I have often written, both here on this site and across social media, about my Dominican heritage and my pride for the same.
And today I want to write something a little different that I hope you will read as well.
I grew up heavily influenced, in all that this means, by the Dominican culture. My grandfather served as an artillery specialist in the army of Rafael Trujillo, the most violent dictator in our Dominican history. Trujillo held power for 30 years, his crimes, mostly against Haitians, greatly ignored by the foreign governments and entities who sought to profit from industrialization and commerce opportunities in that country. How close were my grandparents to this man? Enough to make him my father’s godfather. I mention this to say that I know quite a bit about his ideologies.
Trujillo’s greatest cause was to “lighten the race”, a message I heard growing up my entire life, even as recent as my announcement of my engagement to my white husband. “Oh, that’s wonderful,” my father said as he smiled on, “You will help to lighten the race.” It makes me sick to my stomach to even think that anyone would think that this was my intention.
But my own black heritage is clear in simply looking at me. Ask my family about our heritage and they will claim everything from Spanish to Arabian, completely glazing over the Haitian and African influences that I know are there from my grandfather’s side.
And though the racial composition of Dominicans is diverse, it is impossible to deny (though many do) our black ancestry, much of it derived from the African slaves that were brought into the country by Spanish conquistadores after many of the indigenous people started to die off from disease and abusive working conditions imposed on them.
“Africans proved to be stronger, more solid workers and withstood a lot more than the natives ever could.” These are words I read in books as a child when learning about the history of the country while in school in the Dominican Republic. (I studied there from 7th to 12th grade.)
Over the years, Haitians have come into the country both illegally and as cheap labor for the larger corporations, both national and international. Like many low-income immigrants across the world crossing borders, many Haitians do the work that most Dominicans won’t do, such as cut sugar canes, work on farms, or clean or build houses.
Tracking down the history of my family has proven to be almost impossible because the paper trail ends after a certain point. This is because there has never been an organized system of record keeping. Like many Latin American countries, war, revolution, lack of infrastructure, and lack of funds make it impossible to sustain a system such as this in many areas of the country. Add this to the corruption of many whose responsibility is to manage, organize, and maintain the validity, accuracy, and order, and what you have is a failing system that makes it hard for anyone unable to pay “under the table” for favors to get past the red tape.
Imagine then, what it must be like for the descendents of many Haitians legally born in the country in extremely impoverished areas, who are trying to get proof of their citizenship in light of the recent demands of the government to do so or face deportation.
This broken, corrupt system, coupled with the prevalent racism against blacks, Haitians in particular, has led to a series of human rights violations by the government as well as by many Dominican citizens. I have seen videos taken by Dominicans, of Haitian-Dominicans being dragged out of their homes, tossed onto the streets like animals, being threaten with hanging, being beaten with bats, punched, and kicked, their homes destroyed and vandalized, as hateful, racist comments are yelled at them and their children. I have seen Dominican citizens do this as the police stand by and do little to stop it. And it has broken my heart and even made me cry because we are not all like this, yet the sound of our protest hasn’t been loud enough.
I feel a great responsibility, both as a travel blogger and a Dominican-American to speak up about what is happening in my country. I have promoted the Dominican Republic as a country of friendly people, where hospitality and customer service goes above and beyond. I have shared the smiles of those whom have provided me with access to experiences that have made me proud to tell the world to come and see my homeland.
I have loved sharing those things about my heritage that make me proud. But this time, I have to talk about that which is breaking my heart.
But today I am not so proud, nor am I so eager to welcome others to visit.
What is happening in the Dominican Republic is an outrageous act against a community that has been the backbone of our nation.
Some of the most graphic and jarring stories that I read as a child was the government sponsored genocide of 1937 called Parsley Massacre, where Dominican troops would ask a black citizen to say the word “parsley” in Spanish, and if there was a hint of Creole accent in the pronunciation, they would be shot on the spot. 30,000 Haitians were killed this way. We have a river, called the Massacre River, where Haitians have been known to pass when crossing the border. Over the period of 2 days, also in 1937, it is written that the river turned red as Dominican soldiers slaughtered Haitian men, women, and children whom they came across.
So often we want to move on from the past. Move forward, learn, grow, and be better. But it seems the recent events in the Dominican Republic are taking steps backwards. Steps that remind me too much of incidents I read in history books and comments and remarks I grew up listening to.
So forgive me my dear readers if this post is too political or too graphic for your liking. I know these things are not popular positions and can be a sensitive stance to take. I know that often times the general opinion is that we, as professionals, simply stay quiet and have no comment.
But this is my history, this is the country of my family, and these are my people.
And though I won’t go as far as asking you to not visit the Dominican Republic, I do want to make you aware of what is happening there now and the history behind it. Because the cruelty and abuses are not ones that I can be silent about. I know the kind of travel blogger I want to be, and though sharing the beauty of the world is definitely the most fun part of my job, if I can’t talk about the things that aren’t so beautiful especially when they affect me so personally, then I am not really sure what the point of all of this would be.
Thank you for reading.
Update: Dominicans have taken to social media to protest against the Dominican governments treatment of Haitian-Dominicans. Follow hashtag #WeTooAreDominican.
For more information, please see video below from Human Rights Watch’s article.