I’m sure many of you are sick of seeing my posts and shares of articles relating to the current and ensuing deportations of illegal Haitians and Dominican-born Haitians from the Dominican Republic into Haiti.
I am positive that eyes have been rolled or scrolls past have commenced, but I’m here to tell you why these present times matter and how they are affecting hundreds of thousands of lives.
First, I suppose it’s necessary to give you a bit of background on why tensions are so high between the neighboring nations. During the 19th century, for a little over two decades, Haiti occupied the entire island of Hispaniola, which still incorporated the colonized societies of what we know today as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These two settlements were highly influenced by the French and Spanish explorers who staked claim over the island. They imported hundreds of thousands of African slaves to work the sugar cane and coffee plantations, which resulted in two similar but vastly different cultures cultivated with European language and sophistication, and African resilience.
However, the Spanish colonies saw themselves as superior with lighter complexions, to the darker and more African-influenced western third of the island. This context created an overwhelming anti-Haitian sentiment.
This resounded for the next century, and came to a head in 1937, when the Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, ordered the Haitian massacre, a policy of mass murders against Haitians residing in the DR at the time. From late September to late October in 1937 an estimated 9,000 to 18,000 ethnic Haitians were systematically rounded-up and killed on Dominican territory by Dominican Security Forces.
These actions materialized into a virulent form of anti-haitianism, almost serving as a state doctrine in the DR and preceded to coalesce into an ideology that eventually categorized into what it meant to be a Dominican.
Events such as this have shaped entire generations to systematically hate one another and retaliate in violence and senseless crime and injustice. Harsh racist attitudes that have also translated into Haitians’ emotions towards Dominicans are what have brought us to our current state of affairs.
It is evident to anyone traveling to Hispaniola, that the Dominican Republic is exponentially more developed with improved structuralized establishments than Haiti. From the smallest things to paved roads, larger and more available department stores and supermarkets, to better educational systems, it’s a no-brainer why the DR has won the gold medal in the tourist Olympics this side of the Caribbean.
Because of the progressive development and industrialized nature of the DR, many Haitians have fled across the border in hope of finding a better life. They follow their dreams to a place that promises of potential jobs, better housing, transportation, etc., only to be greeted by sheer hate, discrimination, and occasionally worse living conditions than those they left behind in the native land.
Yet, many of them have been able to create a life for themselves. Lives that have included marriages, children, and for some careers; they left everything they knew in hopes to find a promise of a better tomorrow, and have slaved, ached, and panged to finally reach a level of normalcy and provide their children with a life they were never able to live.
These children have grown up, identifying as Dominican. Many of them never learning their ancestral tongue of Haitian Creole, to better solidify their place and legitimacy in Dominican society.
However, as of June 17th, 2015, many of the lives that gave their all to create a life and hope for their families, were stripped away, quite literally, by a law that required all Haitians proper documentation to continue living in country, and stripping all Dominican-born individuals of Haitian decent, their citizenship and basic human rights.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitian attempted to receive the proper documentation to become naturalized citizens of the DR. But even so, out of the thousands of applicants, only 300 have successfully received approval.
Over the last week, the deportations have commenced. Haitians and even dark-skinned Dominicans mistaken for Haitian have been arrested, on the street, in their homes and on their way to work, some before they have even had the chance to put on a pair of shoes, have been placed on a bus and shipped to Haiti.
A land that has become unfamiliar and a language that may or may not have ever graced their tongue greet them. They aren’t provided with support or assistance and are expected to somehow start over in a land that is no longer or has never been recognized as home.
Questions such as, “Well, isn’t this technically the right of the DR seeing as so many Haitian were illegally living there?” have been posed. And perhaps, the answer ‘yes’, could reply in the context of foreign policy, but in the overall scheme of social justice and human decency, the answer would most certainly be a resounding, “no”.
In a way, we are all immigrants. Perhaps not directly, but as North Americans, nearly all of our ancestries can be traced back to our great-great-great grandparents who left their families and homes in search of better life to leave behind as a legacy for their children and children’s children.
If our ancestors had not left homes and lands to come to a foreign country only to work from the very bottom to the top, many of our lives would probably look much different.
This deportation of Haitians in the DR is creating a problem of catastrophic proportions. People are being forced to leave their homes, so before they even have the chance to put on a pair of shoes. Many of the deportees are young people and children, meaning they are essentially tearing apart families and creating orphans.
What happens to people when they are brought to an unfamiliar land, with nowhere to turn, nowhere to go? Survival instincts begin to kick-in and people are sometimes driven to do the impossible if it means self-preservation or protection of a loved one.
The other day I was returning from Port-Au-Prince on public transportation. We passed a large school bus filled with people. My driver said they had come from Ouanaminthe, a town in the most northeastern corner of Haiti, sitting right on the Haitian/Dominican border. It suddenly clicked with me that these individuals were most likely deportees. I asked the driver and he confirmed my speculation. I questioned him as to what he thought the people were going to do now that they were back in Haiti.
“Anyen.” He said, Kreyol for nothing.
“Yo pa genyen anyen, yo pa ka fè anyen.” They have nothing so they cannot do anything.
And then the words I dreaded…
“Vòlè. Yo pral vòlè.” Thievery. They are going to steal.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same given similar circumstances, especially if my life depended on it.
Situations such as this create humanitarian disaster. With increased displacement, poverty levels surge and crimes such as theft and prostitution begin to rise as well.
When young girls come across the border, many of them speaking primarily Spanish, and enter a place they never considered home, there are not many options awaiting them.
So what can we do then?
How do we begin to tackle a crisis potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of people?
We don’t close our eyes.
We don’t remain silent.
We don’t allow tragedy to strike and pass us by.
We band together and begin to develop sustainable ways we can support a stateless society.
These are my people. This is the land I have been called to. I refuse to turn a blind eye and ignore the issues at hand.
Currently our home is preparing to open. Beds, furniture, sheets, etc, are all in need to make this house a home and ready to open doors to young women who so desperately need to escape dangerous and vulnerable situations.
If you would like to make a donation towards our opening, please click here.
Haitian lives matter.