Dr. Marilu Maria D. Galván is the Executive Director of the Centro Civico Cultural Dominicano and has been closely involved with that organization since its founding, as well as taking part in the activities of numerous other Dominican organizations, the Dominican Bar Association, Lions Club International, and other well-known organizations. Galván and her first husband, part of the Juan Pablo Duarte Club, were both active in the push for New York City to honor Juan Pablo Duarte with the statue that now stands at Canal and Sixth Avenue. In addition to promoting and celebrating Dominican culture, the Centro Civico organizes educational events each month devoted to exploring the history and traditions of different countries around the world, "visiting a different country each month," Galván tells me, within the walls of the brownstone building on W. 145 St.
In our telephone conversation, Dr. Galván speaks with pride about her journey from Santo Domingo and the sustaining strengths her heritage has given her. "My Dominican roots have been instrumental in everything that I have done in my life. Most Dominicans are very proud, I'm no exception. I have been able to demonstrate it. I believe in demonstrating that Dominicans have the tenacity, endurance, and capacity to succeed. I believe that pride in our heritage, preserving and knowing one's culture, help us appreciate and cohabitate with and learn from other cultures."
Galván has spent her life learning and teaching. She is an educator and has been one all her life, teaching age groups ranging from kindergarten to college. From 1975 to 2002, Dr. Galvan had the opportunity to teach social studies at L. D. Brandeis High School. It was while teaching there that she began studying at Brooklyn Law School. She went away from L.D. Brandeis to be acting assistant principal at other schools, but was always warmly welcomed back, until she finally retired in 2002. She received an MA from NYU in School Supervision & Administration and was also an adjunct professor from 2002 to 2006.
Galván's interest in world affairs, world history, and other peoples' contributions to humanity is passionate. She has always been interested in the contributions of other cultures, and how we learn from other cultures. She has been fascinated by and grown to appreciate the exchange of knowledge among civilizations, cultures and people, how we learn from others and how others also learn from us.
"My mother is present in my everyday life though she passed away 18 years ago. She was the greatest influence in my life. As I attended 'el colegio' in San Cristobal and she worked as a nurse, I saw her great sacrifice to provide me with the best education and opportunities she could. My love for global history dates back to that time.
"I came to New York City in 1959, at 92nd St. Off Broadway. I was exposed to the Puerto Rican community since my mother had worked as a nurse in Puerto Rico. She arrived in 1956 at 97th and Broadway. That building was known for having a number of Dominican families, in the U.S.for political reasons. I remember that you could not speak against Trujillo. I still have my Galinde's book wrapped in newspaper."
Dr. Galván shared some of the lessons her career has taught her with me.
"One of the best lessons I have learned is that students appreciate it when you are very strict. Students will never forget that what you are doing is in their best interest, even if at that point in time they are going against your rules. At this point in my life, you cannot imagine how many students tell me, 'Dr. Galván, thank you.' The more you demand, even if they don't give you everything, they give you more than if you didn't demand. They will scream and fight but they will give it to you, no matter what. I always called them 'Mr. ' and 'Mrs.' And spoke to them formally, even when I was very young. I started in my 20s. I always respected them and also required the same from them. You can mold students. It's not easy because it is a concerted effort. It's not only the teacher; you need the parents and the community to be involved. I will call the parents if necessary. You have to demand more. You teach the students that they have to work in order to achieve.
"Any immigrant who comes here has a lot of challenges. I did not want to speakEnglish, and instead of going to high school in New York, my mother sent me to Jesus and Mary Academy in Fall River, Massachusetts. My mother was earningaround $60, but she made the sacrifice to send me there. She worked in a millinery shop making hats, on 38th between 5th and 6th avenues. She was an amazing lady. She never wasted her money and she worked hard. To this day, she is remembered every day, and her memory is celebrated annuallywith a barbecue with family and friends.She was a giving person.
"While attending Jesus Mary Academy I was placed in the academic class with the best students, my English was a challenge, but I was there. I decided that I wanted to make it. I needed to learn English, and that was one of the many challenges I have encountered throughout my life, but I have never been defeated.While at JMA, I felt homesick many times but as I told myself, everything comes to an end. That was such a great lesson, and because of that experience I have been able to face and conquer a lot of other challenges. When I was studying for exams as a teacher I thought my mind was going to explode. So I told myself: everything comes to an end. The challenges of language or of being a single parent were not easy but I kept telling myself, everything comes to an end. Therefore, I was determined that If the other immigrants are able to make it, as well as mainstream Americans, even if it takes me forever, I'm going to make it. The journey was not easy but I always had the inspiration of my family, of my mother and that drive, that consistency, to keep at it no matter what. Challenges are not easily conquered, but every time I was able to conquer one that gave me strength to conquer the next. I had to take ESL at City College and I thought, it doesn't matter, I'm going to keep at it, keep studying. Education is the key to achievement and success."
Galván finished a law degree in three and a half years while teaching and raising her children. "I was Assistant Principal at George Washington High School and then at P. S. 5 and I owe that to the fact that I went to law school. I'm proud of the fact that I was special and Dominicans are special with determination, dedication and drive to achieve and be part of the establishment through education.
"In the late '50s and '60s, there were not many Dominicans here, but those who were had a drive. The Centro Civico Cultural Dominicano was founded in 1962. These Dominicans were proud and wanted to keep their culture alive, sustain their culture so it would not disappear. At that time the number was low but the cohesiveness and love for the culture and for each other was great. Later on we moved into the numbers. We have the numbers and Dominican culture has been gaining awareness among other ethnic groups and the Establishment," to such an extent that she was recently invited to City Hall to testify in support of the future Smithsonian Institute American Latino Museum being planned in Washington, DC.
"I was there a week ago at City Hall. They asked me to go. It is a testament that the Dominican community has gained great respect from the establishment. We have a lot of Dominicans across all strata of society, including in politics. Not only holding elected office, but also working behind the scenes. Dominicans are well-respected across the nation. Dominicans are at Harvard teaching, on Wall Street at top institutions there. From being close-knit and together in the '60s, we have reached a level well beyond any expectations based on the time of our arrival in the US. We have done it in such a short time that it is amazing. I would say that people know about our culture, they know the music, merengue and bachata, and bachata is a recent development in comparison to other music. The late Oscar de la Renta, even though he made such a great impact in fashion, was always distinguished as being Dominican. That's a testament to us, how proud we are of our culture. We integrate but remain proud of own culture."
Galván has devoted her life to sharing and communicating that pride in the Dominican heritage, earning the gratitude of Dominicans everywhere. "My daughter and son were born in the US, and I have four grandchildren. Believe me, the four of them were born here in the US, and they know they are Dominican. I strongly believe that our youngsters and young adults must be awarethat they have a responsibility to our heritage, to our culture, to education, to our survival( or longevity ).Therefore, we have to cultivate and engage them. We have to entice them, involve them, and let them be part of the process, because we are not going to be here forever. Time will pass and we will pass also."