by Ynanna Djehuty
This week in Diaspora news has been a heartbreaking one. The long history of the Haitian-Dominican conflict has seen many episodes of human rights violations; this recent one began in 2013. The short explanation is that a law was passed some time ago regarding citizenship and the failure to prove/establish that citizenship involved the deportation of people in the Dominican Republic. I have seen many people, both of Dominican descent and otherwise, expressing outrage at pending deportation of Dominican Haitians and undocumented Haitians to the west side of the island. As a result of this rage, I think it has been difficult to get levelheaded analysis that does not automatically demonize Dominicans, suggest a pointless boycott of Dominican goods and tourism or throw around the word “ethnic cleansing” as a way to polarize the issue. What I have thought of most during this ordeal and what I have learned through becoming one of the cofounders of La Galeria is about accountability.
When I speak of accountability in regards to this situation, I bring up the fact that a lot of the world is both anti-Black and anti-poor people. More specifically, the process of colonization and imperialism in the Western hemisphere has created the perfect conditions for something like this to happen in contemporary times. Therefore, when examining the situation of Haitians being deported, a wider lenses must be used before jumping to conclusions. While researching the Dominican Republic’s history of antihaitianism, I have learned to see beyond the simplistic explanation that the sentiment was created or that the sole responsibility rests on the shoulders of Rafael Trujillo. Though he was unequivocally anti-Black during his dictatorship, he had a foundation of centuries before he came into power in 1930. My mind starts further back than that with los Padres de la Patria, or los Padres del Racismo, who were credited with the establishment of the Dominican Republic in 1844. That was a result of becoming independent from Haiti. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with fighting for sovereignity and in the same breath, the Dominican Republic became founded on antihaitian sentiments coupled with wanting to associate the country with whiteness.
This association with whiteness became important particularly when the United States was discussing recognizing the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, when the United States occupied the Dominican Republic in 1916, it strikes me as interesting that the U.S was there because the country was in danger of defaulting on foreign debt. Foreign debt is one reason the Republic of Haiti has been crippled and unable to blossom. My theory on that is to have the first Black sovereign nation in the Caribbean prosper would be detrimental to the current crusade in the world against people of African and indigenous descent. We must then be careful in our critique of the Dominican Republic and treating it as some isolated incident when there is more than just DR’s government gunning for displacing Haitians.
During this week’s reports on the situation that will essentially make hundreds of thousands of people identified as Haitians run the risk of deportation, I also came across an article about the Bahamas and the similar situation Haitians there are facing. It was from reading this that I became aware that the rest of the Caribbean has new citizenship policies and anti-immigration measures that have mostly affected Haitians. As I mentioned before, anti-poverty sentiments comes into play here; many immigrants leave their countries primarily because of economic hardship. Haitian immigrants are no different, with years of a crumbling infrastructure and a devastating earthquake in 2010 with questionable aid. In this world and particularly in the Western hemisphere, Blackness and poverty do have a mutually inclusive relationship.
It would be remiss of me not to mention some of what is influencing my reflection. In the last few months, excellent articles that discuss the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic have been published by Afro-Caribbean women. Dorothy Bell Ferrer wrote an amazing article speaking about undoing our Trans-Atlantic slave trade colonial wounds, bringing the point home that we are doing a lot of finger-pointing without looking at the entire picture. Amanda Alcantara wrote an in-depth reflection last year about the ruling in the Dominican Republic that offers some of the same historical context that this piece includes. I also have been influenced by Dr. Silvio Torres-Sailliant and his work around Dominican blackness when I first began to make sense of my own African features and roots.
At the end, as we watch this heinous situation of deportations, we must be clear about why it is happening, who needs to be held accountable and that the Dominican Republic is not made the scapegoat for anti-Blackness. As people in the United States, we must be even moreso vigilant of doing such things without including this country and the world in our analysis of the situation, not just in relation to Haiti but human rights violations across the board.
Ynanna Djehuty is an Afro-Dominicana born and raised in the Bronx. She is a midwife, reproductive health activist and writer. The focus of her work is the empowerment of women and people of the African Diaspora. A young energetic speaker with the experience of an elder expert, she utilizes her experience as a midwife and reproductive health advocate to raise awareness on maternal and reproductive health for women, highlighting the disparities in the healthcare system in the United States for women of color. In October 2009, the Afro-Dominican speaker published ‘Hija De Mi Madre’ (My Mother’s Daughter), a combination of memoirs, poems and research material focusing on the effects of race on identity. Ynanna is the co-founder and associate editor of La Galería Magazine, an online publication for Dominicans of the Diaspora. She is also pursuing certification as a Certified Professional Midwife.
*Special note: On Saturday June 19th, a group of Dominicans in the Bronx will be having a Black Lives Matter en La Republica Dominicana event to continue to raise awareness on the issue of deportations.
Further Reading and Resources:
Constitutionally White: The Forging of a National Identity in the Dominican Republic – Michiel Baud (in the essay collection of “Ethnicity in the Caribbean: Essays in Honor of Harry Hoetink”)