quisqueya

Dominican and Haitian Artists Collaborate for Exhibit on Shared History


January 27, 2015

By Lindsay Armstrong

Dominican and Haitian artists will come together for an exhibit exploring the sometimes-turbulent history between the two groups sharing the same Caribbean island.


“La Lucha, Quisqueya and Haiti: One Island,” opening next week at the Rio Penthouse Gallery, will feature works by 27 artists, including photographs, paintings, sculptures, clothing designs and live performances.

Yelaine Rodriguez, a 24-year-old Dominican-American fashion designer, is curating the show in partnership with the Haitian Cultural Exchange after spending time studying art in the Dominican Republic.

Rodriguez came up with the idea for “La Lucha” — which translates to “the struggle” or “the fight” — after attending the renowned art school Altos De Chavon. The curator, who was born and raised in The Bronx, was surprised by what she learned about Dominican history from veteran artists at Altos.
“They really educated me,” Rodriguez said. “Like about how we celebrate our independence from Haiti, but not from our colonizers. It showed me how we try to separate ourselves so much.”

She recognized the same division among the expatriate communities in New York City.

“I started researching artists and I realized that I didn’t know many Haitian artist, even though there are strong communities in Harlem and Brooklyn,” Rodriguez explained. “I realized that even in New York, we were separate.”
When she returned to the city, Rodriguez contacted Brooklyn-based nonprofit arts group the Haitian Cultural Exchange with the idea of organizing a group of Dominican and Haitian artists who could explore their shared history.

“La Lucha” is the first project to grow out of that effort.

Sable Smith, a Haitian-American artist, is contributing photographs from a larger video project she created on the role of memory in Haitian history.

“The relationship can be contentious,” Smith said of the Haitian-Dominican dynamic. “There is this tension, and sometimes that can seem like something that is almost inherited from one generation to the next.”
Smith’s piece, “Excerpts from the R&RDM Institute,” cuts up and remixes photographs and written recollections from two traumatic events in Haitian history: the 2010 earthquake and the Parsley Massacre. During the latter, tens of thousands of Haitians were killed under orders from Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Smith said she’s not interested in laying blame, but rather in revealing parts of history that often get ignored in mainstream accounts.

“This piece is not to say that Dominicans are always repressing Haitians. That’s not the point at all,” she said. “It’s about giving agency to people to tell their own stories and creating a receptacle for that.”

Carlos Jesus Martinez Dominguez, a Dominican-American artist, hopes to challenge the idea that anti-Haitian sentiment in the Dominican Republic began — and ended — with Trujillo.

“People talk about Trujillo. He was a horrible man, but he’s also our biggest scapegoat,” Dominguez said. “We sum up our anti-Haitian history by saying it was his fault, when the problem started long before he was born.”

Dominguez created an installation with a sculpture framed by a wooden crate from the Dominican Republic and coins featuring the face of Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the country’s founding fathers, who helped free the Dominican Republic from a 22-year-long occupation by oppressive Haitian forces in 1844.

Dominquez sees Duarte as a starting point for much anti-Haitian sentiment in the country.

“I’m once again trying to point the finger at Duarte,” said Dominguez, who has created anti-Duarte pieces in the past. “It’s a lot harder to talk badly about him in the DR than it is to talk about George Washington here.”

All of the artists agreed that the most important thing was to create a space where the two communities could come together and discuss these issues.

“I’m really excited about how people have been responding,” Rodriguez said. “I see that a lot of us talk about this at home, but never try to bring it out to the real world…The response shows how much we really need this space for art and to come together.”

She hopes to follow up on “La Lucha” by hosting a similar exhibit in a largely Haitian neighborhood.

The exhibit will run from Feb. 6-27 at the Rio Penthouse Gallery, 10 Fort Washington Ave. The show includes an opening reception on Feb. 6 and an artists talk on Feb. 21.

Dede Mirabal, the last surviving Mirabal sister, passed away early this month. May she rest in peace knowing that her life and the sacrifice of her sisters have empowered so many. 

¡Que vivan (todas) Las Mariposas!

Patria, Dede, Minerva, and Maria Teresa–las Hermanas Mirabal– were four public political dissidents who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. They actively organized against one of the most oppressive and bloodthirsty regimes the Americas had ever seen. All but Dede were assassinated in 1960 and the day of their murders, November 25th, stands as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. 

For years, Doña Dede cared for a museum honoring her sisters and their memory in the Salcedo Province. She also raised her sisters’ orphaned children. 

She lived to tell the story and it’s one that is a testament to how strong women are. 

Dominican Journalists Claim Death Threats For Covering Citizenship Debate

Four journalists in the Dominican Republic say they have been threatened for covering their country’s increasingly contentious citizenship and immigration debate and accuse an outspoken nationalist of calling for their deaths.
The journalists filed a lawsuit this month alleging Dominican nationalist Luis Díaz fomented the threats at a public protest. The reporters also demanded that the government address the growing trend of protesters calling for “death to traitors” during demonstrations advocating the expulsion of undocumented Haitian migrants.
One of the journalists, Juan Bolívar Díaz, said the reporters have been threatened while at the supermarket and while driving through Santo Domingo. Bolívar Díaz, who has been reporting for four decades in print and television, said he and three colleagues have been targeted for denouncing hostility toward Dominicans of Haitian descent and the country’s widespread repugnance against Haitian migrants.
“There are sectors and groups that are trafficking in nationalist sentiment,” Bolívar Díaz told The Huffington Post. “There’s racism and a historic anti-Haitianism in this country, so these people want to silence the media who are defending human rights… Some people promote a veritable apartheid.”
Dominican officials opened an investigation and interrogated Díaz, the nationalist accused in the lawsuit, last week. He was released without charges, according to news reports, though the case remains open. Outside the interrogation, dozens of protesters chanted slogans, including, “We are all Luis,” and “Death to the traitors.”


Antiblack Dominican nationalists are literally showing their faces right now. Dominican nationalists crying “death to traitors” to the reporters doing their jobs bringing attention to what these racist antiblack dogs are up to is a clear example showing how many key members of Dominican government, media and other Dominican institutions are working hard still to erase Blackness from the island and I’m not fucking here for this shit.

I’m telling ya’ll this is a Black issue, they need some bullshit reason to be antiblack and immigration is their answer. This anti-haitian sentiment is the thin veil these racist antiblack Dominicans use to cover that antiblackness. Why else would they “mistakenly” deport Black Dominicans they “confused” for Haitian and how many times did that shit happen and end in a misidentification because we aint that different!?

This isn’t just about nationalism and upholding some fake ass security to protect what these gov’ officials hardly even take care of since they make away with most the money ol corrupt fuck heads, this is about feeling justified and right in yet another antiblack crusade. It happened before, it’s repeating now.

Set in the Dominican Republic, Leticia Tonos Paniagua’s uniquely Caribbean retelling of Romeo and Juliet chronicles the love between a kind-hearted teenager, ostracized for his mixed Haitian-Dominican descent, and the beautiful sister of a local drug kingpin he’s hired to protect.

More than one million Haitians live next door to their homeland in the Dominican Republic. They are the country’s biggest minority, and face widespread discrimination despite the fact that as many as half were born there. Taking up the story of these migrants, many of them undocumented, Cristo Rey finds focus in Janvier, a kind-hearted teenager of mixed Haitian/ Dominican descent.

We meet Janvier in the chaotic streets of Cristo Rey, a crime-ridden barrio of Santo Domingo where the cops play by their own rules and turn a blind eye to the activities of those who pay them off. Proud of his Haitian heritage, Janvier shuns his lighter-skinned father and rebellious half-brother as he tries to carve out an honest existence. But he longs for a better life, free from police harassment, and enough money to reunite with his mother back in Haiti. When he gets the chance to make some extra cash playing bodyguard to Jocelyn, the beautiful younger sister of the local drug kingpin, Janvier finds it hard to refuse. But as the two develop an intense connection, Janvier is forced to make a difficult choice.

Director Leticia Tonos Paniagua brings together a talented cast of newcomers for this unique, Caribbean retelling ofRomeo and Juliet. Her leads are attractive and charismatic, but more importantly they feel genuinely plucked from the neighbourhood. With its percussive opening music, its sense of place and its depiction of a dangerous and urgent romance, Paniagua gives Cristo Rey the pulse of a hot city. 

[SOURCE: http://tiff.net/filmsandschedules/festival/2013/cristorey]

Protests Continue Against Dominican Republic Court Ruling

“Ay Bobo!” chanted the colorfully dressed singer of Kalunga, invoking the traditional call to the gods of indigenous Taíno Indians of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

Immigrants from both sides of that divided island – Haiti and the Dominican Republic – were gathered in an auditorium November 15 to protest a court ruling in the Dominican Republic that denies citizenship to anyone born after 1929 who does not have at least one parent of “Dominican blood,” effectively stripping more than 200,000 people of Haitian descent of their citizenship, as well as others who have lived as Dominican citizens for decades. The change has stirred political anger, prompting members of the band Kalunga to urge immigrants from both countries to unite in opposing it.

“If we can’t bring the island together politically, let’s do it culturally,” said members of the band, made up of Haitian and Dominican musicians. “This decision has been used to incite a backward, prehistoric nationalism,” said Estela Vazquez, a Dominican immigrant and executive vice president of the local 1199 Service Employees International Union, which sponsored the rally that drew over 100 people from both communities.

Artists painted murals depicting Haitian faces and clenched fists on large Dominican flags. In English, Spanish and Creole, firebrand keynote speakers expressed anger at what they saw as institutional racism by Santo Domingo’s ruling elite. At one point, everyone was asked to hold hands in a show of solidarity. Leaders of each community embraced each other tightly.

Since the September 23 ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court, there have been weekly protests across New York, some outside the Dominican consulate in Times Square, and some in community centers in Brooklyn and Washington Heights.

The ruling has also sparked international criticism, heightening tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, in a relationship already fraught with historical acrimony. CARICOM, a Caribbean regional organization, and Amnesty International have demanded a retraction of the court order.

And in New York, home to more than 120,000 Haitians and 600,000 Dominicans, according to the 2012 American Community Survey, the ruling has reverberated heavily, strengthening ties and fostering unity between two peoples often separated by geography, language and history.

“The decision has brought us closer, because we’re both immigrants,” said Vazquez. “We as diasporas [sic] have the power to condemn this decision.”

For Haitian-Americans, the court ruling appears racially motivated.

“There is no issue bigger in the Haitian community than this,” said Ricot Dupuy, 50, station manager at the widely followed Radio Soleil D’Haiti in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. “There are racist and extremist elements in the D.R.” Radio Soleil’s daily programming, Dupuy added, has been dominated by the Dominican court ruling.

“This is an attack on human rights,” said Councilman Mathieu Eugene, the first Haitian-American elected to the City Council. Local, state, and federal channels, Eugene said, are being exploited to see what can be done to help pressure Santo Domingo into nullifying the order.

The tense relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is steeped in a history of colonialism and the racial divisions it produced. The divisions date back to the 16th century, when Spain colonized the eastern side of Hispaniola, opening the doors to European migration, while France transformed its holdings on the island into one of the largest slave plantation colonies in the Americas.

Centuries later, Haitians migrated to their neighbor, seeking extremely low-wage jobs as cane cutters in the country’s profitable sugar industry. There, they became targets of policies such as dictator Rafael Trujillo’s “Blanquismo,” or “whitening” policy; on his order an estimated 20,000 Haitians were slaughtered in October 1937.

Though Trujillo’s racist policies were later denounced, Dominican courts in recent years have upheld actions that barred Haitians born in the Dominican Republic from holding citizenship there.

One such ruling came two weeks after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, killing an estimated quarter million people. While the Dominican Republic opened its border to Haitians fleeing the earthquake zone, it passed a law saying that any Haitians born in Dominican Republic after that date would not be granted Dominican citizenship.

The September court ruling essentially makes that rule retroactive to anyone born after 1929.

Haitians have loudly protested, as have some in New York’s Dominican community. But opinions there are divided, said Moises Perez, a Dominican activist in New York and former head of Alianza Dominicana, a cultural institution in Washington Heights.

“There’s a group that thinks that this was done deliberately against the Haitians,” said Perez, “and another side that rejects these notions and thinks of it as a correction in Dominican law that was long overdue.”

“The Haitian and Dominican communities don’t have an enormous amount of relationships here,” Perez added. But, with the controversial court ruling and its vast implications, he said, there now exists “a greater affinity for Haitian immigrants.”

The strengthening of ties between the diaspora communities is not unexpected, said Myriam J. A. Chancy, a Haitian scholar at the University of Cincinnati.

Once they relocate to the United States, Dominicans are “treated as people of color” in their new home, said Chancy. “They come here and become Afro-Dominican, and that changes who you create solidarity with.”

At the rally last month against the Dominican court decision, the newfound bond between New York’s Haitians and Dominicans inspired a camaraderie often lost back home.

“Our fight is long but our course is right,” said the opening speaker, a Dominican-American. “We are commonly human.”

Some historical facts:

Ancient name of Hispaniola: Ayiti, Quisqueya, Bohio

Names given by the original inhabitants who occupied the island before Christopher Columbus. Ayiti means “mountainous land” in the language of the inhabitants of the island. Quisqueya, means “big land” to the natives of the islands surrounding Ayiti. Bohio means “rich in villages.” AYTI (or Ayiti) is composed of three roots: “A” meaning flower; “Y” meaning high; TI meaning land or region. AYTI hence means “flower of high land” or “mountainous land” or “land of high mountains.”

When Christopher Columbus discovered Ayiti, it was inhabited by the Carib tribe and Tainos of the Arawak tribe. It was also divided into five kingdoms named Caciquats: Magua, Marien, Xaragua, Maguana, and Higuey.

Artists, Educators Aim To Transform Thinking, Laud Black Heritage In Color-Obsessed Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (AP) — In a school auditorium filled with laughing students, actresses Luz Bautista Matos and Clara Morel threw themselves into acting out a fairy tale complete with a princess, a hero and acts of derring-do.

Morel had wrapped a white plastic sheet around her multi-colored blouse, while Bautista donned a brown paper bag over her blue tights. The two black actresses wore their hair free and natural, decorated only with single pink flowers.

“Yes, you’re a princess,” said Bautista to Morel, who fretted that she didn’t look like a traditional princess with her dark complexion and hair. Bautista then turned to a young girl sitting in the front row, who shared the same African-descended features as both actresses. “And you too,” Morel said as the child smiled back at her.

The theater group Wonderful Tree has visited schools all over Santo Domingo and some in the countryside to spread the word among black children that their features and heritage should be a source of pride. That message, though simple, has been nothing less than startling in this Caribbean country, where 80 percent of people are classified as mulattos, meaning they have mixed black-white ancestry, but where many still consider being labeled black an offense.

Wonderful Tree represents a larger cultural movement that’s working to combat the country’s historic bias through arts and education. The Dominican choreographer Awilda Polanco runs a contemporary dance company that’s trying to rescue Afro-Caribbean traditions, while the Technological Institute of Santo Domingo has been training primary school teachers to respect and celebrate their students’ African heritage, including through skits that young children can more easily understand.

It’s a bid to transform a color-obsessed society where a majority of the country’s 10 million people choose to identify themselves as “Indio” — or “Indian” — on government documents despite their black roots, and many reject afros in favor of closely cropped hair or sleek blowouts. Public schools for decades even prohibited students from attending classes with their hair loose or in a natural frizz.

Such hair, in fact, is called “bad hair” in the local Spanish lexicon while straightened hair is “good hair.”

The Dominican population “has tried to disconnect itself from its African roots to the point where they’ve constituted a community that’s mostly mixed” but calls itself “indios,” wrote historian Frank Moya Ponsin in the prologue of the book “Good Hair, Bad Hair.”

In her school presentations, Morel flaunts her own natural looks as a point of pride. At one point in the play, Morel clutches a mask featuring straight black hair only to pull it away and reveal her dark brown kinky curls.

“This should be a source of pride because your color, your skin, your hair is an inheritance,” Morel told the children at the Albergue Educativo Infantil school in the town of Moca. “It’s the legacy of your parents, it’s the legacy of your grandparents.”

Morel said students have long been bullied and even attacked for their hair, while public schools have re-enforced the prejudice by cracking down on children sporting natural African hair, defending the measures as prevention against lice outbreaks.

“If it was only a health issue, it’d be fine, but children think there’s something bad about their features,” Morel said.

Maria Cosme, a Santo Domingo housewife, recalled the day she sent her young daughter to school with loose curly hair and a ribbon around her head. Teachers quickly tied up her daughter’s hair and warned it should remain that way if she wanted to attend classes, Cosme recalled.

“It’s a matter of racism, but also protocol,” said Cosme, who has straightened her daughter’s hair since age 4. She is now 7 years old.

Elizabeth Veloz, a graphic designer who always wore her hair natural, said the human resources director of her former company criticized her hair shortly before she was fired.

“He told me that curly hair is not proper hair, that it’s beach hair,” she said. “But the worst part is that he’s black, like me, and he cuts his hair really short because it’s kinky.”

Not everyone sees the hair issue in racial terms.

Hair stylist Yoly Reyes said she’s been relaxing her hair since she was 15.

“I am black and that will not change if I straighten my hair. But I think I look prettier with straight hair,” she said. “When have you ever seen (President Barack) Obama’s wife with kinky hair? I don’t think she straightens it to stop being black.”

Women in the Dominican Republic spend an estimated 12 percent of their household budgets on hair salons and treatments, according to “Good Hair, Bad Hair,” which included an economic and anthropological study of Dominican beauty salons.

Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who oversaw the killing of some 17,000 Haitians in 1937 in an effort to expel them from the Dominican Republic, was himself a mulatto who used makeup to make his face lighter.

Trujillo was the first to include the term “Indio” in official documents, said historian Emilio Cordero Michel.

Yet U.N. officials noted in a 2013 report that “Indian” identifiers don’t accurately reflect the country’s ethnicity and expressed concern about the country’s denial of racism. The government’s migration director, Jose Ricardo Taveras, has repeated such denials, insisting any racism is isolated.

It’s a claim that many reject, including Desiree del Rosario, coordinator of the Center for Gender Studies who runs the technological institute’s teacher training program.

Del Rosario said the country’s racism was tied to its troubled relationship with neighboring Haiti, where the population is darker-complexioned and where African culture holds a prominent place in society. Del Rosario summed up the common Dominican mentality as “The Haitians are black, and we, white.”

For Bautista and Morel, however, change is coming one child at a time. After one typically spirited, even goofy show, a dark-complexioned boy with his hair shaved close to his scalp approached Morel.

“I want to be part of your group,” the boy told the two women. “I want to be an Afro-descendent.” - Article by EZEQUIEL ABIU LOPEZ