Dominican Republic’s Identity Crisis

(PHOTO BY NICOLAS RAYMOND)
(PHOTO BY NICOLAS RAYMOND)

Some Dominicans with clearly identifiable African features have rejected their racial ties to being African. They instead choose to embrace their Spanish roots. However, what many may not know is Dominican ancestry stems from a mix of heritages including African, Amerindian and European. They are technically not Spanish.

Without a sole race to claim, some Dominicans struggle with their racial identity.

The racist paradigm of hierarchy based upon skin complexion has not completely permeated the psyche of all members of the historically privileged, lighter-complexion group.

“For Dominicans to call themselves ‘Spanish’ is ignorant,” said Nichole Peña, 19, a sophomore nursing major at York College. “For Dominicans to call themselves ‘Spanish’ is ignorant. When I go to D.R., it is true that most of the poverty stricken people are darker skinned and most likely mixed with Haitian, but so are some fair- skinned people.”

“Despite their color, we all identify with each other as Dominicans,” Peña continues.  “Ironically, some people question if I am Dominican because they say ‘I’m too fair and my hair is too straight,” she said.

To Peña, language is not indicative of race. “My boss is a dark skinned black Haitian woman, and she speaks Spanish fluently. But plenty Hispanic customers have made racist comments about her because they thought she did not look “Spanish”.

So what exactly is being Spanish? Maybe that’s why so many darker Dominicans or many as the whole claim to be anything but black. They say they’re Spanish because they’re afraid to be discriminated against. The sad thing is, I’ve only witnessed the discrimination in America, “ Peña said.

Only 1/3rd of people questionedon York campus were aware that the term Hispanic is not a concrete race. The word “Hispanic” derived in the 1970’s as an umbrella term to include people from all Spanish-speaking countries. The term was promoted by Spanish speaking federal officials, broadcasters and activists to prevent census bureau from labeling fair skinned people from Spanish speaking countries as “white” and the dark skinned as “black.”

York foreign language professor, Maria Idrovo, agrees that Spanish should only be claimed if one is from Spain.

“There are a lot of people living in Spanish-speaking countries that are mixed with Spanish, but if they’re not from Spain, they’re not Spanish,” Idrovo says.

Since 1804, Santo Domingo, the capital of D.R., was one of the leading slave islands due to its diversity in popular cash crops. However, Europeans from Spain conquered the slaves who were mixed with European Amerindian. Already, it was evident that the European slaveholders stratified the society based on skin color.

The racial tensions in D.R. continued in the early 20th century. In 1937, former D.R. dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Monila, purged his country of dark skin Haitians to maintain a predominantly light-skinned mulatto class.

After massacring about 20,000 Haitians, in an attempt to separate the “Spanish” from the “blacks,” Dominican soldiers would see who could pronounce “prejil,” the Spanish word for parsley. The soldiers murdered those who could not pronounce the word in a Spanish dialect

The increasing racial tensions between Dominicans and Haitians have cumulated to Haitian revolt because of racial discrimination in early February of 2015, triggered by the 2013 lynching of a Haitian man was lynched in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

“I know there is a lot of animosity between Dominicans and Haitians and I think that’s because Haitians and Dominicans were oppressed, leaving them ignorant,” said Joshua Vital, 22, a senior accounting major at Baruch. “I don’t really see it in Dominican Republic too much, but near the border, there is tension between mulatto and dark skinned Dominicans and some Haitians that speak Spanish. The ones that appear “Spanish” do get privileges, though.”

Samuel Augustin, 50, an art teacher at East New York Family Academy in Brooklyn, believes that Dominicans are Spanish based on their culture.

“Dominicans are not black, but Haiti is a black country. Even the dark skinned Dominicans who look black, are Spanish,” said Augustin. He rationalizes his philosophy to the contrasting cultures Dominicans and Haitians possess. “Even the bourgeoisie, the fair skinned Haitians are not black, they’re mulatto.

Only the black-skinned Haitians are black. Skin color has nothing to do with it, but even if one of your parents are black and the other [parent] is Dominican, you’re Spanish because [Dominicans] did not have to go through what [black] Haitians did.”

Despite what people may call them, some Dominicans feel deprived of a sole identity.

“I don’t have a race to identify with,” said Steven Cerquera, 20, a junior accounting major at Baruch. “I know I may be classified as white, but I’m not. I’m Hispanic, not Spanish. My friend looks African American because he is dark and tanned with coarse hair, but he’s Dominican. He will tell anyone, he’s not black because when people think of black, they think African American or from Africa,” Cerquera said. He believes labels are necessary. “It’s annoying that people don’t just say their nationality, but if you want to call me the language I speak, cool.”

Crown Heights resident Kensya Pierre, 32, believes America has helped to institutionalize mental slavery. “I’m from Haiti, I speak Creole and English, but I am not going to say I am French or English,” Pierre said. “Some dark [skinned] Dominicans that come to Haiti will make it known that they are not black, but in America, it’s worse. They don’t say they’re Dominican, they claim Spanish.”

Many Dominicans appear to be conflicted with ethnicity and race.”People take too much time to label each other,” said York sophomore nursing major Melissa Sales, 19. “We should just be identified by nationality. It’s not that serious.”

Nevertheless, some individuals are still complacent with not having an official race to claim.

“I don’t mind being called Hispanic or Latina. In the Spanish world,” said, Joana Loreña, sophomore biology major at York. “I’m still considered Spanish because I speak it.”

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