From Across the Street

The book Del Otro Lado de la Calle / From Across the Street takes the main character Pati, a Dominican-American girl who is visiting her Grandmother in the Dominican Republic during the summertime, on a musical exploration into one of the most widely spread Dominican folkloric musical traditions, “Los Palos.” Readers will enjoy learning about the different sounds and instruments in the culture of the Dominican Palos tradition.

As a culturally responsive, relevant, and ABAR (Anti-Biased Anti-Racist) teacher, my praxis is always evolving. One of my goals is to guide my students through the discovery of their cultural identity. This guided process is aligned with the two SEL Standards of Self-Awareness and Social Awareness, as well as our 2014 Musical Standard of Connecting specifically. 

I find that some of my students mistakenly suggest that they “do not have a culture.” This misconception is due to their limited view of what culture entails. To them, culture is colorful dresses, beautiful songs, energetic dances, yummy foods, and interesting celebrations. However, this is what we consider to be Surface Culture. As I consider implementing culturally responsive strategies in my teaching, one of the challenges that I typically encounter is how limiting the musical curriculums available to us can be. To address this, I am always asking questions and consulting cultural bearers, community stakeholders, and student family members. 

I usually start by sharing my own experiences as an Afro-Latina: my racial background, where I come from, how I continue learning about my culture, how proud I feel of it, and who I am because of it. I firmly believe that the earlier we get in touch with our roots during our development, the more likely we are to build a profound appreciation and lasting connection with our traditions throughout our lives. 

In order to facilitate my teaching, I have been researching and sharing my own Dominican cultural traditions. One of our folkloric traditions, often overlooked, is “Los Palos.”

I was raised in the town of Villa Mella. This town has a strong Palo community and is home to The Brotherhood of the Congos of the Holy Spirit of Villa Mella, which was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Unesco in 2001. By 2008 it became a part of the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Palos is a folkloric ritual tradition and a communal expression. The term “Palos” is both a genre and an umbrella term used to refer to various Dominican folkloric expressions. “Palos” also means trunk, which is what is used to make the drum instruments. This oral tradition is celebrated throughout the year, across the entire island, and passed on through generations. The tradition of the Palos music is performed by members of the community to celebrate many occasions, both sacred and secular.

The instrumentalists of the Palos, also known as Atabales, consider the instruments sacred and such instruments are typically baptized before being played for the first time.

The instrumentation of the Congos of Villa Mella includes the Congo Mayor, Conguito, la Canoita, and Maracas.

Fabricación de instrumentos de los Congos de Villa Mella. - CCE Santo ...

Each region of the island has its own Palos expressions. The most common Palos instrumentation includes Palo Mayor, Respondón, Alcahuete, and Güira.

The Salve expression uses, in addition to the Güira, the Balsié, Mongó, and Panderos. 

Instruments such as the Güira and the Canoíta are original to the Native Taino people, who were exterminated during the first European contact. The Drums are part of our African heritage, and Maracas are a constant feature in the music throughout the American Continent. 

In other words, Palos is the perfect musical representation of how the Dominican Republic came to be as well as the mixtures of our heritage, all of which make up the Dominican identity. 


Stories like these belong in our teachings today. Yet, no matter how extensively I searched, I did not find a book that contained and properly encompassed these concepts. Therefore, I decided to do some research and write it myself. The story is a composite of my experiences growing up, listening and learning about Palos, as well as my husband, Socrates, childhood’s experiences in his hometown. Creating the book granted me the freedom to write the story in the same style I would have used when telling it to my own children, who are Domincan-American.

Socrates’ musical talents brought forth the opportunity to implement cultural songs and audio. This beautifully creates a true connection between our audience and the heart of the celebration. We used his Jazz Orchestra composition “From Across the Street” as the main song, as well as individual audio representations of each instrument, recorded in the Dominican Republic by renowned anthropologist and percussionist Edis Sánchez. Socrates recorded our daughter, Astrid, narrating in English and myself in Spanish.

The story is an interactive experience where Pati, a young Dominican-American girl who is visiting her grandmother during her summer vacation, journeys through the town to the “Fiesta de Palos.” While reading the book, students join Pati in playing the maracas, as she discovers the sounds of several of the instruments present in various Dominican folkloric musical traditions. 

Our story is written, illustrated, and musicalized by Dominican artists, making it a very authentic story about our Dominican culture and traditions. 

I am grateful to F-flat for publishing the e-book for anyone interested in sharing this beautiful tradition with their elementary students. The flipbook allows you access to the story in English and in Spanish. The book is also available in print in both languages through Amazon, including a QR code that links to the audio tracks.


“La Musica Folclorica Dominicana” by Josué Santana and Edis Sánchez

“Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra.” A Doctoral Dissertation by Dr. Socrates García

Follow Wanda on Instagram @wandavgteachmusic

From Across the Street and its teaching guide are published by F-flat Books.

Wanda Vásquez García

Wanda Vásquez García is a general music educator, choir director, author of “From Across the Street/Del otro lado de la calle”, advocate, and clinician. A native of the Dominican Republic currently living in Colorado, she holds a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education from the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, the first University on the American Continent, and a Master's Degree in Music Education with an emphasis on choral music from the University of Northern Colorado. Currently, she is the general music teacher at the Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer in Lafayette, Colorado, and a Co-Coordinator Choral Database for the Institute for Composer Diversity. As a K-5 music educator, she believes that music serves as a powerful medium for fostering connections and empowering each individual to be their most authentic selves. As an author, she embraces the power of a story in order to connect with one's own roots and the diversity around us. She is passionate about the importance of increasing diversity and representation in music education from a culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining lens. Music education should engage the learners in ways that are fun, meaningful, and inclusive in order to embrace each other with respect, tolerance, justice, and a sense of belonging.

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