NEW YORK- The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the island of Hispaniola and a two-century old feud that makes the War of the Roses seems like Toy Story.
But in New York City, the two groups get along fine because here, some suggest, they live at opposite ends of the city. Turns out, for a new generation of young immigrants and American-born descendants, distance between Haitians and Dominicans in the big city is only a matter of geography and not one borne of a history of strife.
While Dominicans flock to upper Manhattan, Haitians congregate mostly in Central Brooklyn and Southeast Queens. Up to two-hour subway travel times and multiple bus and train connections separate their neighborhoods.
In New York City, “You don’t see [Haitians and Dominicans] working together,” said Tatiana Wah, an assistant professor of urban studies at the New School, “unless government policies are affecting both immigrant groups.”
The beating and sodomy of unarmed Haitian immigrant Abner Louima by police in 1997 marked Haitians and Dominicans’ first large scale joint protest in the city. Succeeding years has seen activists from both communities rally around immigration, housing and anti-Haitianism in the Dominican Republic.
“In terms of activists, we get along incredibly well,” said Ray Laforest, a long-time labor, immigration and Haitian rights community organizer.
Laforest points out that Dominican-American activists are very protective of Sonia Pierre, the Dominican-born human rights advocate of Haitian descent, and that some of the first reaction to the January 12th earthquake came from Dominican-American politicians.
“The first ambulances [I saw] were from the Dominican Republic, the first fire trucks were Dominican,” said Wah, who has been in Port-au-Prince since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck on January 12.
The first outside help came from the Dominican Republic, who rushed in tons of food, water and equipment. Within hours, Dominican authorities had opened the Jimaní border into ravaged Port-au-Prince, enabling refugees to leave, and international relief workers and journalists to enter. Dominican artists and performers raised millions of dollars for Haiti relief efforts, and Dominican universities allowed Haitian students time off from classes to travel home to help family members.
The hole in the earth seems to have produced a crack in time. The blood feud between Haitians and their island neighbors is biblical. Haiti ruled the Dominican Republic with an iron fist for a quarter century in the 1800s. in 1937, strongman rafael trujillo ordered the massacre of nearly 25,000 haitian migrant workers, using the pronunciation of perejil, the spanish word for parsley, to sort dominicans from haitians.
IN 1991, in the Dominican Republic a mulatto presidential candidate was able to outmaneuver his dark-skinned challenger by suggesting that he was Haitian born. and even in the 21st century random acts of violence against haitians, antihaitianismo, continue.
Even so, the immediate post-quake solidarity should not be seen as a surprise said Edward Paulino, an american-born dominican historian at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who is currently researching and writing a book about the overlooked tradition of collaboration between Haitians and Dominicans in the border region.
“When Ferentz and I come together,” said Paulino, referring to one of his Haitian-born friends, “it’s not unprecedented.”
For immigrants in New York City though, Paulino acknowledges that racism and anti-Haitianism from the island has to be unlearned.
“We’re still dealing with a lot of racist baggage where darker is less good and lighter is better,” Paulino said of the American-born children of Dominicans and Haitians.
“Just because you’re here doesn’t mean that racist residue is still not on you like gel.”
Nathalie Tejada, a 25-year-old who immigrated to New York City eight years ago from the Dominican Republic agreed, but she is living the change.
Through a delegation coordinated by Funtosalud, a volunteer organization founded by college students descended from both diasporas, Tejada just left the South Bronx for a health mission to the border region.
“I see that there’s a lot of similarities and we need to point them out and continue talking about them,” said Tejada the night before her flight.
“We’ve already talked too much about the differences.”
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