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The Dangers of Being a Haitian Woman in the Dominican Republic

[TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Abuse/Assault]

In the small Caribbean islands, the only two countries that share the same island are the Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Both countries have shared a long, intertwined but complicated history.

Anti-Haitianism is a sentiment instilled into the Dominican peoples from birth. This term specifies what Dominicans are told they are not, and that is Haitian. The baseless jokes and comments about Haitians are poured out from the moment you are born. Many grow up thinking this is the norm. Fortunately, as a Dominican-American, my mother never did this. Instead, she always reminded me that Haitians and Dominicans share the same history. Unfortunately, this was not the case with many of my other family members and Dominican friends from whom I would hear the first anti-Haitian comments. In fact, the racism is sewn deep into Dominican history, as independence day of the 27th of February is celebrated, the end of the Haitian occupation in 1844, instead of the Spanish Occupation, which ended in 1865.

Through out Dominican History, Haitians have been known as the people who want to take over this land, when in fact Haiti fought with their blood to free slaves and gain independence, but many nations weren’t ready to allow an emancipated slave state function well. In the early 1900s, the booming sugar business in the Dominican Republic along with the need to buy cheap sugar induced a booming cheap slave-like labor movement for Haitian sugar field workers who would do the work Dominicans would and still will not do. Many of these field workers stayed and produced families and lives in the Dominican Republic, but when the government installed the law, known as la sentencía, racial tension heightened. The law specified that anyone born in the Dominican Republic from 1929 to 2010 were all of a sudden not Dominican anymore. Therefore, many Children and grandchildren of exploited sugar cane workers found themselves in legal limbo since many were never registered in Haiti.

The catalyst event occurred in 2008, when a pregnant Juliana Deguis, born and raised in the Dominican Republic, tried to apply for a National ID, but unfortunately was denied. Therefore, she could not register her four children. In the absence for proper identification, regular activities and processes would be more difficult and outright no accessible, like registering her children for school, medical assistance. Deguis’ parents moved to Haiti in the 1970s to work in sugar cane fields. After appealing to the highest courts, la sentencía was introduced as a response.

Many Dominican-born Haitian women, like Deguis, were not able to register their children long before la sentencía due to exceedingly racist demands. In old anti-immigrant fashion and rhetoric, instead of blaming the source, the sugar field owners, Haitians are blamed for many of the economical and social issues in the Dominican Republic. When risking their lives crossing the border for slave-like wages, Haitian women are susceptible to experience physical and sexual abuse that will go unreported.

Haitian women cross the border in search of better hospital treatment, which is offered in the Dominican Republic. Many women show up paying a motorcyclist to drive them across the border to take them to a hospital in already late stages of their pregnancies where many women have yet to have a prenatal examination. In addition, many women cross the border thinking their child will be a Dominican national, but many children go unregistered in neither the Dominican Republic nor Haiti. Once, they cross the border, many find themselves in the difficult situation to return to Haiti. Many don’t have the funds, nor the jobs to actually return. Many Dominicans use this miniscule example to defend their racist rhetoric. The Dominican Republic provides free health care to all regardless their nationality. Therefore, many people systematically believe it is okay to treat Haitians like this, because of the poor healthcare provided to them and to all other foreigners.

Piling on the seeded sexist culture in the Dominican Republic, Haitian women are subjected to gender and racist violence. In one of the many hate crime videos that circulated, a women can be seen thrown to the ground moments before a group of Dominican men raided a Haitian community in the Dominican republic in response to the death of an 18 year old man.

The Dominican Republic, being a poor country itself, has actively engaged in dividing the Dominican people from Haitian people. Anti-haitianism is prevalent. As a community who share an island, we need to open up the dialogue on race and truly provide a better and more accurate education and steer away from the direction our former dictator, who powdered his skin to appear lighter and committed genocide towards Haitians, and his puppet president who, in his book, stated that Haitians were subhuman.

We need to oppose our normalized revisionist history that enables and somehow excuses anti-blackness and anti-haitianism. Instead of teaching students that haitians terrorized Dominicans during their occupation, teach them that Haitians just terrorized bourgeois class who longed to be the terrorizers in a slave-owning, colonial island.


[Images via x & x]


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Written by Alyssa Evangelista

Alyssa is a Dominican-American New Yorker and graduate student in Communication and culture in Paris where she also teaches English.

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