As a follow up to the critique I wrote about the Miami Herald Article posted some time ago, the following synopsis was written as I became inspired by the right and exactness of one of my favorite Dominican professors whom I know personally and have shared some many wonderful conversations with: Silvio Torres-Saillant. This piece I wrote before I attained a knowledge of self, thus the usage of some sociological language, although hardly used throughout. It expounds on the complex issue of identity and colonialism. It is at the level of understanding of those who do not understand race within a real science, like those who deal with a knowledge of self do. Those with a knowledge of self have come to understand (through historical, but mostly scientific facts) that everything within the Universe was created by thought and that thought is within the mind of man and woman. Therefore, we do not subscribe to a mysterious being as the entity who creates and dictates a sentence to heaven or hell. In addition, scientific data has proven that the original (meaning Asian, Latina, Black, Native American) peoples of all shades were the first to exist and in the end are all Black.
Torres-Saillant, Silvio. “The Dominican Republic” from No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today. Minority Rights Group: London, 1995.
In this essay, scholar Silvio Torres-Saillant discusses the complex racial history of Afro-Dominicans from colonial to contemporary times as a way of focusing on negrophobia’s role in the racial identity of Dominicans. In his analysis of the racial identity of Dominicans, Torres-Saillant points out and extensively discusses the historical black presence in the construction of the Dominican Republic and he argues that although negrophobia exists, black Dominicans, by holding positions of power, have still managed to greatly contribute to the formation of many of sectors in society. His argument is based in that “negrophobia and negrophilia...have historically coexisted in Dominican society”(110). In other words, although negrophobia has been implanted in Dominicans’ minds by the ruling class and other external forces (The United States1) from colonial times to the present, there is an undeniable black presence and power in all sectors of Dominican society. Professor Torres-Saillant then frames this to have caused very complex race relations in the island because Dominicans are aware of their African ancestry, but the imposed racist ideas promoted by the ruling class have not been fought against by the colored masses. Race relations is further problematized with the promotion of Eurocentric and White-supremacist ideas themselves by the yellow, brown and black seed Dominicans, such as Major General Enrique Perez y Perez, the young essayist Manuel Nuñez and secretary of education Jorge Tena Reyes. These are examples of Afro-Dominicans who promoted anti-black propaganda. Furthermore, the formation of a struggle based on racial oppression has not been experience by Dominicans because this has not been the visible form of repression, like in the United States where a racial binary has been enforced. This idea has puzzled observes that are from countries where this binary exists. In addition, the racial fusion that has occurred in the Dominican Republic has resulted in the fruition of offspring from the same nuclear family phenotypically different (one white and one black) which makes it problematic for Dominicans to identity solely with the racial binary. This is why Dominicans have failed to construct a black discourse/movement and have remained unarosed by the negrophobia of the elite.
In the general scheme of the essay what Torres-Saillant does is not so much emphasize solely on the relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic as the origins of Dominican’s negrophobic ideology, but rather place Haiti as one component of the contributing elements in the production of a Dominican racial identity. Contrary to some writings that depict Dominicans as Haitian bashers and oppressors, the article traces the relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the time of colonization to the present. The historical time frame is from early 17th century when Spain and France fight for the Eastern part of Hispaniola to the time when the first Haitian workers enter the Dominican Republic. Haitian workers first enter the Dominican Republic due to the United States occupation in 1916. North Americans had already invaded Haiti and they preferred black Haitians to do the work in the sugar plantations. As a result, there were already 28,258 Haitians by 1920. By 1980 there were 113,150 Haitian workers in the agricultural sector (117). The recruitment of Haitian workers to the bateyes (sugar plantations) was an arrangement between United States’ private capitalists and both Haitian and Dominican governments. While in these bateyes, Haitian workers endure a process that dehumanizes them to the extent that the conditions are like slavery. Due to this, Dominicans do not antagonize Haitians for taking jobs. Dominicans are aware that Haitians do the work that no one else in the island wants.
Is his argument about the ways in which Dominicans have adapted negrophobic attitudes, Professor Torres-Saillant discusses some of the most influencing elements. Official culture in the Dominican Republic is one that’s state-controlled and funded. They make sure that what’s presented to the masses is an aspect of culture that’s purely of Hispanic heritage. The Trujillo regime culminated and produced the most amounts of White supremacist and Eurocentric propaganda. The concept of race was manipulated by the Trujillo regime to promote anti-black affirmation. The word indio was taken as an official national category for Dominicans to define themselves. Indio describes a person of mixed Spanish and Taino descent, and it is used to describe even the darkest people. This word was perfect for the regime to use because it didn’t provide a connection to Africa or Haiti for that matter. The word originally applies to the indigenous populations of the D.R., which were all exterminated before Africans arrived to the island. Therefore, the word indio is one that was misused for promoting the ideas that Dominicans were not black.
Throughout his essay, Torres-Saillant provides many examples of the participation of blacks and their power (represented in different forms) all throughout the history of the Dominican Republic. In 1844, when the elite of Santo Domingo declared independence from Haiti an uncertainty emerged within the colored population as to what their future conditions as a community, especially since they noticed that the elite had leanings towards instituting after the example of the Spanish. The reaction of mulattos and blacks was an uprising in Monte Grande to confront the government. The rebels forced the leaders to reaffirm the abolition of slavery and to appoint one of their Afro-Dominican leaders by the name of Santiago Basora into the new government. This significantly contributed to the incorporation of blacks and mulattos into the restructuring of the new government which sought to develop the new republic. Afro-Dominicans had not only been influential in the formation of the republic, but they were involved in other issues pertaining to periods much later in Dominican history. Many Afro-Dominican leaders were prominent figures in movements that formed throughout the island for different causes. Ramon Natera was an Afro-Dominican nationalist who opposed the United States occupation of 1916 and started an aggressive guerrilla warfare movement. Another Afro-Dominican nationalist was Gregorio Urban Gilbert (1898-1920). He went on his own to fight the U.S. troops, killed a soldier, and fled to join the guerrilla movement of Vicente Evangelista. He was caught by the marines, sentenced to death, but he was released in 1922 where he left to Nicaragua to fight and join the Sandinista Movement. Maximiliano Gomez is another influential Afro-Dominican leader of the left-wing party, Movimiento Popular Dominicano. He was active during Balaguer’s “presidency” and his ideas consisted in that the revolutionary movement in the country needed to separate itself from the European model of socialist thought. He wanted the Dominican movement to be more critical of the incorporation of history, social, and cultural aspects of Dominicans when thinking about revolution. He was eventually incarcerated by the government in 1970 and killed in Brussels a year later. He was a clear threat to the government that promoted Eurocentric ideals because he wanted Dominicans to be conscious of their identity and the role of that characteristic into a social/political movement.
In thinking about the overwhelming representation of Afro-Dominicans in the shaping of their country one can say that there has existed a movement based on racial identification. It’s just one that has not been manifested as the Civil Rights Movement did in the United States due to the fact that segregation has not legally existed in the Dominican Republic. Therefore, one cannot see Dominican race relations and identity through the black and white binary as Professor Torres-Saillant points out. One has to observe the situation of Dominicans by looking at the development of slavery and its early disintegration. As well as the historical relations between Haitians and Dominicans, the participation of Afro-Dominicans in the formation of their country through social movements as well as mainstream politics in relation with the powerful forces that ingrain negrophobia to the rest of the Dominican population. What also needs to be examined, which Silvio has done, is looking at aspects of society which inevitable are correlated with Africa, such as language and spiritual expression. I would have liked for Professor Silvio Torres-Saillant to provide an extensive analysis of this aspect in Dominican society to show yet another strong force in the identity of Dominicans. It is obvious that Dominicans are black and they maintain this identity through their daily practices, language, food, and music, but although all these elements are present Dominicans emphasize their connection to Europe and not Africa. In other words, Africa is present and not omitted from the lives of Dominicans, but the problem lies in that they don’t verbally express their pride in their African roots due to the brainwashing they have endured. Dominicans don’t deny they are black, rather they choose not to be verbal about it and emphasize their European roots. If Dominicans were really not proud of their African roots wouldn’t voodoo practices totally been erased from their daily lives after Trujillo passed Executive Law 391, which prohibited anyone from participating in vodoun? It has not yet happened.
As eloquently presented above segregation was never a concern in Dominican society, but there has been a struggled characterized by race. This is especially so during the period of independence from Haiti where the “colored” population begins to questions the future conditions of their community with the new governmental structure. This is why they fought to have a representative for their community as well as for the abolition of slavery to remain so. This is tightly connected with the legacy of racial justice and equality that Haitian rule implanted into the minds of Dominicans and it served as a positive mode of thought after independence. Negrophobia did exist, but this did not stop Dominicans from being politically involved in changing and restructuring their country. In other words, although the denial of blackness existed, Afro-Dominicans were very important in forming resistance and social movements that incorporated issues of race. A prime example would be the maroon societies that existed in the Dominican Republic. It would be interesting to see if Professor Silvio Torres-Saillant explored the idea of negrophobia within these maroon communities to find out if they adopted any of the ideology although they were politically, socially, economically, religiously, independent from the country. It would have also been interesting if throughout his argument he would have expanded the argument by adding in how the African Americans and West Indians that came to the Dominican Republic to settle and to work contributed to the denial and/or affirmation of their racial identity.
In synthesizing Torres-Saillants argument I would agree that it is fair to say that after a strong racial brainwashing by the government and outside external forces the Dominican people maintain a degree of black consciousness. If they didn’t, Africa wouldn’t be so indirectly present within the society. One can also see this idea in Dominicans not collectively acting upon Haitians and also the fact that they recognize the hardships of the Haitians in their country. One way in which negrophobia can’t start to be broken down in the minds of Dominicans is when the conception of a new institution the can provide a different official national definition for Dominicans ethnic identity that truly represents who they are. A definition that recognizes their Africaness and a definition that doesn’t allow for Dominicans to view their blackness in relation to that of Haitians. I ask myself, is imposing another official ideology the only way? One can implant a different national definition, but how does one start to deconstruct a brainwashing that has been ingrained for many years? Showing the people a new construction and ideas of race through a true scientific basis would be a way to start deconstructing how they perceive themselves and others.