Dominicans protest

Source: Yanilda Gonzalez / Yanilda Gonzalez

On the morning of March 21, Ana Maria Belique, a leading activist for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent, powered through a list of demands as she and her comrades gathered in Parque Duarte in Santo Domingo for the International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Belique loudly proclaimed the collective’s demands for an end to racism and racist practices across Dominican society, trying her best to drown out the yelling of a military officer attempting to remove the group’s banner and shut down the demonstration, and the shouts and insults from a handful of Dominican ultranationalists who were shouting anti-Haitian epithets. Her comrades stood behind her, holding a massive banner that read: “El Racismo Nos Mata.” Racism kills us.

This park was chosen to evoke the spirit of Juan Pablo Duarte’s belief in justice. Duarte, the park’s namesake, is widely considered among Dominicans as one of the fathers of the country’s independence. It is believed that Duarte and his comrades planned what would become the Dominican Republic’s separation from Haiti—an independence that is considered one of the greatest feats of the nation—in the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo, now named Parque Duarte. On a regular day, Parque Duarte’s tree-lined square can be a calming escape from the Caribbean heat, and has long been regarded as an LGBTQ-friendly space in the city.

The group chose the park to make the point that Dominicans of Haitian descent, Haitian migrants, and dark-skinned Dominicans continue to be impacted by violence and other forms of injustice. Although an estimated 80 percent of the Dominican population is of African descent, Dominican national identity has historically magnified Spanish culture and ancestry and rejected markers of African heritage. In this context, the people most outwardly read as Blackface varied forms of vulnerability and exclusion.

Although an estimated 80 percent of the Dominican population is of African descent, Dominican national identity has historically magnified Spanish culture and ancestry and rejected markers of African heritage.

Women are routinely denied employment for sporting their natural curls and Afros and eschewing the preferred chemically straightened locks that constitute traditional Dominican “buena presencia.” Young Black men from urban barrios face constant harassment and violence from police. Dark-skinned Dominicans face questioning and discrimination from state authorities and vigilantes alike, who demand to see their “papers” to prove they are not Haitian. Dominicans of Haitian descent saw their own government strip them of their citizenship and deprive them of fundamental human rights. Haitian migrants, whose labor is essential to the Dominican economy, are subject to incessant discrimination, threats, and violence. In the days preceding the demonstration in Parque Duarte, a young Black Dominican activist was detained by security officials for hours until he produced his ID proving Dominican citizenship, vigilantes in the border province of Pedernales threatened Haitian migrants with violent expulsion if they did not leave voluntarily, and ultranationalists attacked Haitian students in the city of Santiago, forcing them to cut up a Haitian flag with machetes.

These are not isolated incidents, but rather part of everyday life in a majority-Black country that has historically upheld white supremacy and systematically denied the humanity of Black people. In the United States, Black Dominicans face frequent jokes and jabs that accuse them of “not knowing” that they’re Black, humor that trivializes the daily dehumanization, discrimination, threats, and violence that dark-skinned Black Dominicans and Haitian migrants must endure. The Dominican Republic holds a lot of important lessons for U.S. activists about the intersections of anti-Blackness, white supremacy, fervent ultranationalism, and anti-immigration rhetoric. These forces have not only caused untold suffering and human rights violations, they have also produced the largest population of stateless people in the Western Hemisphere.

Dominican protest

Source: Fran Alfonso / Fran Alfonso

People of color in the U.S. know that these conditions are not all that distant from our own struggles here, particularly Black U.S. folk. Our current government spies on Black activists, ruthlessly deports members of our communities, and works around the clock to deny people of color access to healthcare, quality education, voting rights, and even clean water. We must resist the use of similar destructive practices on the island.

As part of the collective We Are All Dominican, we’ve begun challenging these practices at their root. As noted, Duarte is recognized for being a part of the resistance that led to the Dominican Republic gaining independence from Haiti in 1844. It is this separation from its neighboring country, rather than its independence from Spain, that is celebrated as the moment of national independence. As a result of this historical legacy, this event continues to fuel hate-filled rhetoric and practices of anti-Blackness, and anti-Haitianism in particular, across the Dominican Republic. In an effort to challenge this practice, we have launched our #1865 campaign. D.R. regained its independence from Spain in 1865; we are using this year to provoke conversations about the roots of an anti-Black and anti-Haitian culture that continues to be perpetuated and how we, Dominicans in the diaspora and on the island, can move towards affirming all of the ways we exist.

We must stand with our Dominican siblings in calling out racism and structural violence, here and there, aquí y allá.

Pa’lante.

Amarilys Estrella, Kleaver Cruz, and Yanilda Gonzalez are members of We Are All Dominican (Todos Somos Dominicanxs), a grassroots effort based in New York City that works in solidarity with movements led by Dominicans of Haitian descent to fight for inclusion and citizenship rights and to educate and activate the Dominican diaspora to challenge anti-Haitian and anti-Black discourse.