By Kevely Ferreira
The title of Hispaniola is reserved for one specific island that is divided in two in more than just geographical scope. On one side, the Dominican Republic and on the other, Haiti. The worlds and lifestyles of these two countries, despite sharing a geographical location, could not be more different and divided.
Despite both Haiti and the Dominican Republic gaining independence from their colonized countries, both sides preserve their sense of identity based on these origins. Haitians are proud of their Blackness, being true children of African slaves, and have historically used that as their sword to become the world’s first Black-led republic and the first independent Caribbean state. In contrast, Dominicans classified themselves as descendants of Spanish conquistadors, typically identify with Hispanic culture, and avoid being deemed as Black no matter how dark their skin tone is.
This, in part, kicked off anti-black sentiment in the Dominican Republic which progressed after Haiti, following their independence from France, annexed Santo Domingo from 1822 to 1844. Then, years after the Dominican Republic achieved its independence, racial tensions between the DR and Haiti peaked under Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship from 1930 to 1961. Known for powdering his face to lighten his complexion, Trujillo aggressively pushed for removing Haitians in efforts to “whiten” the country’s demographic. Under his regime, Trujillo ordered a massacre against Haitians along the border, based on their ability to pronounce perejil, the Spanish word for parsley. This massacre, later called The Parsley Massacre, killed up to 20,000 Haitians, in 1937.
Taking the above into account, it is no wonder why anti-blackness within the Dominican Republic still exists heavily today. Antihaitianismo, or being anti-Haitian, can be found in Dominican history textbooks, perpetuating racist prejudices and discriminatory lies/myths about Haitians or the Republic of Haiti. It’s also seen in some of the most famous works to come from the Dominican Republic, such as Joaquín Balaguer’s La Isla Revés, detailing the “historical misfortune of [having to live] next to Haiti.” Societally, there is subtle rhetoric heard in public, like narratives criminalizing and insulting Haitians, revealing that antihaitianismo is present to this day.
While there are several layers of racism within the Dominican Republic, the biggest key to dismantling these historically ingrained prejudices is to start building bridges between the opposing sides of Hispaniola by creating meaningful conversations and exploring our similarities. Paving the way for the future in ways we can control is the only way to unify the island and people with a shared heritage.
Being Latinx is not a singular race; being Dominican includes a mix of Spanish, indigenous (Taino), and African traces. As Dominicans, to deny our Blackness only keeps us in an ignorant, violent cycle of encouraging racist thinking and white supremacy.
“Dominican Fragility” must be addressed to fight against antihaitianismo. The “Dominican Fragility” test pinpoints and discusses the particular areas in Dominican culture where one might try to justify or excuse their anti-black rhetoric. “Dominican Fragility” prevents a bigger conversation from taking place because one may feel challenged by the hidden connotations of white supremacy and antihaitianismo that sometimes fuel Dominican nationalism.
Dominicans must claim their Blackness for progress to be made. After spending most of their history denying their Afro-Latinx roots and thus “othering” themselves by embracing their Spanish and indigenous “Indio” roots before their African parts, it is a vital part of creating unity between both of these nations and cultures.
Rather than feeling provoked when anti-blackness comes up as a topic, it’s important to listen to Black voices to be informed, understand power dynamics, and take into account “light-skinned privilege,” if it applies. Being a white Latinx person is a privilege that can be used to amplify Black voices and tackle racist rhetoric.
The fight against antihaitianismo is present among activist groups such as “We Are All Dominican” and Instagram page @inculturedco, dedicated to educating and fighting for a Dominican identity that isn’t rooted in prejudice. Additionally, contemporary activist groups are advocating for the rights and fair treatment of Haitian immigrants, following a 2013 ruling by the Dominican Constitutional Court that “revoked citizenship for children born to foreign parents as early as 1929,” which effectively erased birthright citizenship, and resulted in the deportation of up to 200,000 people. In 2015, Haitians and activist groups marched in protest to bring awareness to immigration rights in DR, in Miami and New York City.
In hindsight, there is no one way to solve these racial tensions. Activism is key but it is not enough unless the work is done internally and with close friends and family to shift the deeply ingrained racism that persists in the Dominican Republic and parts of the diaspora.
It is important not to forget the Black influences that have shaped much of the Dominican identity, including music (bachata, merengue), folk religions, and cuisine (mangú, guarapo). We can not deny the natural texture in our hair or the complexion of our skin — to embrace Dominican Blackness is to embrace all parts of the identity. In turn, it is our duty to preserve other Black voices and fight against anti-Blackness in all forms, including defending Haitian voices. The point is to acknowledge both Haiti and DR as they are, with their differences, but to not minimize either one for the sake of “nationalism.” It is from this perspective that we can reconstruct what Dominican pride means and stands for, without it being rooted in anti-blackness or antihaitianismo, but for what makes its people great and united in its respect.
Kevely Ferreira is a content writer who specializes in the arts, culture, and opinion pieces. She works closely with A-TYPE, an independent multimedia publication showcasing artists and style. Outside of writing, Kevely has experience in digital arts and photography.