The day that Haitians weren’t allowed
Written by: Indhira Suero Acosta
Featured image by McIninch
“Good morning neighbors, Colonel Pina wrote me, be aware with the entrance of Haitians into our neighborhood, because they have information that today there’s going to be an exodus to our country, so we would take measures, whoever has Haitians working inside the neighborhood, has to pick them up at the entrance, because we won’t let any enter, only if there’s a reason, thanks for your collaboration.”
Anger, disbelief, and sadness followed.
That message was the first thing I saw that Saturday morning, posted on my neighborhood’s WhatsApp group. The author was the president of the neighborhood board in our middle-class residential area in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Of course, I replied.
Of course, I complained.
All I could think about was the Haitian girl who has worked in my house since I was 13 years old. Or the Haitians who work with dignity to provide for their families. And then there are the Haitian students who take classes in public and private schools in the country.
I know it wasn’t enough.
The anger grew minute by minute. The replies to that message confirmed what I was afraid of: some Dominicans still think that Haitians will come to the Dominican Republic, vandalize our houses, and rape and kill our people.
My journalistic side wanted to scream and denounce what, in front of my eyes, seemed derisory and discriminatory.
Tons of questions popped up, but the main one haunted me and still haunts me to this day: how were they going to distinguish who was Haitian and who was not?
By the color of their skin?
By their incapacity to pronounce the “R” and say “perejil”?
By the thickness of their hair?
By their smell?
The issue of discrimination towards Haitians in the Dominican Republic is a delicate one. The relation between the two Caribbean countries that share the island of Hispaniola has been a tense one ever since Haitians occupied for 22 years the “Hispanic” side of the territory, from 1822 to 1844.
The occupation gave birth to Dominican independence on February 27, 1844. Since then, Dominicans are “free and independent of all foreign power.”
As well, in 1937, dictator Rafael L. Trujillo (1930-1961) ordered the killing of Haitians living along the border. The number of deaths wasn’t determined. Then-Haitian President Élie Lescot (1941-1946) calculated the death toll in 12,168, while other approaches reached 35,000.
The action was taken by Trujillo to “fix the Haitian problem.” After many claims from the international community, the dictator was ordered to pay $525,000 as a way to compensate survivors. The victims never received the money, and some people say that the Haitian bureaucracy took it.
Most of the Haitians who were in the country before the 1937 massacre arrived as cane sugar workers. Nowadays poverty and natural disasters, such as the magnitude-7.0 earthquake in 2010, also contribute to the growing immigration of Haitians to the Dominican Republic.
For example, according to the Second National Immigrant Survey (ENI-2017), “foreigners residing in the Dominican Republic amount to 847,979, representing 8.3% of the country’s total population. That volume is composed of 570,933 immigrants and 277,046 descendants.”
From the 570,933 immigrants: “when disaggregated by country of birth, the one born in Haiti is the majority, reaching 497,825 or 87.2%; the remaining 73,107 (12.8%), was born in other countries. Comparing both groups with the total national population, it can be seen that the one born in Haiti represented 4.9%, while the one born in other countries 0.7%.”
The relation grew even more tense in 2013 when the Dominican Constitutional Court ruled retroactively in 2013 “that immigrants with irregular migration status should not have been able to document their children, even though they were born in the country.”
From that decision, thousands of people with Haitian descent lost their Dominican nationality and the rights it represents. Their status remains uncertain, while the Haitian government released an executive order refusing to receive the repatriated persons.
The political tensions and mutual fears still live among Dominicans and Haitians. I’m not aware of the idea that the majority of Haitians have about us, but I know that in our country, there are several widespread beliefs about our neighbors.
In an article published by Aida Alami in the New York Review of Books, the author explains that “as politicians have manipulated racialized anxieties and fears that defy economic logic and business interests, the strain between the two countries has only intensified.”
Indeed, some Dominicans see Haitians as an example of what, for decades, they have denied themselves.
Their religious beliefs.
The term “Haitian” employed as a way to denigrate others.
The term “negro” used to offend Dominicans.
The rejection of blackness comes despite of the results of a 2016 study conducted by the Dominican Academy of History, the National Geographic Society and the University of Pennsylvania, with the collaboration of the Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE), revealing that “the Dominican population owns 39% of DNA of European ancestors, 49% African and 4% pre-Columbian,” or taínos.
As published in El País newspaper, Dominican people of Haitian descent do not differ too much from the rest of the inhabitants of a country where the majority of the population are Afro-descendants: “perhaps the use of Creole in the privacy of the house is the most differentiating feature between the children of Haitians and those who are not.”
But that is not what Dominicans see when facing their mirrors. The fear of blackness and “Haitian resemblance” manifested during 2019 on social media when Clauvid Dály won the title of Miss Dominican Republic.
The 19-year-old girl, who represented Punta Cana in the national beauty contest, was accused of not being Dominican because of her features and name. The situation led to many interviews in which she and her representatives had to state that Dály has no relatives of Haitian descent and that she was born in the United States.
In an interview with the TV show, Un Nuevo Día, the model revealed that she was a victim of bullying because of racial hatred. “There were many comments about my hair color and my skin tone … I felt terrible because all those comments pounced on me,” Dály said.
The other side
Dominicans are no strangers to immigration. Almost everyone I know has a family member living abroad.
As a child, one of my favorite games to play with the other children was to wave at the airplanes passing through the Caribbean sky. We all thought that our family members living in the United States could see us from there.
According to figures from the 2017 National Migration Profile, between 2000 and 2015, the estimated number of Dominican people who emigrated to other countries increased by almost 50%, from 880,284 to 1,304,493.
The first official racial killing in Spain was committed towards Lucrecia Perez, killed on November 13, 1992, by a group of anti-immigrants who proclaimed White supremacy.
According to the results of a survey conducted by the firm Gallup in 2018, 49 percent of Dominicans want to emigrate from the Dominican Republic.
The mere idea that 49% of Dominicans are victims of racism and discrimination saddens me. Hatred towards immigrants lives in almost every country in the world.
What happened in my neighborhood made me create what I call a “hate folder” on my Google Drive. Every time I see a racist and discriminatory message spread on social media, I capture and save it.
I still don’t know why I keep doing it.
Maybe I don’t want to wake up once again and see that Haitians are not allowed to enter.
Indhira Suero is a cultural journalist, columnist, broadcaster, press analyst and university professor. She created Negrita Come Coco, a character that promotes popular Dominican culture through social networks. She’s also an Ambassador for SembraMedia, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and content quality in digital media in Spanish in Latin America.