My grandmother was born Black and poor in Trujillo’s Dominican Republic. She was only five years old when the state-sanctioned killings of thousands of Haitian migrants widely known as “the Parsley Massacre” occurred. As a means of survival, like many other poor Blacks in the Dominican Republic, my grandma worked the sugarcane and rice fields side-by-side Haitian migrants. She often told stories about the way they were discriminated against and often beaten for being Black and poor. She cried telling stories of women and girls who were sexually assaulted by the overseers of the fields and military men. In a spirit of hope and affirmation she would add, “The good thing was that we did what we could to survive together [Haitians and Dominicans] on those fields.”
The 2013 Court ruling to denationalize nearly 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent, the lynching of Henry Claude ‘Tulile’ Jean in February 2015 at a public plaza in Santiago, the mass deportations and hostility against Haitian immigrant workers are part of a long tradition and a constant attempt at “ethnically cleansing” or “whitening” Dominican society. As horrifying, infuriating and disgusting as these recent actions have been, they are not surprising to many of us who have been in the long struggle to end anti-Haitianismo/racism, and who are in the process of rethinking and redefining ourselves as part of a global community of Afro-descendants.
For too long, divide and conquer tactics have blurred our understanding of who is the real enemy. The violent processes of European colonialism and U.S. imperialism have historically utilized White supremacy and capitalism as tools for dominance, and have taught a nation, who is 70% of African descent and impoverished, like the Dominican Republic, to hate itself. The neighboring country of Haiti is an impoverished Black nation, and its people are a constant reminder of Dominican blackness and our imposed condition of poverty. Haiti, the first free Black nation in this hemisphere has had to pay an immense price for its bravery.
As a Black Dominican, and a second-generation immigrant living in The South Bronx, I cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in the Dominican Republic. The personal and collective experiences of racial discrimination, gender violence, gentrification, lack of access to basic human rights and xenophobia have resulted in my solidarity work with the Haitian community for the past 10 years. In New York City, and other part of the U.S there have always been efforts to affirm and defend the human rights of our Haitian sisters and brothers in the Dominican Republic.
Most recently, we have witnessed the efforts of young Black Dominicans and Haitians organizing and protesting as part of We Are All Dominicans and other efforts. These groups are able to connect the persecution, incarceration and killings of Black bodies in the United States with the State violence being faced by Haitians in the Dominican Republic. We need more of these efforts all over the world.
Unfortunately, many continue to promote narratives and arguments that have been created by those who benefit from the continued violations of human rights in the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere. So, who benefits from all this orchestrated chaos?
The Dominican government is a direct beneficiary, as it creates a population of second-class citizens that are left vulnerable and to whom the government is under no obligation to offer social services and resources. This also benefits a Dominican elite class that will be able to prey on this population’s vulnerability, blatantly exploit their labor and “legally” discard of the workers when they see fit. Racist Dominicans in positions of power who promote “nationalism” and are engaged in electoral politics will also benefit. They will push for citizens to forget the corruption charges that were brought on the current government administration late last year, and will call for unity to “defend” the Dominican nation from the threat of “Haitian invasion.”
The U.S also stands to benefit. The Barrick Gold Company, a Canada-based gold mining company, is currently destroying the environment and displacing poor communities. Many people in the Dominican Republic who live in those areas of mining have shown that they’ve got cyanide, sulfur, and lead in their blood. When Barrick Gold wants people off a particular land, they remove them. Now, if they are Haitian immigrants or Dominicans of Haitian descent, they can easily utilize the government apparatus to deport these communities to Haiti.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, and what is happening in the Dominican Republic is no exception. It is a reflection of a global attack on poor, Black and immigrant communities. The work is larger and deeper than we are taught to perceive. It will take the hands and consciousness of a united front of poor black people everywhere, who understand we are under attack globally by the systems of capitalism and white supremacy to defend our existence. These systems create chaos in our livelihoods constantly and consistently, and so often we are forced to react rather than respond. Some times we feel we need to choose one cause or the other. From Ferguson to Santo Domingo to Port-au- Prince, these times call for more critical analysis, radical ideas, serious strategizing and unified actions to win the war that has been waged against Black, immigrant and working class communities. We must survive together on these fields.