By Joseph D’Andrea
“History matters. Historians matter in terms of how they can help nations grapple with their past.”
Edward Paulino, star of the one-man show “Eddie’s Perejil,” made this point during the question-and-answer portion after his February 28 performance at the Performing Arts Center, and it perfectly encapsulates one of the primary messages he and director Samantha Galarza had set out to communicate to their audience.
Besides starring in the show, which brings together the 1937 Haitian Massacre with the Dominican-American’s experience growing up in the New York City projects, Paulino is a historian and professor at John Jay College, and the co-founder of Border of Lights, “an organization created to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the 1937 Haitian Massacre.”
The subject matter, which sees the Dominican Republic’s dictator carry out a genocide of darker-skinned Haitians in 1937, prompted Paulino to work on “Eddie’s Perejil” being that it hit close to home. As someone who had once openly embraced his family’s Dominican roots, learning more about the massacre while in college made Paulino more willing to recognize the consequences that came as a result of this racially-charged event in history.
As he says in the show: “I was a son of immigrants, a person of color and from the projects, the holy trifecta of urban U.S. disenfranchisement.” Acknowledging his own minority status played a large role in coming to terms with what the 1937 massacre represents to non-Dominicans and gave Paulino a greater sense of perspective. He makes his “unsustainable romance” with the D.R. especially clear when he comments on a time when he was treated with more open arms due to his lighter skin, while traveling to the country’s capital, San Domingo: “I had to call it quits with my relationship with the Dominican Republic, because in the D.R., I have a privilege that I don’t deserve.”
Adelphi’s Latin American and Latinx Studies (LAS) program helped sponsor the event, with some faculty speaking before the show, and others showing support in the audience. Among them was Jacqueline Olvera, an associate professor of sociology and director of Latin American and Latinx Studies.
“When the LAS program decided to bring ‘Eddie's Perejil’ to Adelphi,” Olvera said, “it did not think about a target audience. We believe wholeheartedly that every student can benefit from learning about how historical events shape who we are and want to be.”
Speaking on the importance of LAS as a whole, Olvera continued: “Whether a student is interested specifically in the regional history of Latin America or not, having access to courses that spotlight Latin America and Latinx populations gives students a meaningful vantage point for understanding how social, political, economic and cultural factors shape the opportunities of individuals in the U.S. and abroad. Equally as important, students seeking an opportunity to learn what interdisciplinarity is and how it works would do well to take LAS courses. Sitting in a class that asks students to access different disciplinary perspectives and analytical techniques to make sense of the global world can be an extremely powerful learning experience.”
Sandra Castro, associate dean of the College of Professional and Continuing Studies and a member of the LAS Faculty Advisory Committee, also encouraged students to become educated about significant historical events.
“College and a liberal arts education are supposed to be a space to learn about history beyond what we are taught in K-12 education,” Castro said, “beyond what is mentioned in the mainstream media and beyond our conventional knowledge. Historical occurrences like the Haitian Massacre of 1937 are painful reminders of violence carried out by the state and government officials in the name of nationalism, patriotism and closed borders. These are important historical lessons that are useful in the U.S. and globally… [‘Eddie’s Perejil’] is a story about border conflicts, anti-black racism, historical atrocities carried out by the state (government) against a racial minority and an island divided. It also speaks to racial/ethnic/nationalist tensions between countries, which are very much alive today.”
Bringing out even more value of a performance like “Eddie’s Perejil,” Sarah Avery, administrative assistant for LAS, emphasized that students of all majors and personal backgrounds can attend events like these in the future.
“As a theater performance, it shows the art of acting, prop selection and script writing. With the question-and-answer session following the performance, it gives a voice to the spectators to explore what appeals to them and to have direct contact with a successful performer/professor at CUNY, Edward Paulino, as well as fantastic director, Samantha Galarza,” she said. “As a historical story, it can shine a light on the past and bring about connections to discussions regarding genocide and violence. The content raises questions about borders and race, something we are familiar with in our own country. I firmly believe that this type of critical thinking is part of what the performance strives to bring to its audience.”
The LAS program is planning on making changes to grow their prominence at Adelphi, and as of spring 2023, has already made significant ground in rebuilding itself. By presenting events like “Eddie’s Perejil,” LAS has shown that they care for the education of not only young adults studying at Adelphi, but anyone who may not be aware of certain pieces of history, especially heavy subject matters that many may turn away from.