Dominican Attitudes Toward Haitian Immigrants Following the 2010 Earthquake and Before the 2013 Sentencing.

Author:Guilamo, Daly

The Dominican Republic and Haiti are two Caribbean countries that share the same island, Hispaniola. By virtue of their geographical proximity, among other factors, both countries' historical and present interrelationship is ridden with friction. Predominating scholarship pinpoints the friction on the Dominican rejection of Haitian migration into the Dominican Republic, both at the governmental and the mass level. As of present, both the Dominican Republic and the United States are experiencing an ultranationalist conservative wave of nativist policies that has much of its citizenry split between those abhorred and others in full support.

This article addresses the extent to which Dominican ultranationalists' hardcore anti-Haitian ideological posture resonates with everyday Dominicans in light of the earthquake's effects, from 2010-2012. Emanating from a larger body of work this article shows the responses from a survey conducted on a sample of 75 Dominicans embracing and rejecting Dominican ultranationalists' anti-Haitian attitudes (Guilamo, 144). Ernesto Sagas defines anti-Haitianism as a combination of "a legacy of racist Spanish colonial mentality, nineteenth-century racial theories, and twentieth-century neoracism into a web of anti-Haitian attitudes, racial stereotypes, and historical distortions" (Sagas, ix). It is the aim of this article to bring balance to the highly skewed scholarly discourse surrounding Dominican attitudes towards Haitian immigrants by highlighting the results of a survey conducted a few months after the earthquake within the timespan of 2010-2012. The article's ultimate objective is not to deny or dismiss the existence and persistence of anti-Haitianism in Dominican society, but to present a more nuanced picture of Dominicans' attitudes towards Haitian immigrants.

The 10 January of 2010 earthquake destroyed Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince, killing thousands of Haitians. Many Haitians, in turn, sought refuge in the Dominican side of the island, further increasing the Haitian migratory presence already there. The increase of Haitians catapulted a backlash from conservative Dominican voices at the governmental level. Immediately after the 2010 earthquake the Dominican government created a new constitution that drastically altered the Dominican Republic's long-standing immigration laws. Frances Robles in The Miami Herald reports, "In January 2010, two weeks after the quake, a new constitution took effect, denying citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants." The 'new' immigration laws strove to curtail the influx of Haitian immigrants. Stephanie Hanes in USA Today reports, "The National Assembly said the change would ensure that a rush of impoverished Haitians fleeing the quake would not claim permanent residence in the Dominican Republic."

In September of 2013, however, the Dominican government changed its legal tune and instead retroactively applied its law. The results of my survey that preceded the 2013 law partially opposes it, for many Dominicans reported that people of Haitian ancestry born on Dominican soil should be granted Dominican citizenship. Garcia-Pena explains that

the ruling 168-13 [is] better known as La Sentencia (The Judgement). Approved by the Dominican Constitutional Court on September 23, 2013, La Sentencia dictates that all persons born to 'illegal immigrants' or 'persons in transit' since 1929 will not be entitled to Dominican citizenship, and thus targets those of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic with deportation. (76) The Dominican government's law, in effect, left "tens of thousands of people...stateless, as neither country on the island of Hispaniola acknowledges them as citizens." Many Dominicans in addition to international news sites, from within and without of the Dominican Republic, protested the law.

Historical Backdrop of Dominican-Haitian Relations

Unlike most other Caribbean and Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic celebrates its independence not from a European colonial power, but its neighbor country, Haiti. The independence movement in question emerged in response to a Haitian occupation that lasted from 1822-1844. Dominicans' disapproval of the economic policies imposed by the Haitian leaders of the occupation, among other factors, led to their secession from Haiti. One of the Haitian occupation's primary purposes was to ensure that no colonial power dominated the island again and thereby reinstate slavery. From1844-1856 the newly formed nation battled the Haitian army. Haitian forces feared some Dominicans' plan on calling European colonial slaveholding countries to recolonize the island and destroy Haiti's nascent freedom from slavery. Some scholars contend that, as a result, the Dominican Republic was in effect founded on the basis of anti-Haitian sentiment.

Yet, it was only in the twentieth century that one Dominican government carried out the most violent anti-Haitian act of all of Dominican history, propelling anti-Haitianism to become part of the State's ideology. In 1937 a Dominican dictator of Haitian ancestry named Rafael Molina y Trujillo conducted a genocidal attack against Haitian immigrants residing in the Dominican-Haitian borderlands. The genocide, highly influenced by Hitler's nationalist agenda that equated whiteness with power, served to "Dominican-ize" the borderlands by seeking to import whites from Europe. To further bring the nation into the image he longed for, Trujillo deliberately hired Dominican intellectuals to create an anti-Haitian historical narrative that justified his regime's legitimacy. Trujillo created a narrative that presented him to the Dominican people as a political savior and defender of Dominican whiteness that necessitated Haitian genocide. The invented nationalist narrative sought to define Haitians as Dominicans' racial Other. The imagined other embodied Blackness, Africa, Vodou, and in essence backwardness while the Dominican Republic embodied the contrary, whiteness, Spanish heritage, Catholicism, modernity, and progress. The most befitting term to best describe Trujillo's brand of nationalism is Lauren Derby's (1994) "racialized nationalism" (496). The narrative trickled into the legal structure of Dominican society in the form of laws that legally punished anyone demonstrating cultural inclinations towards any activity resembling African or Haitian culture. Such punishments ranged from incarceration to even deportation, instilling fear in Dominicans from associating with Haitians.

Eventually the narrative spread into Dominican classrooms in the form of history textbooks socializing the Dominican masses into adopting a Eurocentric national identity that automatically envisions the Haitian nation as Afrocentric, inferior, and menacing. To this day, the Trujillo dictatorship's legacy persists and is blamed for Dominicans' dissociation or dislocation from their African heritage. Trujillo's henchmen went on to maintain power in the Dominican Republic and continued to push Trujillo's nationalist narrative. Within the context of the aforementioned history, dislocation theory, essential to Afrocentric theory, emerges and describes people of African descent distanced from a Black identity.

Theoretical Lens

Ama Mazama uses the term dislocation to describe people of African descent who reject their Blackness (220). She contends that a person of the African diaspora that suffers from dislocation identifies with European culture to the extent that they embrace racist colonial ways of interpreting their reality, themselves, and others. When a person utilizes a racist European colonial lens to interpret their own reality, they automatically view all that comprises African culture as pathological and behave in a self-hating manner; such views must be corrected by re-centering the Black person(s) in question. Yet, Silvio Torres-Saillant argues that although Dominicans may not necessarily self-identify as Black, their cultural practices, customs, and mannerisms indeed reflect their African heritage. For the Dominican elite are the ones to blame for impinging the Dominican people from openly asserting their Blackness. Because of the elite's control of the Dominican educational system Dominicans are socialized to value the historical colonial standpoint. Torres-Saillant writes:

The intellectual elites that have monopolized the conceptualization of Dominicanness are the ideological descendants of the Spaniards and white creoles who directed the colonial system in Santo Domingo. When they imagine Dominican history and the Dominican people only the experience of their [colonial] ancestors come to mind, the experience of all others, meaning the majority of the population, receiving only tangential, if any, treatment. (38) Intellectual alignment with the colonial legacy is inter-generationally transmitted through socialization processes in the public-school system which the elite control. Sheridan Wigginton studied Dominican public-school textbooks and found that through them Dominican children are socialized to marry lighter-skinned people in order to "advance" in society. The textbooks were saturated with messages that portray Blackness as the less desirable social status where blancamiento, meaning whitening, is promoted instead (191). Blancamiento refers to the notion of intergenerational "whitening" through inter-marriage and procreation with lighter-skinned people.

New Wave of Ultranationalism

Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Dominican Republic witnessed a new conservative Dominican ultranationalist intelligentsia emerge that included former political participants of the Trujillo era. Although some of the contenders changed, the philosophy and ultimate goal remained the same. No longer were the ultranationalists citing biological differences to justify Dominican anti-Haitianism. The new strategy adapted to present times uses cultural arguments based on incompatible...

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