John Paul @infantejp
Can you tell us more about yourself and where you come from?
John: I’m a high school teacher and writer from New York City. I was born in Manhattan, but raised in Santo Domingo and Yasica, Puerto Plata until the age of six. So even though I was born in the states, English is my second language. Speaking English actually gave me a lot of anxiousness in my childhood.
As a teenager I joined the Liberation Program, one of the many programs at The Brotherhood-Sister Sol non-profit organization in Harlem. This youth program changed the trajectory of my life and taught me the significance of appreciating my roots.
Since then I obtained my MFA in creative writing from the New School, which I still owe a lot of money for, taught creative writing at the college level and facilitate workshops in the city. Right now, I’m working with the Angy Abreu, Mariela Regalado, Sydney Valerio and the Dominican Writers team. The organization is providing a space for writers of Dominican descent to showcase their work through digital, print and in-person events, and invites everyone to take part in the discourse regarding the Dominican experience.
How does your background influence the work that you do with The Dominican Writers Association?
John: Like many first and second-generation Americans, I’ve always felt less Dominican than Dominicans born on the island. The same way-- I imagine-- Mexicans, Colombians, Bengalis, Egyptians and others born in the U.S. feel about those born in the “motherland.” Even though my make up is inextricably tied to the Dominican experience, I didn’t feel enough. Something shifted in my feeling of inadequacy after taking a creative writing and theory class at the New School taught by Robert Antoni.
Robert Antoni’s class was called, “Writing in the Vernacular” and unlike every other class at the New School it was diverse like New York City. I met people who were dope writers and even doper people. Egyptian-American journalist and poet, Marwas Helal, who wrote a book of poetry titled “Invasive Species,” recontextualizing the immigrant experience in different tongues and styles. I also met Errol Pierre-Louis, a Haitian- American writer, John Bengan, a Filipino writer, Keysha Whitaker, an African American writer and radio show co-host, and Phil Schochet, a Jewish American writer, among others. In that class I found the Dominican experience was the universal experience. Their stories of being the “other” had many parallels with those of Dominican descent.
In my work with Dominican Writers I want to remind people that the Dominican experience is really a universal experience. You don’t have to be Dominican to identify and connect. The island of Hispaniola, Haiti and the D.R., was the prototype for the world order as we know it today, so if you’ve ever been called the “other” or have been made to feel like “the other” it means you’re one of us and Dominican Writers is producing a space for you.
For me, writing is a healing journey. It allowed me to shed some of the truths I held on to that didn't serve me. What is the relationship between writing and growing or healing for you?
John: Yeah, I think that the work you’re doing with your book and on your Instagram reminds me that writing can be more than just a form to entertain and inform, but a way to work on one’s own healing. A lot of the stories we tell ourselves are not even based on actual experiences, but on the stories adults and others have told us about ourselves. For some of us we become dependent on the stories others tell us. We internalize these voices, sometimes they’re our parent’s or significant other’s voice, and define ourselves based on others’ perception of who we are.
For example, I meditate at a Buddhist Temple where a monk leads our meditation sessions. One day he repeated, “You deserve happiness, you deserve love, you deserve health, you deserve success…” and what was so powerful about that session was that I believed what he was saying. The fact that this voice was telling me this allowed me to accept it. Now, when I say the same thing in the first person, “I deserve this…” or “I deserve that…” it feels like I’m fooling myself. This just shows how I’ve become dependent on others’ approval.
How writing works, at least for me, is that it objectifies past moments and feelings not only for others to experience, but for me to experience again as a reader. The same story that’s in your head becomes language on paper. Once it’s on paper you can edit, revise, and tell the best story possible. If you want to tell a good story, which I think is what most of us want as writers, you’re going to want to be honest. In that honesty you might be the victim, the bad guy, the hero, or a combination. Whatever you are, whatever that is, will reveal some truth if the writing is honest. It’s this truth that heals.
Now, I don’t think it’s easy by any means. It’s like the saying that goes, “The truth will set you free…” I'd argue, however, that this saying is only half true because the second half is missing. The full saying should be, “The truth will set you free after it does whatever the fuck it wants with you.” Intentional and deliberate writing, which your book, Unlearning Survival, facilitates is challenging, but immensely rewarding.
What has been the greatest lesson you've learned on your writer's journey?
John: Being a writer requires selfishness. When I’m in production mode and going all in on my career as a writer, I lose touch with a lot of people and I’ve even lost relationships to this focus. I’ve had more than one woman tell me, “You excel in your writing, but you don’t put anything into the relationship.” I have found a correlation between my friendships/romantic relationships and my career as a writer. Each one’s success is inversely proportional to the other. The better I do in one, the worse I do in the other. This is not true of all writers, but it is the truth for me.
At the same time, I don’t take for granted that as a father I’m given the privilege to “take a break” more frequently than I would have if I was a mother under the microscope by everyone and their mother, as they say. So many women in all careers, but especially entrepreneurs and creatives, are sold this image that everything is possible and attainable and the residue of that belief is guilt.
You’ve addressed this in your Instagram stories: Mom guilt is real. In my opinion, looking at it from the outside as a man whose had it easier because women have held me down I believe this idea stems from the myth that women have to be perfect. The truth is that being a working mother is no joke and you won’t be perfect or be able to give 110% all the time or even 100% for that matter. You shouldn’t beat yourself up for it. Shit, I’m not beating myself up for fucking up as a father, but then again, I post a picture on Instagram teaching my daughter how to read and I’m father of the year. I understand that the expectations are unfair.
This is partly the reason why I’m doing this interview promoting Dominican Writers’ fundraising campaign and my reading and discussion with poet Gabriel Ramirez and Julian Randall. You could’ve been speaking with Angy or Mariela or Sydney, but from my perspective, (sidenote: Dominican Writers does not endorse or agree with most of the things I say) you’re speaking to me because I'm not liable to the expectations of a mother or a daughter.
Consider this: I had an interview with La Sala Talks on YouTube. I wanted Angy Abreu, the founder of Dominican Writers and person working in the background, to be part of it. She couldn’t because on top of a number of jobs she is also a mother. I also have a daughter, but my daughter has a mother as well as other women in the family that free up a lot of my time. Same for Sydney who is an educator and a mother. Same for Mariela who is a daughter and we know the list of expectations that come with what it means to be a “good Dominican daughter.” It towers over the two requirements it takes to be a “good son.”
Frankly, it’s easier for men. And I say this not to pander, virtue signal, or pretend that I feel guilty, but to be honest and remind those reading this that the Dominican Writer’s foundation and infrastructure is being maintained by women.
What would you tell a struggling writer?
John: Write. Mothers, mother. Fathers, father. Drivers, Drive. Colonizers, colonize. Empaths, empathize. Lovers, love. Talkers, talk. Fuckboys, fuck. Writers, write…and read.
It doesn’t matter what you do with your writing or if you monetize your writing or if anyone knows that you write. But if you want to be a writer, you write. A lot of “struggling” writers are struggling because of ghosts they’ve created in their heads. There are a lot of reasons and excuses that come with writing. If you have written and submitted a piece don’t worry about being rejected. If you haven’t written anything, don’t worry about writing some wack shit, write something first and then worry later.
You have an amazing workshop coming up about essay writing. What should we know about it?
John: Right now, I’m working on pitching an idea to the Dominican Writers team on an essay writing workshop. When we think of the essay we think of the academic five paragraph: INTRO, BODY AND CONCLUSION. However, the word also works as a verb; to try or attempt. It derives from the old French’s “essayer,” which means to ascertain or weigh. Back in the day when one of the originators of the essay Michel de Montaigne was writing an essay, he didn’t have a clear, structured outline to work from. I imagine he began writing and in the process of writing arrived or discovered some conclusion. I want a workshop that provides writers in the city the chance to experience writing an essay in that aimless way. I want writers to reach some truth through writing. I want writers “to try.” We’ll see what the team says.
Thank you, Destiny for the work you’re doing and sharing our work on your platform.
Who is he?
John Paul Infante is a leader within The Dominican Writer's Association that has facilitated a number of workshops for writers looking to enhance their skills. Some of his workshops include: The Prose Poem as Memoir Writing Workshop, where participants analyzed particular moments in their lives to condense the experience into poem form. They explored how creating a detail narrative out of pivotal experiences helps us not only understand, but make meaning out of said experiences. The We Workshop: Writing in the First Person Plural, where participants read pieces written in the "We, Our, Us" and created their own adaptations. They explored what it meant to speak for a collective, group/demographic and the limits of speaking in one voice for more than one person.
A multi-faceted creative, he has also hosted and facilitated events such as "An Interview with Domininican Writer Nelly Rosario", "The Release of El Alto by Francis Mateo", and "A Discussion with Fior E. Plasencia and Francis Mateo at the Dominican Book Fair".