Batey Libertad: “They deport us for being Black”

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Your life is illegal. You are told you
must leave the only home you have
ever known. You are told this not
only with words, but with a brutal
force and not one moment to prove
your legality.
This is the situation Dominicans of Haitian descent are
forced to endure by the Dominican military and the racism
that impacts the culture of the island of Hispaniola. This
past June, I spent two weeks at Batey Libertad, one of hundreds
of migrant communities in the Dominican Republic.
I went with a service-learning group from Illinois, organized
through the University’s Global Studies Center here
in Urbana-Champaign.
When you walk into Batey Libertad you see colorful
tidy houses next to faded tin ones. Dirt streets scattered
with empty plastic water pouches and bottle caps. Everyone
is outside, carrying water, washing, making music,
excited children everywhere. No community gets along
perfectly, and Batey Libertad has plenty of racial tension
between the slightly better-off lighter-skinned Dominicans
and the Haitian Dominicans, yet there is an atmosphere of
energy and cooperation. Like a friend of mine observed,
poverty tends to unite people more than money. But during
those two weeks of working side-by-side with community
members as we built a house, planted trees and
picked up trash, I learned much that was not apparent on
the surface.
According to Yadira Perez, a graduate student from the
University of Virginia studying racial identity in the
Dominican who spoke to our service-learning group as we
prepared for our trip last spring, the racism between
Dominican Dominicans and Haitian Dominicans has its
origins in the era of “EL Jefe.” Rafael Trujillo, who was dictator
from 1930-1961, realized that in order for the
Dominican Republic to make it as an economic player in
the world, it would have to separate itself from the “black”
nation of Haiti, which he considered synonymous with
“barbarian” nation. Trujillo went so far as to rewrite the
history books, demonizing Haiti and elevating the
Dominican self-image. He would hire white officials to
“whiten” his country. Today Dominicans tend to see themselves
as white, white being defined simply as not Haitian.
Race is relative, a construct having little to do with actual
skin color.
Over the past decade, the Dominican military has
deported hundreds of thousands of Haitians and thousands
of legal Dominicans of Haitian descent. As I got to
know the youth of Batey Libertad they slowly opened up
enough to share their experiences with me.
When the military carries out a deportation, it deports
everyone in the community, or those that have not yet fled. In
May of 2005, this happened to Libertad. Women, children, the
elderly were treated with equal roughness, equal disrespect.
After being taken by soldiers across the militarized border
with Haiti, coming back home can take months and
possibly over a year for deportees. They have to come back
illegally. Peter (name changed for security), a community
leader of Libertad whom we interviewed for a short film,
said it took him 8 months to get back after the deportation
in 2005 and he had to walk for nearly 24 hours. Ninety
percent of Libertad is of Haitian descent, but most of those
people are legal citizens of the Dominican because they
were born there.
However, even at birth Dominican doctors often
refuse to give Haitian parents the papers proving the
legality of their child; and once an adult, it is even more
difficult to obtain these documents. Constitutionally,
someone born on Dominican soil is a citizen, but the
government finds loopholes to get around that law, effectively
making poor black people in the Dominican
Republic illegal simply by the nature of their very being.
The government illegally denies citizenship based on
race, and through it denies opportunity.
This is where the economic oppression starts to blur
with racial oppression. The bateyes are very isolated from
the cities. It can be expensive just to get into the city to
renew a visa. The yearly visa fees are another burden that
someone who makes less than a dollar an hour, if they are
one of the few working people at the batey to even have a
stable job at the local rice factory, simply cannot afford. In
any case, whether one has their papers or not, legality matters
nothing to the officers. As Anthony (name changed for
security), a Libertad youth I spoke with, told me, “they
deport us for being black.”

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