Damien Pascal Domenack
What is your role and area of focus here at Vanderbilt University?
I am an active citizen of Vanderbilt University and pursuing a Master of Divinity degree (MDiv) at Vanderbilt Divinity School (VDS). I am currently the Admissions Fellow, Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership Fellow and the President of the Latinx Seminarians. I also worked at the Office of LGBTQI Life as a graduate student worker and continue to facilitate TGQ, an affinity group that provides space and community for students who identify across the Trans spectrum, as well as those questioning. I also serve as a Community Oriented Result and Expectation (CORE) Committee member with the Vanderbilt University Police Department. My area of study and focus at VDS centers the hybridity, multiplicity and spiritual practice of dance as embodied theology.
How did you arrive at Vanderbilt?
I arrived at Vanderbilt as a second career student two years after moving from New York City where I worked as a multi-unit restaurant director in the restaurant/hospitality industry and as a community organizer for fifteen years. I originally moved to Nashville to open Fenwick’s 300. I went onto manage with the Strategic Hospitality group at Pinewood Social. My intention to pursue an MDiv at VDS stemmed from my need to bridge my longtime work in the hospitality industry with social justice organizing by directing my studies towards a theology of radical hospitality.
Who were the key people that influenced you and helped you on your journey?
First and foremost, mi Mami. I was also honored to work with Critical Resistance New York City, a grassroots, anti-prison industrial complex organization and am deeply influenced by Dr. Angela Davis who is a founding member and continues to be part of the work. I am continuously moved to action and reflection by Dean Emilie M. Townes whose leadership centers social justice praxis and in the “act of doing” informs the ethos of the larger university.
What do you love about being Latinx?
I love my Latinx diasporic embodiment and how our forms of expressions transgress boundaries collectively. I love being surrounded by Latinx people and taking part in sharing our own diversity in culture and creating spaces where our lived experience transcends monetary value. I found this transformative sense of belonging last summer while taking a class at the Hispanic Summer Program, a program where Latinx students are taught by Latinx Professors and are challenged academically en conjunto y en familia. I also love and extend my deep appreciation to every Latinx person who is working against systemic forms of oppression within institutions that gatekeep and pit us against other Black and Brown peoples.
What does your Latinx identity add to your role here at Vanderbilt?
My Latinx identity is intersectional, and while it exists at the forefront of my being, it actually collapses onto the multiple communities and identities I claim and am a part of. Latinx students are currently 10% of the Vanderbilt community (and growing). *I will use my prophetic voice here* My hope is that when a Latinx cultural center is finally built it will serve as a place where the Latinx Vanderbilt community can take root and further cultivate and navigate en conjunto through all the challenges, obstacles and culture shocks found at Vanderbilt.
What do you want others to know about the Latinx identity?
A question I am often asked is “why Latinx?” In 2004 members of the queer Latin-American community came up with the term Latinx to replace the -O or -A with an -X in order to move towards gender inclusivity while also lifting up Nahuatl and the many other indigenous languages of many Latin-Americans’ precolonial ancestors.
What are some key moments within Latinx history that are important to you?
My family and I moved to Southern California from Lima, Peru in 1987, during the height of the wave of terrorism brought on by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a guerilla Maoist-communist organization that deployed car bombs throughout the capital city of Lima, and brutality and violence in campesino communities. When I visited Lima this past May to conduct pre-thesis research, I visited both Lugar de la Memoria, La Tolerancia, Y la Inclusion Social (LUM) and El Ministerio de Cultura, and through their recent controversial exhibitions I learned that the country itself is facing its own trauma after being silenced for twenty six years.
What message do you have for the Vanderbilt community about serving and supporting Latinx community?
I would say volunteer and offer your skills to local organizations like the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), Justice for our Neighbors, Conexiones Americas and the Nashville Public Defenders office. The Vanderbilt community would serve their Latinx neighbors best by not having to go abroad to do the service work that is readily available in Nashville.
What mark do you hope to leave on Vanderbilt, your community, the nation, the world?
I intend to continue the work of those who came before me by continuing to reinforce the principles the Latinx community stays true to. We work en conjunto meaning in community as a collaborative with an ancestrally centered and informed moral ethic. I don’t intend to leave a mark over or against anyone or anything, I am a firm proponent of coalition building. What I do hope to leave are embodied memories of our experiential (Latinx communities’) transformative presence and expression through various art mediums.
What is a fun or interesting fact about you?
I am and will always be a Theater/Film person. I earned my double varsity letter in theater and ComedySportz (an improv comedy troupe) in high school and later transferred to the Los Angeles High School for the Arts to major in theater and film.