I am in the Dominican Republic doing 3 weeks of research in the Archivo General de la Nación in Santo Domingo. I am a third year PhD student in the Spanish Department at NYU, and my research concerns the border region between colonial Haiti and the DR (Saint Domingue and Santo Domingo) in the late 18th Century before and during the Haitian Revolution. I’ve been looking at diplomatic correspondence between the French and Spanish sides of the island, police treaties having to do with the border, and maps, with a focus on language (translation issues), slavery, citizenship, non-state actors, contraband trade and topography (how the states divided space along the border versus the reality of the situation).
I want to see how these “contested topographies” in the border region have continued to this day, as the border still simultaneously acts as a divisive yet porous wall between the two sides of this island. Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel to the sugar “bateyes” in the southwestern part of the Dominican Republic, near Baharona. The community in the bateyes is comprised of mostly Haitian families – some having been there as long four generations, yet many still without Dominican citizenship – and Dominican families who make their living in the sugar cane fields. Like on this island, there exists a border in these communities. The Spanish-speaking Dominican families live on one side (with access to running water and better amenities installed under President Balaguer’s government in the 80s), the Haitian-Dominican families live in the middle (they are completely bilingual in Spanish and Creole after one generation there), and the newly arrived Creole-speaking Haitians, who live in much poorer conditions on the outside of the community. Creole is maintained even after 4 generations of living in the Dominican bateyes, because it is the language spoken within the home and community and because of the constant influx of Haitians arriving to work the cane.
Being able to do archival work on the border 200 years ago, and seeing the topographical and linguistic divides still manifest in the sugar bateyes, have shown me how important it is for history to shed light on the present. I wonder if those Haitians and Dominicans living in the sugar bateyes in Baharona know that 200 years ago that very region close to the border was considered a “no man’s land” on the island, where maroon slaves from both the French and Spanish sides would escape (although the majority from the French sugar plantations) and establish communities known as the “Maniel” and “Bahoruco,” living in freedom and outside of state surveillance.
Posted by Nathalie Bragadir – PhD Candidate in Spanish at NYU