Dominican Republic’s enduring historical past of racism in opposition to Haitians explored in ‘Stateless’

The adjoining international locations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti share an island — in addition to a troubling historical past that influenced the Western hemisphere, from as far north as Canada to as far south as Argentina.

“The island for me is the beginning of our racial caste system throughout the Americas,” in response to Michèle Stephenson, whose documentary “Stateless” is featured this weekend on the Tribeca Pageant.

“It’s the place the primary Europeans arrived, the place the primary Africans arrived, the place the primary genocide occurred, and the racial caste system manifests itself on the island earlier than spreading all through the hemisphere,” Stephenson, who’s of Panamanian and Haitian heritage, instructed NBC Information.

“Stateless” follows Rosa Iris Diendomi, a younger Dominican lawyer and immigration advocate of Haitian descent, as she struggles to run for Congress within the Dominican Republic.

Rosa Iris Diendomi doing neighborhood work.Hispaniola Productions

The documentary, additionally identified for its Spanish title “Apátrida,” reveals Diendomi as she visits sugarcane cities referred to as “bateyes,” the place many Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent reside. It showcases the struggles of a largely exploited group that was stripped of its rights almost a decade in the past, when the Dominican Supreme Court docket retroactively took away the citizenship of anybody with undocumented Haitian mother and father — even these born within the Dominican Republic.

The ruling left greater than 200,000 folks with Haitian ancestry with no nationality, in response to the documentary. Although the federal government, amid worldwide strain, took measures in 2014 to permit kids born within the Dominican Republic and sure others to use for citizenship, 1000’s have been deported from the Dominican Republic, together with many with legitimate claims to Dominican citizenship.

“The court docket sentence is the reflection of a rustic that despite its blended racial id refuses to just accept all the pieces that has to do with its African origins,” Diendomi instructed NBC Information.

All through her unsuccessful congressional bid, Diendomi was peppered with threats to her and her son’s life, forcing her to finally flee the nation. Since being granted refuge within the U.S., Diendomi has been working with Stephenson to make use of the movie as a chance to interact neighborhood teams and worldwide organizations on problems with anti-Black racism and migration.

On digicam, Stephenson connects the racial tensions from the island’s previous with the present racial politics of the Dominican Republic.

The tragic story of a younger dark-skinned woman named Moraime bookends the movie. Her life is instructed by means of a voiceover, whereas viewers see different kids within the bateyes and sugarcane fields. It describes the 1937 Perejil Bloodbath that executed 1000’s of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian first rate dwelling within the Dominican Republic.


“On a darkish night time in October, Moraime needed to cover,” Diendomi narrates in a voiceover. “The dictator Trujillo determined to whiten the race and repair the so-called Haitian downside. He murdered many, together with Moraime’s mom, due to the colour of their pores and skin.”

An Related Press article printed by The New York Instances on Dec. 8, 1937, reported that Haitian President Sténio Vincent had charged that “8,000 Haitians had been victims of ‘mass homicide’” within the Dominican territory since October. The article additionally stated the Dominican State Division dismissed Haitian studies of slayings as fantasies.

Greater than 80 years later, the movie reveals footage of Dominican President Danilo Medina (who served from 2012 to 2020) denying accusations of racism in opposition to Haitians.

Folks crossing a bridge on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.Hispaniola Productions

“How can the Dominican Republic be a racist nation when greater than 80 p.c of our inhabitants is made up of Blacks and mulattos? How can Dominicans be accused of being racist in direction of Haitians once they reside and coexist with us in all places in our nation?” he stated.

The previous Dominican president would additionally deny that Dominicans of Haitian first rate have been being focused and stripped of their citizenship.

“The variety of stateless people within the Dominican Republic is zero,” he stated.

Past the bodily and political borders

Regardless of racial tensions which have existed on the island since Spanish and French colonial rule, Stephenson hopes each Dominicans and Haitians can look again at their historical past to maneuver previous the bodily and political borders that divide their international locations.

On the japanese facet of the island, when Dominicans boast about Santo Domingo, they’ll say proudly that it’s the oldest European metropol is within the Americas — based in 1496, over 100 years older than Jamestown (1607) — and that the town’s grid sample turned the blueprint for a lot of future cities and cities in Latin America.


Dominicans also can declare that Thomas Aquinas College in Santo Domingo is the oldest within the hemisphere — based in 1538, nearly 100 years earlier than Harvard College (1636).

And on the western facet of the island, Haitians can equally champion that their nation was second solely to the U.S. in acquiring independence. However Stephenson identified that Haiti really is the primary and solely profitable slave revolt in opposition to a colonial energy.

“It’s not simply the truth that it’s the second nation to get independence on this hemisphere after the US. Nevertheless it’s the one ever profitable revolt by enslaved folks — Blacks who have been slaves defeated Napoleon’s military,” the filmmaker stated. “And the Haitian Revolution doesn’t even get the credit score that must be given subsequent to the American and French revolutions due to the invisibility of the historical past of resistance.”

It’s additionally price noting that Haitian independence was influential within the success of early Latin American democracy, providing el gran libertador (the nice liberator) Simón Bolívar refuge and assist in his combat in opposition to the Spanish Empire.

Each Stephenson and Diendomi agreed that extra conversations about race must occur to interrupt the cycle of discrimination.

“I believe that there’s a historic actuality the place folks have been educated to suppose or inherited the assumption that there are inferior folks relying on their origin or race,” Diendomi stated. “And each contained in the U.S. and past it, after we see the battle of different marginalized teams, we see the identical cycle repeated. It’s a battle primarily based on race.”

Comply with NBC Latino on Fb, Twitter and Instagram.

Nicole Acevedo contributed.


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