Spending time with family is so important. When your family is spread across the country or across countries, that can be hard.
My parental and maternal families have one thing in common: they follow their hearts.
Unfortunately, our hearts take us to different ends of the continent, and some cases, onto other continents.
We are connected by thin threads that pull us back and forth across the varied terrain and varying cultures that spread between us.
I have come all the way to Sosua, Dominican Republic to visit my father. If not for him, I would have never come here.
It is hot and humid, and despite the small island, it gives new meaning to the phrase concrete jungle, where thick underbrush fills the lots between cement block buildings.
There is an urban beauty to the small town of Sosua, nestled in the midst of the tourists and the Dominican and Haitian residents.
Here, my father has made a home and extended our family, just as I have done on the Cheyenne-River Reservation.
Both of us are far from our roots in the heart of the mid-west Bible belt. Indiana is the medium between the tropics and the colder northern plains.
My father knows the local people who work at the Pola as well as I know the people who work at LTM.
He walks the streets with a confidence and a greeting for all of the familiar people, and knows all of the best places to eat.
Sosua has its darker side, the criminal element and the crusading tourists just as we do in Eagle Butte.
But I think we have advantages here that are not in Sosua, as poor as our counties are, and as rampant as meth and alcohol may be.
We have a freedom from harm that people in Sosua do not have. We have homes that do not require high walls fortified with nails and glass or barred doors and windows to keep people from breaking in.
We have opportunities for women in sports, work and education that are not as readily available to the women who grow up in poverty in the Dominican.
The DR is a lovely place. The beaches are clean and the water clear. The weather is almost always right for a dip in the ocean, parasailing or kite surfing.
People who work, work hard, no matter the weather, and life moves from dawn till past dusk as all of the people go about the lives they were born in to.
My visit to the DR has been eye-opening. I see how easy it is for any of us to hate where we come from and want to leave, and I see how easy it is to see what is good about our small town when compared to another place, that has its good and bad just as we do.
Like so many have said before me and so many will say after me, we learn best about ourselves and our homeland when we leave our comfort zones.
Sometimes we learn that what we once thought was awful, is actually not so bad, and sometimes we find that where we end up suits us so much better than where we began.
My Dad loves the Dominican. He loves the people he knows there. He has not forgotten his roots, but has followed his dreams and made them his reality.
As his daughter, I continue to do the same. My dreams happen to have taken me to a small town in South Dakota on the Cheyenne-River Reservation, where people are different but no different than the people my father knows in Sosua.
I have learned and believe now – even more than before – in all my relations.