Deconstructing: La Bandera
The hoisting of the flag and the singing of the national anthem is a ritual that takes place, rain or shine, in every school in the Dominican Republic. Everyone, from the muchachos inquietos, to the busy profesores, stops and pays honor to these symbols. During my school years in the Dominican Republic, in both my elementary school in La Capital and high school in Bonao, I never once questioned it – this ritual that is performed in many countries throughout the world. Yet it is through this magazine, the research we are doing, and information people have shared with us that my critical thoughts on the highly honored símbolos de la patria have been influenced.
The Dominican flag originates from the Haitian flag. After gaining their independence from France, Toussaint L’ Ouverture continued to use the French flag which was blue, white, and red. Jean Jacques Dessalines removed the white from the flag; for him, it symbolized slavery and the oppressive race. By 1844, the colors of the flag remained but were now placed in a horizontal position with blue on top and red on the bottom. It is this flag that Duarte modified and eventually became the first flag of the Dominican Republic.
Rosa Duarte, the sister of Juan Pablo Duarte, kept a journal and in these pages it is recorded that in March 1844, the Haitian flag was removed from the front of their house. Using white cloth, the cross that still remains today was added. According to historian Ramon Lugo Lovaton, the white cross symbolized the separation, independence, and “the origin of our Spanish race and our religion;” it is only in the constitution of 1908 that it clearly states the squares are alternated. On the evening of February 27th, 1844, it was the Haitian flag that was hoisted because there was simply no Dominican flag to hoist. This is the reason why in March of that year, Rosa Duarte still mentions that Haitian flags were hung in front of the houses in the neighborhood. In the history of the Republic, it is often said that the Dominican flag was hoisted on that night but statements by both Dominican and Haitian historians along with Rosa Duarte’s journal contradict this event.
When I began my research, I was sure that I was going to find articles that identified María Trinidad Sánchez and Concepción Bona as the creators of the flag, and indeed there were several articles that made this claim. What I was surprised to find, however, was that the information differed depending on the article. Some said that the flag was created by Concepción Bona and that this was the flag that was hoisted on the night of the 27th, others claimed it was the work of María Trinidad Sánchez. But Bona and Sánchez were not the only women mentioned, María de Jesus Piña, Isabel Sosa, and the Villa sisters, were also mentioned in terms of the making of the flag. Whether it was an issue of oral history being incorrectly recorded, or information being altered by succeeding governments, we might never know.
While many of us have heard over and over again that the red color on the flag symbolizes the blood shed by those who fought for our freedom and the blue color symbolizes peace and liberty, the resources I have found often had different interpretations. In the Juramento Trinitario as well as the constitution, there is no mention of the significance of each color.
The current constitution states:
Artículo 31.- Bandera Nacional. La Bandera Nacional se compone de los colores azul ultramar y rojo bermellón, en cuarteles alternados, colocados de tal modo que el azul quede hacia la parte superior del asta, separados por una cruz blanca del ancho de la mitad de la altura de un cuartel y que lleve en el centro el Escudo Nacional. La bandera mercante es la misma que la nacional sin escudo.
Article 31.-The National Flag consists of the colors ultramarine blue and vermilion red, in alternating quarters, placed in such a manner so that the blue is towards the top of the flag pole, separated by a white cross of the width of half the height of the quarter and in the center bearing the National Coat-of-Arms. The merchant flag is the same as the national flag but without the coat-of-arms. (Translated by Luis Francisco Valle Velasco for the constituproject.org)
While the hoisting of the flag is a part of every school day in the Dominican Republic, the history of the flag and the other símbolos de la patria are often not taught. According to the Dominican government, there are exact ways in which you should use the flag. Some of them include: the flag must never touch the ground, the flag goes up at 8:00am and must be taken down at 6:00pm, and the flag should not be exhibited if it is in terrible condition, such as torn or stained. According to online sources, the Dominican government will be releasing a booklet that will provide the history of the different symbols, as well as, the correct usage of the previously mentioned. The idea of symbols and their meanings is a controversial one but to a Dominican, whether of the Diaspora or not, the Dominican flag is a symbol of pride and honor. In an upcoming article I will continue to deconstruct the flag by discussing the evolution of the Escudo Nacional. How much do you know about the flag and the other patriotic symbols?
Duarte, Rosa. Apuntes De Rosa Duarte. Archivo Y Versos De Juan Pablo Duarte. Santo Domingo: Instituto Duartiano, 2006. PDF.
Lovaton, Ramon L. “Las Dos Banderas.” Boletín Del Archivo General De La Nación 18.84 (1955): 6-25. PDF.