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Life on the Malecón

Life on the Malecón: Children and Youth on the Streets of Santo Domingo

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Life on the Malecón
    Book Description:

    Life on the Malecónis a narrative ethnography of the lives of street children and youth living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and the non-governmental organizations that provide social services for them. Writing from the perspective of an anthropologist working as a street educator with a child welfare organization, Jon M. Wolseth follows the intersecting lives of children, the institutions they come into contact with, and the relationships they have with each other, their families, and organization workers.

    Often socioeconomic conditions push these children to move from their homes to the streets, but sometimes they themselves may choose the allure of the perceived freedoms and opportunities that street life has to offer. What they find, instead, is violence, disease, and exploitation-the daily reality through which they learn to maneuver and survive. Wolseth describes the stresses, rewards, and failures of the organizations and educators who devote their resources to working with this population.

    The portrait of Santo Domingo's street children and youth population that emerges is of a diverse community with variations that may be partly related to skin color, gender, and class. The conditions for these youth are changing as the economy of the Dominican Republic changes. Although the children at the core of this book live and sleep on avenues and plazas and in abandoned city buildings, they are not necessarily glue- and solvent-sniffing beggars or petty thieves on the margins of society. Instead, they hold a key position in the service sector of an economy centered on tourism.

    Life on the Malecónoffers a window into the complex relationships children and youth construct in the course of mapping out their social environment. Using a child-centered approach, Wolseth focuses on the social lives of the children by relating the stories that they themselves tell as well as the activities he observes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6289-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-19)

    This book is an ethnographic exploration of life on the streets of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, as told through my personal interactions with the children and youth who have chosen to make the street their home. For over two years I served as a Peace Corps volunteer with a Dominican nongovernmental organization (NGO), Niños del Camino (henceforth, Niños), providing outreach services, including educational, medical, and legal assistance, to street children and youth.¹ The overwhelming majority of the children Niños worked with were boys and adolescent males. This was partly because of the relatively few girls and teenage females who make...

    (pp. 20-80)

    The jukebox in the corner of thecolmado(corner shop) blasted out the greatest hits of the 1980s—Air Supply, REO Speedwagon, Journey. In their best campy English, Eli and Núria sang along, the words coming out of their mouths in twisted variations. They didn’t speak English, but they knew all the mangled words to “All Out of Love.” Just seeing them hold the green bottle up to their lips like a microphone—doing a mock duet—was enough to make me almost spit my beer out through my nose. “Bravo! Bravo!” I proclaimed. “Just like I remember it from...

    (pp. 81-142)

    The word on the street is always garbled, mangled, never pure and unadulterated news. In a climate of suspicion and scarcity even the most basic of information—for example, when someone changes territory—is wrapped in double-talk and deliberate misinformation.¹ There tends to be a kernel of truth, a tiny seed of real events, in every piece of gossip that circulates, but having to peel back the layers of the fantastic or malicious to reach that seed is a daunting, if necessary job.

    Three months previously we had received reports from a number of different kids that Blue Eyes had...

    (pp. 143-182)

    In the evenings, after going through a round of the day’s visits, I would normally still be restless, needing some help to decompress. My neighborhood had punctual, daily blackouts from five at night until two in the morning—a consequence of most of my neighbors not paying their bills and having illegal electrical connections. Some nights I would sit in the candlelight, squinting to read, but most evenings I couldn’t sit in the dark after a day of outreach. I would eat my dinner of fried eggs and boiled ripe plantains and leave the apartment for an evening walk to...

    (pp. 183-200)

    Even as i was preparing to leave Santo Domingo in late fall 2006, things were beginning to change. In the last month of my Peace Corps service, the city government had begun a clean-up project of the Malecón, self-conscious of the fact that the public areas needed a facelift to match the recent investment of private developers in the area. They started with Plaza Güibia. From the beginning, the redevelopment of the plaza had moral overtones. It was not just about improving the crumbling infrastructure and providing a venue more aesthetically pleasing than the chipped concrete benches and cement tiles....

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 201-206)
    (pp. 207-212)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 213-216)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-218)