By: Amanda Alcantara, MA Candidate at CLACS
When I decided to do research on women in the Dominican-Haitian border, I sought to focus on identity, especifically racial identity. Nothing would prepare me for what I learned, what I saw, the diversity and similarity in the stories of the 25+ women whom I interviewed mostly from Dajabón, Dominican Republic but also from Ouanaminthe, Haiti. The topic of my research was changed by these narratives.
Gloria Anzaldúa writes about borderlands as a place of violence, pain, and una “herida abierta”. She wrote of the border as parallel to her own body as a woman: her body is a place of violence and pain too. The Dominican-Haitian border divided by el Río Masacre—a name that signifies a deep wound still fresh in the elder’s minds—is no different than this. The women of this particular border have their own stories too, their own stories of the type of violence that is very specific to women, and their own stories of resilience.
The border entrance from Dajabón to Ouanaminthe.
During my time in Dajabón, I met women coming up with amazing and creative ideas to get ahead in light of the economic hardships that they face on a daily basis. There’s a group of women doing artesanía with the support of different local organizations. While I was there, they held a fair presented to outsiders as being put together by different Centro Puente, La Secretaria de Cultura, y el Cluster de Turismo, to insiders the fair was actually erected by the artesanas themselves who put in the hard labor to make it happen. This fair was precisely to showcase their art, and also to sell. With recycled materials, mostly plastic bottles, they make candlestick holders, figurines, pencil holders, etc. With natural materials like higüera, they made lamps.
There’s also the women from El Centro de Madres in El Pino who are growing, producing, packaging and selling peanuts, and a bunch of other projects in local towns led for and by women.
What attracts thousands of people to Dajabón though is the bi-national market that takes place every Monday and Friday. Bi-national because it takes place right on the border in order for vendors from Ouanaminthe, Haiti to also attend. At a glance, one can deduce that many if not most of the women are Haitian or of Haitian descent. Whether Haitian or Dominican, they’re certainly almost all women, though it is rarely described or acknowledged as such. The market itself is in bad conditions, with an immense heat, and a lack of hygiene brought on by the huge amount of people cluttered in a space that has become too small. A fire in April of this year destroyed more than 40 vending spots. And yet the cheap prices and the amazing finds make it the place to be in for people from all over, and for locals to both buy and sell. Some Haitian women shared with me during their interviews that they don’t have a choice but to sell items for very low prices in the bi-national in order to sell more, and that in the market in Ouanaminthe they actually sell the clothes for more expensive prices.
The thing that is sold the most here is “pepes”: clothes donated internationally to Haiti. The selling of “pepes” wasn’t really legalized until the early 1990’s through the efforts of an organization called ASOMUNEDA of mostly Dominican women with some Haitian members. The women would go to Haiti to buy the packs of clothes (“pacas”) and sell them in different parts of the Dominican Republic.
The need to shine a light on the border via a women’s studies lens is ever-present, being in Dajabón marked that for me even more. On a personal level, words don’t exist to describe my experience listening to so many stories, but also being accepted by so many in the community so quickly. Dajabón is a tight-knit community with love and passion used as its thread. The people of Dajabón too offered me an ear, a hug, café. I couldn’t have had a better host, ally and friend than Nancy Albamiris del Rosario, or better people to work with than folks like Arelys Rodriguez, Luis Recio, Stevenson Jean Pierre or Dania Toribio who served as a friend.
There are gender-based issues that will never get any spotlight in a male chauvinist society that focuses greatly and often unconsciously on male-dominated fields and issues, whether that be the military or politics: two things that are important to the border. Still, while women are involved in both (and all), and while there are women-specific concerns, women’s narratives or concerns are still majorly excluded. A clear example was the topic of sexual trafficking of young girls which was mentioned in a conference in Pedernales, RD which I attended last week. This conference, the Fourth Annual Gathering of Cross-Border Networks of Protection for Boys, Girls and Adolescents (Cuarto Encuentro Interfronterizo de Redes de Protección de Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes), addressed the need to protect children from commercial and sexual exploitation. A less clear example is the conditions of the market itself.
With this research, I hope to shine a much needed light on the lives of women and women’s issues that exist in border towns, issues that often don’t get as much attention from activists outside the zone. I will return to Dajabón and present to local activists and organizers to hear their thoughts, feedback and ideas. The border has el rostro de una mujer. It has the face of a black woman. During my interviews I always asked the question, “How would you describe Dominican women?” and “How would you describe Haitian women?” Almost everyone responded without hesitation “courageous”.