Another Day in the Dominican Republic: Threatening Blackness in Quisqueya

Posted by Amanda Moreno – MA/MSLIS Candidate at CLACS and The Palmer School of Library and Information Science at Long Island University – Manhattan

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Graffiti on Calle César Nicolás Pensón and Avenida Máximo Gómez demanding the expulsion of Haitians from Dominican Republic. Photo by Amanda Moreno, May 2015.

I noticed the graffiti on my way to dinner the night I arrive in the Dominican Republic. Outside of what I later learned is the equivalent of a papal embassy in Santo Domingo’s upper middle class neighborhood of Gazcue, the haphazard stenciling connotes an all too common message to Haitians living on the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola: get out, you are not wanted here.

I have come to the Dominican Republic to study how race has played into national identity formation through the lens of the Museo del Hombre Dominicano, an ethnographic history museum established in 1976 by governmental decree and charged with preserving the nation’s cultural patrimony and presenting its history to the public, primarily the country’s schoolchildren. The museum has been criticized by scholars such as Ginetta E.B. Candelario for its slanted treatment of Dominicans’ tripartite cultural history—indigenous, Spanish and African—with the museum focusing primarily on the indigenous and Spanish influences on Dominican culture and national identity and only lightly touching upon narratives of African slavery and conquest. The decision to present a primarily indigenous reality of Dominican history has its roots in the country’s historic aversion to blackness.

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Diorama reproducing taíno indigenous lifeways at the Museo del Hombre Dominicano. Photos by Amanda Moreno, May 2015.

Along with the anti-Haitian sentiment present in the founding of the republic in the 1840s, negative rhetoric toward those with darker skin continued during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo from 1930 to 1961 and has most recently been veiled in the 2013 Constitutional Court decision to revoke the citizenship rights of Dominicans of foreign descent. Any person born in the Dominican Republic after 1929 whose parents are foreigners is subject to this new ruling; the largest group to be affected by this decision is darker-skinned Dominicans and Dominicans of Haitian descent. Relatedly, a 2014 law required all foreign workers to register with the government within a year of arriving in the Dominican Republic to avoid deportation. Many Haitian migrants are facing the backlash of this ruling after coming to the country for work but being unable to officially register themselves with the Dominican government and “regularize” their status.

The international community has grown increasingly concerned that these Dominicans, now officially stateless, will be summarily rounded up and deported to Haiti, a place with which most have no direct connection (for recent news articles, see: The Nation, The New Yorker, The New York Times, among others). Dominicans of foreign parentage or migrant workers who were unable to present identity documents that proved their birthplace or official work status, respectively, could face mass expulsion at any moment now that the deadline for deportations to resume has passed.

The pointed legislation coming out of the country in recent years has evoked cries of racially motivated human rights violations from the international community. Meanwhile, the Dominican government and media have called the move a way to take control of illegal immigration, and the general feeling among Dominicans is that people on the outside are being too critical of the country’s actions against what most deem a credible threat to their nation: Haitian migration. To those with political, economic and color privilege, it’s just another day in the Dominican Republic.

Check out Vice News’ reporting from the field on the last day of citizenship registration:

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