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Why We Should Care About Dominican Expulsion of Haitians

07/02/2015 05:31 EDT | Updated 07/02/2016 05:59 EDT
ERIKA SANTELICES via Getty Images
A Haitian sugar cane worker shows an identity card as he takes part in a march towards Haitian embassy in Santo Domingo, demanding Haitian passports needed to regularize their migration status in the Dominican Republic, on October 30, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Erika SANTELICES (Photo credit should read ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images)

The immediate response to the unjust treatment of Haitian-Dominicans by the government of the Dominican Republic should be a collective one. The opposition to the slated deportation or expulsion of over 200,000 Haitian-Dominicans is a cause that needs to be taken up not only by Caribbean leaders, but also by the people living in the region and its diaspora.

Haiti has frequently been lauded for her historical revolution that led to the freedom of enslaved Africans in 1804. Haiti is also admired for its vigorous and principled support for the independence movement in South America. Historians, academics and even creative writers throughout the Caribbean have used the Haitian Revolution in their work as the backdrop to symbolize the emancipation of black people living in the diaspora. They have also used it to promote a black consciousness, which challenges a colonial system that dehumanized and berated the cultural values and practices of Africans.

Historically, the relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti have been smeared with brutality and war. In 1822, Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic emancipated enslaved Africans, but brutally mistreated and suppressed the culture of her people. The October 1937 massacre of approximately 20,000 Haitians on the order of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (known as the Parsley Massacre), further worsened relations between both nations.

In his famous novel Home to Harlem, Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay does not focus the reader's attention on the historical rift between the two countries. Instead, he intentionally uses his Haitian character Ray to dispel the negative stereotypes of Caribbean people as savages. More profoundly, McKay begins a conversation between his main characters to shed light on the significance of the Haitian Revolution.

In this way, Ray proudly reminds us of how Haiti became the first black nation to successfully fight against imperial powers to gain independence. McKay also takes the opportunity to reinsert the Haitian Revolution into history; a revolution that is often marginalized in the accounting of the Atlantic revolutions of the latter part of the 18th century.

Edwidge Danticat, a more contemporary writer has consistently engaged Haiti into her fiction. For Danticat, locating Haiti in her work is not about valorizing the revolution but rather humanizing the Haitian people. In many of her works of fiction, Edwidge Danticat underscores the struggles of the Haitian people in face of the aftermath of slavery, France's extraction of a ransom of 90 million gold francs, Dominicans' anti-Haitian racism, and economic and political instability that have made it virtually impossible for Haitians to live a decent life.

Her novel, The Farming of Bones, for instance speaks to the stories of those who survived the 1937 massacre. Danticat's novel Breath, Eyes, Memory gives us a close look into the nationalist agenda of the Duvalier regime; a government that was supported by the United States.

Not surprisingly, the work and theme of Caribbean creative writers on Haiti have always been in line with that of the region's scholars. Caribbean historian Hilary Beckles, in his article, "The Hate and the Quake: A Long History of Stolen Wealth," written after the massive 2010 earthquake retraces the exclusion and violence committed against Haitians and the consequences they have had to pay for gaining their freedom.

Beckles also reminds us that, "Haiti was isolated at birth -- ostracized and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of national strangulation recorded in modern history."

Unfortunately, history is repeating itself as Haitians, Haitian-Dominicans in this case, are yet again being denied their legal rights as citizens as was the case when colonial powers rejected their status as free or self-emancipated Africans. And Haitians continue to be removed from our social imagination.

Indeed, the Dominican Republic has resorted to its strategy of "blanquemiento" or whitening of the population, an old colonial immigration policy that aimed at exterminating the black presence. Haitians carry a strong African cultural influence which is reflected in their religious beliefs, language, carnival arts and many other cultural practices. The preceding cultural reality is no doubt in contrast to the mainstream Spanish or Iberian Catholic culture that dominates the Dominican Republic despite having a large African descended population. It is definitely the national image being used to push Dominican tourism.

As Dominica's tourism industry is a key tool used to support its false "national identity," this economic sector is the perfect area to boycott since it is one of the island's main sources of national revenue. While circulating awareness of the treatment of Haitian-Dominicans via social media outlets has served its purpose, let's also include proactive measures such as lobbying governments and pressuring foreign companies to stop investing in the Dominican Republic.

In the case of the Caribbean, people living in the region need to put greater pressure on Caricom to take swift and punitive actions. In the June 30 edition of the Jamaica Observer newspaper, an headline reads: "Caricom denies moving slowly on Dominican Republic Deportation Issues." Yet there seems to be more talk taking place on the outrageous situation than stringent measures against the Dominican Republic's violation of the human rights of Haitian-Dominicans.

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