Watching her child march in his school’s annual Halloween parade, Mayra Betances couldn’t help but wonder, “what happens to these costumes once Halloween ends?” Parents might store the festive clothes in the closet until the following year – by which time the child could outgrow it or fancy a different ensemble. Betances developed a plan to give new life to these garments. In 2009, she conceptualized Create Happy Moments, an organization dedicated to promoting cultural exchange between the United States and Dominican Republic through the donation of used Halloween costumes to children in the D.R.
February 27 is the Dominican Republic’s Independence Day, commemorating the country’s fight for independence from Haiti in 1844. As a child, Betances likened the celebrations that took place throughout the month of February to Halloween. Children make costumes and march in parades that bring together colorful cultural differences within the country. Not all children, however, are able to afford costumes or the materials to create them.
Through Create Happy Moments, Betances collects costume donations from the U.S. and ships them to schools in the D.R. She considers this an opportunity to share the details of Dominican Independence Day with those who donate. Local Hilliard businesses sport yellow donation boxes that Betances collects herself, sorting them based on age and gender before shipping them to her cousins, who still live in the D.R., to then distribute to the appropriate schools. When we met, Betances excitedly told me about her work with this project and why the Midwest has been so receptive to this cultural exchange:
Coming to the Midwest:
🎧 Listen (2:48)
“When I came to the United States [from the Dominican Republic], I was 12-years-old and came to live in New Jersey… There were nine of us living in a small two-bedroom apartment, but we managed.”
Dressing for independence:
🎧 Listen (3:28)
“I come from a humble family, we didn’t have the means to go to the store and buy a costume… back when I was growing up, I didn’t even know that costumes were made to be sold!”
“We decided to call it [the organization] Create Happy Moments, because plainly, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re doing. We are creating a happy moment for a child who needs it.”
Life outside of New Jersey:
🎧 Listen (1:51)
“There’s just so many of each nationality on the East Coast, that you just to get be ‘stuck in your nationality.’ So coming to Columbus, Ohio… there’s just enough of us to make a Latino community… Life doesn’t only happen in New Jersey where there are so many of us [Dominicans].”
“Here in this state, you are truly going to learn about a new culture.”
A woman, first and foremost:
🎧 Listen (1:18)
“I have an identity. I don’t lose myself because I become other things. I just grow into those things. I am a woman, first and foremost.”
Visit Create Happy Moments to discover ways to donate. Additionally, an inaugural benefit will take place Friday, November 4th, 2016 to raise donations for the project. Check the site for more information.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and text are copyrighted to Leticia Wiggins. Music for introduction & interlude by The Original Soundtrack (thanks, guys!).