by Lisa Jean-Francois of Lisa a La Mode
Haitian lives matter… Or do they? This week we’ve seen the Dominican government move to deport thousands of Haitian immigrants and Dominican-born Haitians back to Haiti. As I understand it, many of these Haitians have little to no ties to Haiti, having been born and raised in the Dominican Republic, and calling themselves Dominicans.
Publicly we’ve heard the Dominican government declare that this isn’t a race issue, and that these deportations are a move to enforce their immigration laws. We’ve been hearing reports of these impending deportations for months. As a Haitian-American, hearing about Haitians in the news is never a pleasant experience, so I tried to ignore these reports as best I could.
Haitian-Dominican relations have always been poor, and Anti-Haitian sentiment is nothing new. I remember watching a news report where a Dominican man explained why he disliked Haitians. I was a small child, maybe 5 or 6 years old, and I still recall reading the translated text on the screen. “Haitians are black and dirty.”
I recall one time jokingly asking a college friend who I knew was Dominican, if she was Puerto Rican. “Well, you’re a Black African,” she said. I didn’t mind being called a Black African. After all, I am Haitian, and my features are entirely West African, but her tone gave me pause. As I looked at her brown face, skin not that much lighter than my own, full lips, and short natural hair, I asked, “Well, what are you?” “Well, I’m not black.” She said. She didn’t consider herself an Afro-Latino, and went on to say that she’s darker skinned because of her Native American heritage.
By all historical accounts, by the time African slaves arrived on Hispaniola, the island housing the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Taino Indians had died off from disease. Neither Haitians nor Dominicans are native to Hispaniola. And while yes, more mixing of the races has occurred on the Dominican side, our roots are very much the same.
I have no doubt that the flooding of illegal immigrants into any country poses problems. A problem that the Dominican officials have sought to solve, but at what cost? As Haitians we really have nothing but our pride. While much of the world sees us as people from the poorest country in the western hemisphere, dependant on foreign aid and hand outs, we see ourselves as hard-working and fiercely proud. Asking anyone, even your own family, for anything, in our culture is taboo. So the Haitians who have emigrated to DR have done so out of sheer desperation. To go to a place where they know they will face living under an apartheid system of government, is a mark of their resilience. We have and we will go to any lengths to survive.
But our survival, according to the Dominican government, is of little importance. Haitians are not welcome because they are reminders of a past the Dominican government would seek to forget. When Dominicans celebrate Independence Day, it is not to celebrate freedom from European rule; it is to celebrate their autonomy from Haiti. And I don’t begrudge them that. We were a unified nation for 22 years, and the Dominicans ousted Haitians after many hard-fought battles and bloodshed. They won their freedom and it ought to be celebrated. But if they don’t celebrate their freedom from slavery or European occupancy, it begs the question, what is it about the Haitians that they so deeply detest? If it is not a race issue, what is the issue?
The Dominican Government will say it’s about their law. Even if you are born on Dominican soil, if your parents or their parents never gained legal citizenship, you are an illegal and you must prove your citizenship or be deported. Now, this law may not raise many eyebrows if we’re talking about a few hundred, or even a few thousand individuals. But when the deportations threaten to render hundreds of thousands of people, who just so happen to be black, including children, stateless, penniless, and homeless, the lack of humanity is hard to ignore. The blatant racism is hard to ignore.
Ladies, what are your thoughts?