF THE ISLANDS
By Patrick Tandy

Price
"Merengue and 'Old Clothes':
Immigration attorney Daryl Price celebrates Dominican as well as other Hispanic heritage through the Dominican Association of Maryland"

“I have no Spanish blood in me,” admits Daryl Price, an immigration attorney based in Brookeville, Maryland. “I’m African-American. My parents are African-American as far down the line as you go – no Spanish blood.”

Yet for a man with no apparent Hispanic ancestry of his own, Price speaks in inclusive, familial terms of La Asociacion Dominicana de Maryland (ADM) – the Dominican Association of Maryland, a non-profit organization designed to “express, promote and conserve” the cultural roots of Dominican immigrants living within the state – to which he devotes much of his spare time. And as well he should; in addition to his predominantly Spanish-speaking clientele, Price’s wife Virginia was born in the Dominican Republic.

“I feel so intimately involved with the culture,” Price explains. “I speak Spanish, I’m an immigration attorney – about 98 percent of my clients are non-English-speaking Latinos. In a sense, I kind of have adopted the Spanish culture almost as my own culture. I mean, I feel as Spanish as I do African-American.”

For through Price’s veins, undiluted, flows the blood of universal family.

♦♦♦

“We accept everybody,” Price says of ADM. “Anyone who wants to learn about Spanish culture, Dominican culture in particular, is invited to join our club.”

“We don’t have many members of other ethnic groups,” he admits, “but we do have other Spanish members. We have Mexican members. We also have a huge contingent from Puerto Rico. As a matter of fact, Ana and William Ramirez, who started the group back in 1989 – William is actually Guatemalan, and his wife is Dominican.

“[Membership] goes by families, not necessarily by individual members. It started with about 15 families. Today it has about 58 families.”

And for Price family is what it has always been about; he first encountered the club in 1994 at the same Latino festival at which he met his future wife.

“[ADM] started out being an educational organization, mainly for the children,” Price explains. “The idea is that once they come over from the Dominican Republic or from any other country for that matter, people tend to become Americanized. You tend to forget some of your culture, you tend to forget your language. [ADM] was intended to be a vehicle to help remember the culture and help remember the language and keep our children educated, and it’s been pretty successful. Most of our membership maintains both languages, Spanish and English, and we also hope to foster an atmosphere of education where education is shown to be important.”

ADM’s efforts to preserve the culture in the Dominican immigrant community are numerous and varied. Price and his family are most active in the club’s dance ensemble, for which Virginia also serves as dance director. Dressed in traditional Dominican garb, the club performs such traditional music as mangulina and merengue, as well as other traditional salsa music for various Latino festivals throughout the area and even the occasional dignitary, including Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.

“It’s just such a big part of the Latin culture as well as the African-American culture,” Price explains. Indeed, his array of musical props is a world of percussion unto itself, from maracas to the guira to the goatskin drum. “This one here is from my last trip [to the Dominican Republic],” Price adds, producing a tambora, a two-headed drum used to lay down the merengue beat. “That was probably about a year-and-a-half ago. I went to visit my in-laws [who still live in] the Republic. We buy costumes and props and other goods for the Dominican Club and bring them back.

Despite the emphasis placed on tradition, however, it’s not all strictly by the numbers.

“It’s not unusual for someone else to pick up a tambourine, a couple of maracas – we put on our crazy hats and just go for it,” he says. “And that’s the fun of the whole thing – you don’t have to be afraid to be who you are, you don’t have to be concerned with formalities [or of] doing the wrong thing. Whatever you want to do is the right thing.”

“I probably have something of a reputation for being kind of on the stranger side,” Price adds with a laugh. “I do things like this, and people accept me for who I am. It makes me happy.”

Naturally, there is more to ADM than song and dance; food is another important and popular cultural aspect for the club. Traditional dishes such as moro, a rice and bean dish, and ropa vieja, a shredded beef concoction whose name literally translates as “old clothes,” feature prominently in both public events as well as the club’s meetings.

“Cuisine is a really big part of what we do,” Price explains. “There are a lot of beans and rice, peas and rice types of dishes. Those are very important in the diet.”

Moreover, much like the Dominican people who, as Price so keenly observes, “don’t waste anything,” many of ADM’s members fulfill multiple rolls.

“Not only do I perform with the dance troupe, but I also give them legal counsel whenever necessary,” says Price, whose profession has proven useful for everything from the club’s articles of incorporation to helping fellow club members with immigration cases. Accordingly, Price’s experience with ADM dovetails nicely with his own practice.

“I think what I like the most [about practicing immigration law] is empowering people,” he explains. “People who don’t feel that there is a prayer or that there is hope, kind of leveling the playing field, assisting them in getting their residence and showing them that they don’t have to be living in fear, living underground, afraid that Immigration’s going to nab them.”

♦♦♦

Much like the intrepid immigrant who knows the journey does not end with those first steps on American soil, both Price and ADM have their sights set on a place just beyond the setting sun.

A place to call their own.

“We want to have a place where people who don’t speak English know that they can go and speak their tongue and that they can get the services that they need,” says Price. “We’re looking to have a place to meet…a place where our youth can go, to keep them out of the streets.”

As in many cases, the scope of possibilities is restricted only by the financial limitations. But in every meeting, every gathering held in the members’ own homes in the absence of a permanent headquarters, Price and ADM have in fact built a house every bit as solid as any steel, glass or concrete.

“I just feel happy that I’ve been welcomed into the group, as if I were Latino, and that in itself gives me quite a bit of fulfillment,” Price admits. “Being close to the community, being shoulder-to-shoulder with the Spanish community I would say is pretty much what’s driven me…that drives [me] to be with them…to help me to remember where my wife came from and help my kids to know where – partially – they came from.”

Indeed, for Price, all roads inevitably lead back to family.

“I like seeing my children become the people that they’ve become,” he explains. “[Virginia and I] want to make sure that our children not only know African-American culture, but we want them also to know Dominican culture and to learn the language. I just like to see them absorb the culture, absorb the language, and that makes me very happy.”

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