“Como Afro/Dominicano/Negro vivo mundos diferentes y me debato, continuamente, entre un querer ser mi historia; y un rechazar lo que me dicen que fue esa historia; entre estar orgulloso de la cosmogonía heredada de mis ancestros, en un mundo de imagenes atrapadas en sueños y un querer ser la negación de lo que refleja el espejo.”
– Blas Jimenez (Poeta/Escritor Afro-dominicano)“As Afro/Dominican/Black I live in different worlds and I continually debate between what I desire my history to be and a rejection of what they tell me that history was; between being proud of the inherited cosmogony of my ancestors, in a world of images trapped in dreams and the desire to refuse what the mirror reflects.”
– Blas Jimenez (Afro-dominican Poet/writer)
Sometime in the past year, I began to use the “label” of Afro-Dominican/Caribbean to describe a part of my identity. Being Afro-Dominican/Caribbean is more than just a label. It is a path towards recognizing parts of the real story of my roots; it is respecting my ancestors and the struggles they had to go through when stolen from their homeland and brought to an island as Enclaves (slaves), it is taking back my identity from this white supremacist colonialist system that wishes to keep me in the dark.
In addition to identifying as Afro-Dominican/Caribbean, for years now I’ve been letting my hair grow out naturally, into it’s beautiful mixed curls, rather than relaxing it straight like most Dominicans. In the Dominican Republic, the word Pajon refers to an afro, or in the eyes of most Dominicans a “huge ugly mess.” If you are rocking your “pajon” in Dominican Republic, you can expect to be gawked at, laughed at, and condescendingly told by random people that you need to pay a visit to the hair salon.
To identify and look this way, from the perspective of my family and majority of Dominicans is to defy them. For me, identifying as Afro-Dominican/Caribbean and wearing out my Pajon, is in direct defiance against to the anti-haitian, the anti-negro (anti-black)language that is so prevalent amongst Dominicans in NYC and the Dominican Republic.
Origins in Colonialism and Tyranny
The history of colonization and conquest of Ayiti — now known as Dominican Republic/Haiti — was a bloody and brutal one. Tainos (Arawaks) were native to the island of Ayiti, and of the Caribbean and the Antilles. The Tainos “the good people,” in Arawak, were the first indigenous people to make contact with Spanish conquistadors. In the first century of the Spanish conquest about 80% of the Taino population were viciously murdered, burned alive and worked to death. In need of more labor the conquistadors imported about 30,000 African slaves for labor to work mainly on sugarcane plantations. Today, about 70% of the Dominican Republic population has African ancestry, yet there is a complete denial of our history, roots, and ancestors. Dominicans would rather refer to themselves as “spanish,” “white,” or if their skin is brown then they are “indio,” indian. To be “indio” is better than to be “negro” or “africano.” This vitriol hate speech transcends the verbal and manifests into physical violence, state violence, and into violence towards our very selves.
Last fall, the Anti-Haitian and Anti-Black language evolved to present a new face when Resolution TC 0168/13 was passed in Dominican Republic. The resolution denies any form of identity documents and citizenship to Dominicans born with Haitian descent after 1929. Over 210,000 people are being affected, forcing people to float in this calculated abyss of statelessness. This new resolution of denationalization is not a coincidence, it is a conscious decision stemming from years of colonization, indoctrination, genocide of not only people but of a culture, traditions, and history. The year 1929 is just one year before the beginning of Dictator Trujillo’s 31 year reign. Some of the origins of this resolution and anti-Haitian language derived from that brutal era.
In 1930, Dictator Rafael Trujillo assumed absolute power and control of the Dominican Republic. For 31 years, the Dominican people lived under a violent and tyrannical state. During this era, people were under a strict life, with curfews, secret police watching one’s every move, and any bad mouthing of Trujillo resulting in death.
Despite his own Haitian descent, Trujillo directed his power to promote a “white and Spanish” Dominican nation. Although, anti-blackness has its roots in earliest parts of the colonial era, this framework was thoroughly institutionalized under Trujillo’s regime. In schools and through various forms of propaganda, Dominicans were incessantly indoctrinated with the message that they were the descendants of Spanish conquistadors — they were “white” and superior — while simultaneously asserting that Haitians were inferior, as they were descendants of Africans.
In the early 20th century, the Dominican Republic experienced an influx of Haitian migrant workers who came to the island to work on sugar plantations. In 1935, Trujillo felt that Haitians were encroaching the dominican motherland and ordered the massacre of over 20,000 Haitians known as the Parsley Massacre. The massacre lasted 5 days, as Dominican soldiers murdered Haitians with machetes, guns, and clubs. To confirm they were Dominican, soldiers would ask people to say the word “parsley” in spanish, if they pronounced the word with a Spanish accent then their life would be spared. The river where the massacre occurred is still a crossing point for Haitians today.
Not only did the ruthless tyrant Trujillo divide us through violent militarized borders but also through the conquest of our minds. Under Trujillo’s reign, brainwashing was so intense that those ideas still permeate the minds of most dominicans.
The influence of Trujillo’s reign reveals itself today, as the violence continues with images reminiscent of Jim Crow era lynchings, except the faces of those who call for, carry out, and watch these lynchings of brown and black bodies are not white, but brown and black themselves.The hatred spans into the cultural, as just months after the passing of the resolution, the Dominican Ministry of Culture gave permission to a group of Dominicans to participate in the annual Carnival parade in Santo Domingo, as the Ku Klux Klan. Anti-blackness and hatred for Haitians is so deeply ingrained that is passed from generation to generation of Dominicans.
We need to take action to put a halt to the violence against Haitians. Our common origin is inevitable as we share an island; we are siblings of the plantain, even our afro-influenced music share similarities with Rara in Haiti to Gaga in Dominican Republic. We both are survivors of the same white supremacist, imperialist, colonial monster, that has intentionally tried to break us down while leaving us behind and forgotten.
We shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty of our Dominican history but we need to hold our people accountable for the violence they’ve inflicted on Haitians. We also need to take vital steps to educate ourselves on our real story, so that we may truly be proud of who we are.
Cambio Starts Within
Part of my analysis on Revolution is that it comes through understanding and loving ourselves. This means understanding and learning our real story, not letting colonialist frameworks and the text of white supremacist history and books inform our ideas about where we came from and why we are here in this moment. It means teaching ourselves this story so that we may teach our people, our communities. When we reclaim the way we form conceptions about who we are as people, we are empowering ourselves and becoming autonomous in our own ways of thinking and learning.Teaching those in your community can look a number of ways. We don’t have to take on the overwhelming task of reaching the entire Dominican community at once, but we can begin with our parents, siblings, primxs, tias/tios, and friends.
As people of the Diaspora, understanding the history of our origins, of where we are from is a painful process. We will never truly know exactly where we came from, but we need to hold on to the parts that we do know and let those guide us and give us strength. Teaching and learning goes beyond books, articles, and the classroom. We need to (re)learn how to love ourselves, we need (re)learn to love our beautiful Pajon. Learning to love our curly locks, our brown/black skin, ourselves is a process and takes time and practice, especially since we’ve been pushed down our whole lives and told we were not enough, that we need to alter ourselves, our minds, and our history to fit into whiteness and colonial ideas of beauty and value.
Loving ourselves as Afro-Dominican is a lifelong and difficult process. We will be in constant battle against those that tell us “we are wrong,” that “we should never want to be black,” and that “we are traitors,” much of this will come from those we consider to be our own people, our family and community. Those of us who are deeper within that loving process — especially Afro-Dominican elders — need to support each other and guide our compas that are beginning or struggling with that process.This is how we build community, this is how we build family, this how we build a revolution.
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