This reporting was supported by the Pulitzer Center.
The Pulitzer Center raises awareness of underreported global issues through direct support for quality journalism across all media platforms and a unique program of education and public outreach.
NEW YORK—In looking at ways to get past the prevailing perception that Haitians and Dominicans are always at odds, what’s become clear is that there is more than one way to change the story of these two nations. For those who recognize the nations’ complex relationships and hunger for respectful, if not friendly, relations, here are three different people whose unique experiences took them to three different paths for your consideration.
Clarivel Ruiz: The movement builder
The year was 2009. Clarivel Ruiz, born to a Dominican family in the South Bronx, was visiting the Dominican Republic with their parents for the very first time when Ruiz’s father decided to share a revelation.
“He said, ‘My grandmother was Haitian,’” recalls Ruiz, who uses we/us/you pronouns and their for third-person references. Right on the heels of that, their mother said she would have never married Ruiz’s father had she known.
In their mid-30s at the time, Ruiz said the news brought up conflicting emotions. Besides their dad keeping that information a secret for decades, their mother’s response was also striking to Ruiz.
“Growing up, my father was an alcoholic and a womanizer, and so it was like [him] being of Haitian descent is by far worse than these things,” Ruiz said. “That, to me, spoke of a great illness.”
Ruiz’s search to make sense of their parents’ 50-year marriage and the implications on their Dominican identity led to an exploration of the island’s history and eventually, the founding of the Dominicans Love Haitians Movement. The entity’s goal is to bridge the gap between the Dominican and Haitian communities by acknowledging and embracing their cultural diversity and shared history.
So far, Ruiz has initiated educational and awareness campaigns aimed at dispelling stereotypes, promoting dialogue and celebrating the rich cultural heritage of both countries so people can look beyond nationality and ethnicity, and focus on the shared humanity. The organization has hosted more than 15 events and one summer camp. For its national audience and an international following, Dominicans Love Haitians Movement also runs the Black Doll Project, which has sent dolls to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Next month, the Dominicans Love Haitians Movement is hosting an inaugural film festival October 11 to 13 in New York to prompt more in-depth conversations about what it is to be Haitian-Dominican and the current persecutions Haitians face in the Dominican Republic. The Nou Akoma Nou Sinerji (We Heart We Synergy) Haitian Dominican Transnational Film Festival plans to screen such documentaries as ‘Stateless’ by Michele Stephenson, ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’ by Jake Kheel and Juan Mehia Botero and ‘Haiti Is A Nation of Artists’ by Jacquil Constant.
On a personal note, Ruiz learned their family’s experience, in some ways, was shaped in part by the complexities and conflicts between the two countries. From the colonial histories to the modern-day migrant worker flows, from robust economic trade to Judgment 168-13, which decreed in 2013 that only people born in the Dominican Republic to Dominican parents or legal residents are considered citizens.
But it’s the 1937 Parsley Massacre that they surmised might have been behind their father’s choice to omit his lineage from conversation. The tragic mass killing caused so much trauma that those who lived through it or its aftermath, like their father, who was born in 1936, hid his ancestry out of fear of being murdered. He then sought to integrate into and adapt to the Dominican Republic, keeping his Haitian lineage undisclosed even after the family moved to the United States.
“A lot of people feel that this is a necessary conversation for us to have,” Ruiz said. “A lot of people—Dominicans who are dealing with anti-Blackness and ‘anti-Haitianism’ in their families. But there are those factions who are totally against any kind of framing that destroys this nationalized perspective of what the DR stands for and its history.
“Anyone that stands against this nationalism is then deemed as an enemy of the state,” Ruiz said.
Ana María Belique: The relentless fighter
A Dominican born of Haitian parents, Ana María Belique confronted racism and persecution in the Dominican Republic head-on when she was denied duplicates of her birth certificate in 2010. At the time, civil registry personnel told her that her birth certificate was suspended because of a 2007 law, Resolution No. 12 that required them to “investigate the legal status of our parents.”
In response to such denationalization policies, Belique and others of similar birth began to congregate and created the campaign that ultimately became Reconoci.do in 2011. The Santo Domingo-based group’s name – which stands for “Red Común Nacional Organizada de Ciudadanos/as Domininicanos/as” – campaigns for citizenship rights and equality for all Dominicans of Haitian descent facing those twin demons she met at the registry.
Reconoci.do insisted that a Haitian parent’s initial immigration status shouldn’t affect the citizenship status of their children born on Dominican soil. Its advocates have since helped the affected population through education campaigns and working in the communities as paralegals and activists.
Belique said having a communication strategy was crucial during the campaign, to combat misinformation that made Dominican citizens believe that only new Haitian immigrants were asking for citizenship status and rights.
“We worked with journalists, television and radio stations to change what was being spread,” Belique said. “It was not Haitians facing injustice and demonstrating in the streets. We are Dominicans—people actually born in the country—whose rights were not recognized by the government.”
The organization regularly organizes public protests and participates in local and international networks. Since then, Belique said Reconoci.do has litigated and advocated before dozens of domestic and international entities and has helped thousands of people access documentation. From six different areas of the country, the group has brought at least 300 cases before the country’s courts,” Belique wrote to the Haitian Times.
The 168-13 ruling of 2013 posed challenges for the Haitian community, and in May 2014, the Dominican Republic adopted Law No. 169-14 to restore nationality for those born between 1929 and 2007. It was supposed to be a solution to the crisis, but it inadvertently exacerbated the situation by putting people of Haitian descent into two categories to determine eligibility for Dominican nationality.
- Group A includes people who can provide documentation and meet specific criteria demonstrating their connection to the Dominican Republic, such as Dominicans of Haitian heritage who are already in the civil registry.
- Group B represents people who are not in the civil registry. They are required to declare themselves as foreigners and then apply for naturalization after two years.
As of 2020, only about 48% of the 61,000 people who had previously been registered in a civil registry received their documentation back. Also that year, the persecution of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent escalated significantly as immigration became a prominent issue in the general elections. The country has seen a rise in hate and discrimination against Haitians, Belique said.
“If you are black and look like a Haitian walking in the street, they just arrest you without even asking to see IDs,” Belique said. “That’s why we decided to continue to be in a movement to fight against racism, discrimination…for our documents.”
Extremist ultranationalist groups have subjected Belique to targeted threats and calls for her deportation. She said that in the Dominican Republic, people have the deep-rooted expectation of Haitians just coming to work in agriculture and sugarcane plantations. But when Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent started “to move out from the base of the sugarcane,” it was new for a lot of people in this country.
“The idea is the Haitians just need to be in the plantation working, they don’t have any right to any demonstration or [marches] outside the street,” Belique said. “The reality is we always are suffering in this country because they don’t want to recognize us as a people, as a human. It’s about the color but this thing is it’s about being Haitian. It is about Haiti.”
Resolution No. 12-07, issued by the Central Electoral Board, and the Constitutional Court ruling of 2013 remain in effect. September 23 marked the 10th anniversary of the 168-13 ruling.
“The reality of Haitian people and Dominicans of Haitian descent unfortunately never changes,” Belique said. “We have been suffering discrimination and racism for a long time in this country.”
Dr. Saudi Garcia: The discourse designer
The year Dr. Saudi Garcia – an assistant professor at The New School’s Department of Anthropology, Dominican researcher and writer – initially joined In Cultured Company (ICC), nearly 70,000 Haitians were deported from the Dominican Republic in just the first six months. ICC has always aimed to reshape the Haitian-Dominican discourse through community organizing and educational workshops about the two countries’ shared history.
Back then, Garcia volunteered to design and facilitate workshops for the nonprofit. She worked with France Francois, ICC’s founder and former director, to design a workshop that merges Dominican and Haitian history to tell a comprehensive story, while attempting to deconstruct the division between the two. Now, she runs the nonprofit organization as its executive director.
“What we realized in doing our research is that events on one side were deeply influential on the other side, and so the history of these two places have always been connected,” Garcia said. “ But of course, because we live in a context of nationalism. The story that you get is a single story, which is something that has become a common way to talk about these limiting, white, nationalist narratives.”
Among the nationalist narratives Garcia and others reference is the belief that Haitian immigrants detrimentally affect the Dominican Republic due to their race, skin color and perceived economic burden. ICC’s workshops, she said, give people the fuller picture of how the island has been central to global history and colonial powers intruded upon Ayiti Kiskeya Boyo, the island’s original Taino name. ICC also offers conflict resolution and dance classes, among other resources, to combat misinformation. In 2019, ICC launched a campaign with hashtag #RealDominicansAreNotAntiHaitian that went viral.
In this area, racial equity organizing, especially post-2020, much of the focus is on anti-imperialism in Haiti and honoring the history of the First black Republic, Garcia said. More needs to be done to call attention to how the Dominican Republic “actively oppressing” Black migrants in its borders. And, given Haiti’s persistent political upheaval, the country should be the prime focus for both Dominicans and Haitians in the United States.
“Dominicans and Haitians, we have been, in many cases, forced to leave our homeland,” said Garcia, formerly a volunteer with the We Are All Dominicans collective. “So our mission is to empower Dominicans and Haitians wherever they are, regardless of whether they’re on the island or in the Diaspora. We want people to feel empowered in their communities.”
With titles such as “Decolonizing Hispaniola” and “The Character Assassination Of Haiti,” the ICC workshops are free all-day events with a “culturally relevant” musical opening, a 2-hour lecture about the countries’ shared history and break-out room sessions.
“People who have come to rely on In Cultured have really come to rely on it for analysis— a clear-sighted analysis of what’s happening in terms of migration politics, what’s happening in terms of anti-blackness at a local level, at a transnational level, and at a global level,” she said. “What’s happening in terms of human rights.”
The break-out room sessions offer participants the opportunity to come together and reflect on what they’ve learned. After the debriefing in small-group conversations, attendees take part in a shorter workshop focused on culture, spirituality, and other important topics that impact the diaspora. These usually last 45 minutes to an hour. A catered lunch of Haitian and Dominican food for attendees to experience the commonalities of both cultures.
ICC partnered with a legal services organization specifically focused on “bilateral” issues relating to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. With the $12,835 raised, Bilateral Services was able to handle 17 cases that helped a total of 37 Dominicans of Haitian descent who had been denied Dominican citizenship.
Looking ahead to 2024, as the Dominican Republic heads toward another election year, there has been a ramping up and continuation of anti-migrant, anti-Black, anti-Haitian rhetoric in the country. In recent news, a woman gave birth in the streets after being kicked out of a hospital for being Haitian. There have been reports of Haitians kept in overcrowded detention camps.
Garcia said her organization successfully created awareness around the necessity to have an integrated vision of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Now, as ICC transitions from Francois’ to her leadership, the organization is preparing to expand as well. Additional services may include racial healing through psychotherapy or trauma-informed work.
“We want people to come together, Dominicans and Haitians, and design solutions that make sense for their community and their needs,” Garcia said.