After decades of enslavement and abuse by white planters, the emergence of an autonomous Haitian state sought to derail its people from continuing on a path of destruction. With this attempt to instill a brighter future came several unprecedented events, including a successful slave revolution that resulted in a nation, the establishment of a Latin American state as a safe haven for the globally enslaved, and an acceptance of an identity that embraced indigenous culture and blackness. While this progressive revolution for independence on the surface appears to be a symbolic victory for the victims of oppression and racism worldwide, patterns of exploitation internally only continued to unfold, as did racist anti-Haitian sentiment in the Dominican Republic. Ultimately, the progressiveness and racial pride associated with the Haitian Revolution did not allow the Haitian people to escape immense suffering.
Actually, the culture that developed under the Haitian Revolution—based on pride in blackness—only worked to establish an interesting juxtaposition between Haiti and the Dominican Republic that was ultimately used by the Trujillo dictatorship to ensue a racial genocide. While both nations are descendants of the European settlers and enslaved Africans, the two could not be more different in how their views on race developed. While the Dominican Republic has consistently embraced the belief that Europeans and whites equated ideal human beings, Haitians began to view themselves as products of colonization. They carried little shame when it came to expressing their ties to African culture, and actively embraced Haitian Vodou and their combinatorial language known as Haitian creole, which incorporates French and vernacular African languages.
Interestingly, Haiti’s vision for a proud, independent state that symbolized victory for the oppressed was unwavering—they envisioned the same attitude of racial pride to develop for the entire island, including the Dominican side.
But even early in the Haitian Revolution, a metaphorical border was constructed based on race that played a role in the solidification of what it meant to be a Dominican. General Jean Louis Ferrand, an active anti-Haitian, specifically used racial ideology to foster a national identity for all Dominicans, and he did so by waging war against Haitians. He encouraged the capture of the city of Santo Domingo, and issued a decree granting the right to cross the border and kidnap Haitians under a certain age so that they could serve as slaves. He also armed boats to chase and destroy Haitian ships in order to limit Haiti’s ability to trade with foreign nations, thus, delegitimizing its sovereignty.
This decree was one of the initial events that encouraged the essential destruction of the Haitian people by the Dominican Republic. These actions illustrate early disdain of the Haitian culture, and knowingly because of its maverick associations with racial pride. Furthermore, the connection that the French general had to the capital of the Dominican Republic is symbolic of the more cherished relationship with whites that Dominicans have, and the need to appear European in the Dominican Republic—even though such associations perpetuated the right to brutalize the Haitian people.
Trujillo is another political leader who molded a precursor to national identity by invoking disdain of the Haitian nationality. In fact, the Dominican Republic’s national identity grew during this time, as while a border did exist between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, it was never truly solidified until Trujillo invoked racial ideology to militaristically lead a genocidal massacre against the proud Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.
During his rule, fictional narratives began to develop to validate discrimination, such as one myth suggesting Haitians had once attempted to conquer the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, this genocidal massacre, completely political in its initiation, led to the racial ideology that the Spanish race was pure, while blacks were the antithesis of ideal, and thus, the antithesis of Dominican pride. Racial ideology managed to transcend into Dominican national identity in this way, by calling all Dominicans to strive to purify the race and remain shameful of blackness.
One Dominican individual, Carlos Perez, says of Haiti, “It has influenced the racial standards of the Dominican people” (“Mirrors of the Heart” Documentary). He continues, speaking of the intertwined nature of racial ideology and national identity and the desire to separate Dominicans from Haitians using race: “Anyone who is black is a Haitian. And anyone who looks like a Haitian is a black. So we’ve made a distinction between black people and Dominicans. Dominicans are not black” (“Mirrors of the Heart” Documentary). Essentially, Perez’s words summarize the lasting impact of the political use of race to establish the Dominican Republic as a distinguished, more civilized society that is distanced from the Haitian blacks.
Unfortunately, the repercussions of a history of ruthless treatment towards Haitians are felt to this day, with anti-Haitian sentiment still luring around to encourage the wiping of Haitian flesh from Dominican soil. In fact, current court rulings and laws in the Dominican Republic have echoed the hate and discrimination towards Haitians that marked the past several decades. Recently, those who were undocumented were forced to register with the government for potential deportation. Even Dominican individuals with Haitian blood were stripped of Dominican citizenship if they were unable to prove nationality, despite being culturally Dominican and having lived in the Dominican Republic for generations.
The latest attack was on children of undocumented immigrants, as anti-immigration proponents actually had the Dominican Republic’s Constitution amended to no longer grant citizenship simply to anyone born on Dominican soil. Perhaps the most devastating policy change was in 2013, when the country’s highest court ruled that all residents born to immigrant parents in the past 80 years were not qualified for citizenship. The decision automatically made a total of 210,000 Dominicans with Haitian ancestry nationless.
But surprisingly, surmounting international pressure on the Dominican government pushed plans for mass deportations to cancel, and to appease critics, a law was created allowing a path towards citizenship. Still, a majority of the people who had their identities stripped remain unable to restore citizenship, and such a dangerous political atmosphere only encourages otherwise Dominican children to not have their births recorded in the civil registry and, thus, disallow legitimate citizenship for future Dominicans with Haitian identity. Essentially, the racist past inherent on the island of Hispaniola is making its way into current politics and digging a deeper hole that provisions an everlasting cycle of discrimination and animosity.
While the history of differing national identities cuts so deeply through the island and will always play a role in the domestic attitude of the Dominican Republic, there needs to be an increase in both the global awareness of this issue and the pressure placed on the Dominican government. Potential solutions include an embrace of more generous policies and attention on eradicating the intense racism and hatred that has been propagated from the ground up for decades now.