By Maya Earls
Musicians and poets brought Haitians and Dominicans together to dance and sing at the Nuyorican Tuesday night for the first event hosted by the Dominicans Love Haitians movement.
Organized by Clarivel Ruiz, founder of Dominicans Love Haitians, the event featured many artists sharing messages of love, understanding and hope. With a long flowing Afro, and thick clear-framed glasses, Ruiz was full of energy and smiles at the Nuyorican. Ruiz said the idea for the movement was seven years in the making, after discovering at home in the Dominican Republic that her grandmother was Haitian. Since then, she wanted to promote the similarities between the two cultures instead of focusing on the differences.
“For myself, it was having to come to terms with what can I do to have this conversation,” said Ruiz.
Since this was her first time hosting an event for the movement, Ruiz said she felt anxious. Much to her relief, every artist she invited accepted without hesitation.
“Now, the way to get through to people is to use art,” said Ruiz. “The art can transform the conversation that exists not only in the island of Hispaniola but also here in the states.”
The event began with a poetry reading in a mix of English, Spanish and Creole. Next, a soul and rap performance featuring artists from Long Island. Afterwards, Dominican painter and poet Yubelky Rodriguez took the stage. With red and blue flowers in her hair, Rodriguez explained how living in Gabon helped her see the importance of welcoming others.
“We are all really one,” said Rodriguez.
Haitian artist Mikaelle Cartright followed, singing a few songs while strumming an acoustic guitar. In between songs, Cartright explained how some people would treat her differently because she was Haitian.
“After a while of being told you’re not good enough, you start to believe it,” said Cartright. “Let’s protect our people.”
Her haunting voice echoed throughout the cafe, with the gentle guitar comforting the crowd. By the end of the performance, Ruiz was moved to tears.
Next, Union Community College English Professor Roberto Garcia took the stage. Ruiz said she reached out to him after reading his article in Gawker on identifying as an Afro-Dominican. Speaking to the crowd, Garcia explained how his family often told him to “stay out of the sun.
“At home, you’re everything but black,” said Garcia.
Living in the U.S., Garcia said his experience was completely different. To most Americans, Garcia was black. After his article was published, Garcia said he received negative emails from people in the Dominican Republic, even though his email was never listed in the article.
“We’ve got a lot to embrace still,” said Garcia.
The last performer was Haitian singer Ani Alert. Wearing a bright blue Hawaiian print shirt, Ani sang in Creole, encouraging everyone to stand and dance to the music.
Before the end of the event, Ruiz told the members of the audience to take out their phones and prepare to record a video. The video would go on Facebook, Twitter or any social media platform.
“Dominicans love Haitians,” Ruiz said, with the crowd echoing her. “And Haitians love Dominicans.”
Ruiz’s movement tackles tensions between Dominicans and Haitians that date back as early as 1844 with the Dominican War of Independence against the Haitian occupation. After the war, Haitian soldiers under the rule of Emperor Faustin Soulouque continued to try and regain control of their former territory. The two countries finally agreed on a boundary division in 1936, which also formally divided the cultures. Conflict between the two nations continued.
Most recently, the Dominican Republic passed Law 169/14 in May 2014 requiring those whose birth was never established in the country to register for a residence permit. Only 5 percent of people were able to apply for the permit by the deadline, out of more than 110,000 people Amnesty International estimated were able to apply. As a result, thousands of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent are facing deportation.
Ruiz said her next step would be expanding to Brooklyn, Chicago and any other city where she can start a conversation about bringing together the two communities.