If You Are Black, Get Out: The Crisis of Statelessness in the Dominican Republic
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It is 1937 and Amabelle Désir, a young Haitian woman living in the Dominican Republic, has built herself a life as the servant and companion of the wife of a wealthy colonel. She and Sebastian, a cane worker, are deeply in love and plan to marry. But Amabelle's world collapses when a wave of genocidal violence, driven by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, leads to the slaughter of Haitian workers. Amabelle and Sebastian are separated, and she desperately flees the tide of violence for a Haiti she barely remembers.
Already acknowledged as a classic, this harrowing story of love and survival—from one of the most important voices of her generation—is an unforgettable memorial to the victims of the Parsley Massacre and a testimony to the power of human memory.
Academic scholars are exploring the roots of racial antipathy and anti-Haitian sentiments in the DR as well, among them are Silvio Torres-Saillant, author of " The Tribulations of Blackness: Stages in Dominican Racial Identity." Torres-Saillant is currently teaching at Syracuse University, and was the the first director of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute. For a deeper understanding of " antihaitianismo", Dr. Ernesto Sagás, currently associate professor of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University, published Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic.
Kudos to our universities who are teaching journalism. Students from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University traveled to the border between the DR and Haiti in 2011 and produced this documentary.
They are led by Rick Rodriguez, the school’s Carnegie Professor of Journalism, and Jason Manning, director of Student Media.
The project is part of a depth reporting class taught by Rodriguez. Students spent the first part of the semester preparing for the trip by researching the issue of stateless people in the Dominican Republic, a subject Rodriguez called “timely and important,” in part because of a debate in the United States over the citizenship status of children born to undocumented immigrants.
The Dominican Republic revoked birthright citizenship last year. Previously, individuals born in the country were automatically considered citizens. The new law prevents individuals born to people residing in the country illegally from obtaining identification documents, limiting access to important services, such as education, health care and housing.
A majority of my Latino/a students at my university are of Dominican heritage. We struggle each semester with the complicated issues of race and ethnicity in the DR, which though listed demographically as "mixed 73%, white 16%, black 11%." Those who have been raised to think of themselves as "mixed" or mulatto attribute their brown skin color to being "indio" (Taino ancestry), most denying having African ancestry. They point to Haitians as "blacks," and though most are several shades darker than I am, dub their skin color "dark-Indian." We have very lively discussions about the Dominican obsession with hair-straightening, since kinky hair texture is one of the phenotypic markers of African ancestry.
Haitians are also linked to and stigmatized in the DR by the practice of Voudou, while Dominicans mask the same African diasporic practices under a different name. Another legacy from Trujillo:
What many Dominicans are loath to admit is that they practice a form of voudou although even practitioners are hesitant to call it as much. They prefer Devocion de los Misterios or Las 21 Divisions, a reference to the twenty-one families of African-derived and creole spiritual entities that, in exchange for gifts, confer blessings, such as good health and protection. In reality, the practice shares much with Haitian voudou but the rejection of the voudou label reflects the Dominican resistance to identify with anything associated with Haitians. While the country’s anti-voudou history continues to affect how Dominicans see the practice and, by extension, Haitians, there is also a prominent practice within Dominican society. Martha Ellen Davis, a Santo Domingo-based anthropologist who has written widely on religion in the Dominican Republic, says the practice of 21 Divisions is increasing. “Why? Maybe because people are looking more for answers to real world problems, to every day problems,” she says.
What is being done and how can you help?