Race and Registration in the Dominican Republic

Two weeks have passed since my last post, and politics are no longer dominating the landscapes—both conversational and physical (all campaign signs and posters have been taken down). Thus, I’ve been able to focus more on other issues related to my project. One aspect of my research involves examining the evidence of anti-Haitian sentiment (“antihaitianismo”) among members of this community. I have witnessed several scathing anti-Haitian diatribes, in addition to some comments made in passing about how Haitian immigrants are causing problems and exacerbating the poverty that already exists in the Dominican Republic. Many of the arguments I’ve heard against Haitian immigration are similar to those aired recently in the U.S., such as that Haitians are depriving Dominicans of jobs because they will work for lower wages. Also similar to the debates in the U.S., the majority of those who have expressed such anti-Haitian sentiment here have assured me that they are not racist—race, they claim, has nothing to do with it.

On the topic of race, I’ve discovered some fascinating information in Social Studies books distributed by the government to all public schools, which were lent to me by a local principal. I wanted to see how Dominican-Haitian history was taught, with the idea that perhaps the education system was somehow contributing to the persistence of anti-Haitianism. What I’ve found so far, unfortunately, supports my hypothesis. I still have more reading to do, but some examples are particularly demonstrative of the overall emphasis on race and Dominican nationality. The 3rd grade book teaches children about race and racial mixing by way of cartoon renderings of “Aborigen”, “Blanco”, and “Negro” men and corresponding diagrams where students are to fill in the blanks: “Español + Negro = _________” (the answer is “Mulato”). Additionally, the language used in describing Dominican-Haitian relations is suggestively anti-Haitian throughout, asking in one section of the 6th grade book, “¿Por qué los haitianos invadieron nuestro territorio?” (“Why did the Haitians invade our territory?”).
I’ve also continued to investigate the process for registering births (often belatedly) and the requirements for obtaining birth certificates. I accompanied two parents from the community as they attempted to register their two youngest daughters (15 and 16 years old). For two days, we traveled between offices, often times receiving different instructions from each. At the mobile unit for belated birth registrations (trailers equipped with the necessary materials and staff, meant to streamline the process), I was informed that they would not process registrations for people born outside of a hospital or clinic. The girls for whom we were trying to obtain certificates were both born in their home, and therefore we were sent to a different office, where there were more documents required than what would have been necessary at the mobile unit (such as a signed, stamped paper from the Catholic Church confirming that the girls had not been baptized, the purpose of which still eludes me). I inquired as to why they no longer accepted papers like those we had from the alcalde pedáneo (a local figure charged with verifying the births in the community that occur within homes). The worker informed me that foreigners—which he later specified as Haitians—had allegedly been paying the alcalde to write on the forms that children were born to Dominican parents, in an effort to circumvent the current laws that deny the issuance of birth certificates to children born to illegal residents.
Lee Evans, MA Candidate, CLACS

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