Nick ChilesBased on the color of their skin and their African heritage, Haitians, and more generally people of African descent, have been stigmatized in the Dominican Republic, as in other countries in the Western Hemisphere, since the arrival of enslaved Africans in the 16th century. This historical stigmatization manifests itself as an ideology called antihaitianismo (anti-Haitianism), whose origins can be linked to the racial prejudices of the
Spanish inhabitants of the colony of Santo Domingo, as pointed out by Ernesto Sagás of Colorado State University. Spanish colonization in the 16th century brought sugar, slavery and also racial prejudice to the island. To be sure, it should be stated that there are many Dominicans who proudly identify with their African heritage and treat Dominicans of Haitian descent with respect.
A Deep-Seated Stigma Against Dark Skin
Dr. Ernesto Sagás, associate professor of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University, said that through antihaitianismo, whiteness came to be identified with “Dominicanness,” while “blackness” was rejected as alien, Haitian and barbaric. In this (re)definition of “race,” the Black and the mulatto masses had but two choices: to “lighten” themselves by assuming the indio identity and Hispanic culture, or to be ostracized and excluded from the national mainstream. In their development of a Dominican national identity, Dominican elites combined race, nation and religion, creating a marker of difference between Haitians and Dominicans that would pass from generation to generation, LaToya Tavernier of Framingham State University wrote in Socialism and Democracy.
The Parsley Massacre
This anti-Black, anti-Haitianness was taken to its logical conclusion under the dictatorship of Rafael L. Trujillo. In October 1937, Trujillo ordered the massacre of Haitians living and working in the border areas of the two countries. Over a period of five days, thousands of Haitians [estimates range from 1,000 to 30,000] were brutally killed with guns, machetes, and knives by Dominican troops, civilians and local political authorities, Jemima Pierre wrote on Black Agenda Report. Some were killed while trying to escape across the aptly named “Massacre River” into Haiti. The reasons for this massacre vary, but Trujillo’s anti-Blackness was key. Haitians claim it was so difficult to distinguish the Haitians from the Dominicans that the soldiers seeking Haitians needed to listen for the Haitian accent in the Spanish word “perejil” (parsley) to determine the difference between non-Black “native” and Black “foreigner.”
Dominicans Created a Stigma That Made Discrimination Easier
Dominicans created a national identity that defined Dominicans as white, Catholic and culturally Hispanic, in stark contrast to Haitians whom they characterized as being black, voodoo practitioners and culturally African, according to Ernesto Sagás. Sociologist Erving Goffman argues that stigma allows us to dehumanize people and makes it easier for us to discriminate against them. Stigmatization has enabled
Dominicans to subject Haitians to abuse for centuries.
Stripping ‘Irregular’ Migrants of Citizenship
On Sept. 23, 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic ruled that the children of “irregular” migrants born in the Dominican Republic after June 21, 1929, would be stripped of their Dominican citizenship. The ruling – which could render 250,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless – came as a result of a challenge by Juliana Deguis Pierre against the Dominican Electoral Board. The Electoral Board refused to issue Pierre an identification card. They argued that although she was born in the “national territory,” because she was the daughter of migrants in transit she did not have the right to Dominican citizenship. The decision also formalizes a process of exclusion, racism and harassment that had already construed Dominicans of Haitian descent as second-class citizens in their own country while marginalizing Haitian immigrants. In the two previous years, Haitian immigrants were the victims of demeaning raids and dragnets by the Dominican security forces, resulting in more than 47,000 undocumented Haitians being expelled from the country– more than twice the figure of 20,541 expelled during the previous year.
The Dominican construction industry over the past two decades has come to depend heavily on the work of Haitian migrant workers, but a 2013 report by ICF International found that those workers are frequently exploited and abused. The report said they are subjected to dangerous working conditions, long hours, months with no pay, forced labor, threats and physical abuse. For example, there are practices like confining workers in their workplaces to prevent them from claiming their rights from construction business owners
and evidence that the police, in cooperation with the employers, have been heavily involved in covering up
accidents and abuse. By threatening to call immigration authorities or by staging false raids, the employers avoid paying fair wages and end any attempts by workers to claim their rights.
Barred From School
Haitians Set On Fire
Many Haitians were shocked in August 2005 when a Dominican mob on the outskirts of Santo Domingo, the capital, captured four Haitian men, gagged them, doused them with flammable liquids and set them on The New York Times, leading Haiti to temporarily recall the leader of its diplomatic mission in the Dominican Republic to protest what it described as a “growing wave of racist violence” against its people.
fire. Three of the men, from 19 to 22 years old, died of their injuries, according to
False Adoptions Lead to Indentured Servitude
In hopes of giving their children a better future, some poor Haitian families arrange for Dominican families
to “adopt” and employ their children, according to a report published by the U.N. Refugee Agency. The result is usually a form of indentured servitude for the “adopted” children and adolescents. The Haitian children are never treated like full members of the family or allowed to attend school. Instead they are expected to work in the family house or businesses, often putting in long hours. The Dominican government has been reported by human rights organizations for allowing the abuse of Haitians, including child labor. However any remedial action is usually only temporary.