On September 23rd, 2013, the country’s constitutional court handed down a ruling that would greatly change the lives of many Dominicans. With this ruling, anyone born to non-citizen immigrants between the years 1929 and 2010 would have their citizenship revoked. Because of their new status as noncitizens, these Dominicans faced deportation to Haiti; a country that they’ve never visited or have familial ties in.
As imagined, this ruling was met with great protest, and as someone who was born in the Dominican Republic, I join the many voices who stand against this decision. Although critics have many problems with the law, the greatest criticism was that the ruling was grounded in racism towards Haitians; the people who have played a major part in one of the country’s biggest industries.
My family is from the town Ingenio, Consuelo. Like many other Ingenio towns, Consuelo’s economy was based around the sugar mill. An industry that offered low pay to its workers, the sugar mills were largely avoided by Dominicans. However, many Haitian immigrants who were new to the country embraced the industry. As such, Ingenio Consuelo has a very large population of Haitian immigrants and Dominican-born Haitians.
When I was a child, my parents would send me and my brother to visit our relatives in Ingenio, Consuelo. I still have very fond memories of spending countless hours with my friends, playing games such as fruta y frutanga and discussing what was going to happen in the latest episode of Saint Seiya and Dragon Ball. Often times, we would end the day by deciding whose home we would go to and watch the aforementioned shows. It was during these visits to my friends’ homes that I learned more about them and their families. Generally, their homes all had the same layout as my grandmother’s house (couches covered in plastic, a bottle of Brugal, etc). However, one friend had a home that stood out.
When I walked into his house, I could immediately sense how different it was from the other homes I visited. The aroma in the air was thicker and the decorations that were hung on the walls were something I’d never seen. After some inquiry, I found out that the reason his home was different than the others I visited was because he and his family are descendants of Haitian immigrants. Like many Haitians, his family’s culture and traditions were heavily influenced by African traditions.
After this visit, I began to notice Dominican-born Haitians everywhere in Consuelo. I would walk down the dirt road and hear the beat of African drums, run past a house while playing with my friends and smell the thick aroma that filled my friend’s home. These are things that I think about when I see the images of people being deported out of the only country that they’ve ever known. What’s ironic about this situation is that a large portion of the Dominican population can look back in their family history and find that they have Haitian ancestry, myself included. Recently, I participated in a DNA test and found that while yes, I do have Taino Indian and Spanish ancestors, a large portion of my bloodline traces back to the Benin/Togo region of Africa. After further research, I found that most slave ships that left from this region were destined for Haiti. With my hometown sugar mill’s long history of being operated by hardworking Haitian immigrants, it wasn’t a shock that my family has Haitian ancestry as well.
With that in mind, I can’t help but think of the sheer amount of Dominicans who have Haitian ancestry and aren’t aware of it. The government says that the September 23rd, 2013 ruling was made to ensure that people were legally living in the country, but the reality is that this is the Trujillo-influenced racism of old. It’s no secret that Dominican and Haitian relations on the island have historically been rocky and it’s only made worse by the Parsley Massacre of 1937. This ruling will only deepen the divide. Since the deportations have taken place, there have been several reports of people living in camps as what Amnesty International describes as “ghost citizens.” As such, thousands of people are now stateless and do not have access to basic human rights such as health care and the ability to go to school. This is unacceptable. No government should treat its citizens in such a manner and the fact that my homeland is doing this is demoralizing. I’m proud to be Dominican, however, this decision has brought great shame to my homeland.