It’s been an amazing 4 days spent in the Dominican Republic. The conference itself has placed me around some of the brightest and most insightful people who are committed to furthering the scholarship of Africana Studies and social justice. Being the only undergraduate in attendance, many people have offered a lot of great advice to me, as well as well as giving my own intellectual thoughts a more focused direction.
I also had the privilege of visiting the oldest church and road in the Americas, as well as so many other places that represent the formative years of colonialism in the western world. There is a lot of rich history in this old city, and it would be a shame to be here for 6 days and not see any of it. For Halloween, I was invited to a party hosted by Peace Corps volunteers as they spent their last night in Santo Domingo. This trip has been filled with so much hospitality from total strangers. It’s a reminder of how happy one can be when they leave the parameters of the United States, where true brotherhood is somewhat of a foreign concept.
But on my way back to the hotel, an interesting interaction took place. Three young men began to follow me. All dark skinned–more so than most Dominicans. They didn’t speak much English, but I could tell that they wanted to shine my shoes for money. I’m noticing that poverty is a very real thing in this country,and it’s not uncommon to pass individuals trying to make ends meet with a hustling gig. I told them no thank you, but one was persistent. So persistent, in fact, that he just began shining them while I was walking! At this point, my shoes were all soaped up, so I just decided to go with it.
They were friendly. “Where you from?” one asked. I told him Boston, and he gave me daps, signaling his approval. Only two of them shinned, while the other stood in the back, head to the ground. He looked as if he couldn’t have been older than 7. His clothes were more torn than the others, and his face had a sense of hopelessness that I couldn’t recognize in the others. I smiled at him, shook his hand, and asked his name. It was obvious he had been through a lot.
Through the limited English the oldest one knew, and my limited Spanish, he told me that they were all from Haiti, but crossed the boarder to the Dominican Republic one month ago. But their families, he told me, were still back in Haiti. They had to leave them behind. It became clear to me that they were all homeless, and just shining shoes to get a meal to eat, if anything.
I payed them, thanked them, and shook all of their hands. The two oldest smiled. As I began to walk away I heard a high-pitch soft voice say, “good-bye.” It was the youngest, who even managed to make a smile.
What makes this story so tragic is that these kids were fleeing one country of hardships for another that would not treat them any much better. Just two weeks ago, the Dominican Parliament amended the constitution to claim anyone whose lineage arrived after the year 1929 would not be considered citizens.
What does this mean? It means that many people of Haitian decent, but who only know the Dominican Republic, are no longer citizens in the country they claim. These are people who don’t speak any french creole, who don’t identify themselves as Haitian, but rather as Dominicans. Now, they belong nowhere. And it’s not like they can just legally flee to another country, because they no longer have passports. They are standing in a tragic state of limbo.
It’s laws like this which are the legacy of bitter tensions between the two countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Tensions that trace their roots to when Haiti first colonized and occupied the Dominican Republic in the early 19th century, and then when Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo attempted to invade Haiti and successfully massacred around 25,000 Haitians in the Parsley Massacre.This court ruling is just another step backwards with Haitian-Dominican relations.
What’s more upsetting is that this ruling to strip up to 200,000 people of citizenship was all done within the law, and therefore the international court can’t actually intervene. But just because an action is taken with the confines of the law, that doesn’t make it right. Let us not forget slavery, the holocaust, South African Apartheid, as well as the oppressive relationship between Israel towards Palestine. These were all institutions which, at one point or another, where seen as legal, and therefore just. But looking back, the world can collectively acknowledge the immorality in each of these structures and how they are direct contradictions to real justice.
Unfortunately, the present reality is not an enlightened one for the people on this island yet. So the hopelessness in that young boys face will continue to be the same hopelessness that so many other Dominicans will feel from realizing they no longer have a home to claim, either.