Haiti is in the midst of political upheaval. A resignation from the Prime Minister and protests calling for political change have created turmoil in the Caribbean nation. Tensions have risen on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. One of the first courses of action taken by the Dominican government was to increase patrolling in the border town of Dajabón in order to avoid the migration of documented and undocumented Haitians into the Dominican Republic. This has not only increased the tensions between the two countries but it has also brought to light the Anti-Haitianismo that is embedded within Dominican society.
The history between both nations is always told from the point of view of conflicts, while dismissing the collaborations. On February 27th, 1844, the Dominican Republic celebrates what historians call independence from Haiti. This oversimplification of history (fomented during el Trujillato) both justifies and fuels the nationalist and, essentially, racist feelings against Haitians. The so-called “invasion” by Haiti was actually welcomed by many in the Spanish-speaking part of the Island. A year before the Haitians unified the island, on December 1st, 1821, a group of rebels led by José Nunez de Cáceres, fought against the Spanish colonizers and was able then to gain some sort of independence. I say “sort” of independence because Nunez de Caceres did not free the slaves in what was then called Republic of Spanish Haiti. Nunez de Caceres’ plan was to unify with La Gran Colombia. However, many slaves and black descendants wanted to unify with French Haiti. When Haiti occupied Spanish Haiti territory in 1822, slaves were receptive of them.
This is something that Dominican scholar and community organizer Dió-genes Abréu explains in his book Sin Haitianidad no hay dominicanidad (Without Haitanism there is no Dominicanism). He explains that Dominican historiography has created a myth that somehow the slaves were happy. This myth states that “the black slave population in the Spanish part of the island lived happy and almost like part of the family of their masters.” Abréu dismisses this myth by stating the facts behind the Codigo Negro Carolino, a legal code of conduct that was in place in the country which outlined the differences between black slaves and white masters. Once Haiti occupied the Eastern side of the island, slaves were free and white slave owners were the ones who became disenfranchised. Abreu also writes about the contributions that revolutionary Haitians had in fighting for independence alongside Los Trinitarios against the Haitian “occupation.”
In many ways, the deliberate exclusion of Haitians as allies against slavery in the history of the Dominican Republic is severing our ability to heal from the Anti-Haitianismo that is indoctrinated in our culture. The most highlighted example of Anti-Haitianismo is that of the massacre of Haitians during Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s Masacre de Perejil. More than 20,000 Haitians were killed during this persecution that occurred in 1937.
And yet examples continue existing to this day. I will never forget witnessing a Haitian man being beaten by two Dominicanos in plain sight en Santiago’s La Calle del Sol. During another incident, I remember sitting in a carro de concho (public transportation), when a Haitian woman got on. We were the only passengers. The driver then began accusing her of being undocumented “Usted tiene papele’?” he asked in disgust; she stayed silent, clearly scared. “Estos Haitiano’ nunca tienen papele’!” I remember that she got on a few blocks before I got off and I always wonder if my 14-year-old self should’ve stayed in the car just to avoid leaving her alone with the driver. Institutional examples exist as well. A clear one is the Ruling 168-13, introduced in 2013, where all Dominicans born to undocumented parents were to be stripped of their citizenship.
The Anti-Haitianismo that is indoctrinated into Dominican culture is also a direct result of anti-blackness. A 2006 DNA study highlighted in El Listin Diario which utilized mitochondrial DNA (maternally inherited) samples of 1,200 volunteers to identify the region of the world the selected participants’ DNA originated from, calculated that 15% of Dominicans are of Taíno descent, 15% of European descent, and 70% of African descent. And yet that staggering (and beautiful) 70% is rarely represented in politics, media or entertainment. Our Afro-Latinidad is rarely celebrated; this exacerbates the disconnect with our neighboring country even though we have similarities in many aspects of our cultures, including music and religion. Dió-genes Abreu explains in the previously mentioned book that Sarandunga, an Afro-Dominican rhythm, exists because of Haitian influence. A simple look at the presence of Las 21 Divisiones and Vodou in the Dominican Republic also shows how our cultures interact in distinct ways within spiritual beliefs.
And it must interact. We share an island.
However, the Dominican elite does not want to allow it to interact. There is a “Haitian Scare” rumor that dates back to the fear of a new “occupation.” Dominicans fear that a new “invasion” will occur, and the current unrest in Haiti is reviving all of those nationalist, unjustified fears deeply rooted in anti-blackness. The Dominican government, which ranks last in the World Economic Forum list of government expenditures (read: corruption), uses this fear to pass the blame to Haitians for the country’s economic woes.
As an Afro-Dominicana who is part of the Diaspora, I can’t help but recognize the many similarities that exist between Dominicans living abroad and Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. Anti-black racist sentiments of which Dominicans are also victims, are systematically alienating Dominicans from Haitians and in turn, Dominicans from themselves. The Dominican Republic as we know it today would not exist if Haiti hadn’t led the first slave rebellion in the Americas. The Dominican Republic is alienating itself from its own culture by denying the African influences that exist within it. It is separating itself from the possibility for severing a connection that is needed in order to grow in pride, respect, and celebration of its true identity. Because in many ways we share more than the island with Haiti, we share a legacy. In many ways, because I’m Dominican, entonces también soy Haití.
*Note: This article was updated on 4/3/2015 to include more information on the quoted mtDNA study.