This summer I was offered the opportunity to work with an organization called Hope for Haiti, an NGO whose aim is to empower and educate Haitian people to make positive changes in the political and economic realities affecting their nation. Through the organization, I spent 2 weeks in Haiti, during which time I became even more assured of the career path I want to take and the reasons behind it.
Throughout my time in Haiti, I worked as an English tutor for underprivileged Haitian children in the city of Port Au Prince, one of the areas most deeply devastated by the 2010 earthquake. Although I do not speak the Haitian Creole language, a fact that I believed would place a barrier to effective communication between my students and I,, to my surprise, a considerable number of them understood and spoke Spanish (my first language). When I inquired into this, unsurprisingly, the stories I was told overlapped and took on very similar tones. These children were the sons and daughters of Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic. They were born on the other side of the border, where they lived and attended school until they and their parents were forcefully deported.
In 2013, the Dominican Supreme court ruled that Haitians living in the Dominican Republic would be deprived of Dominican citizenship unless they could prove that they posses Dominican ancestry. This ruling led to the biggest case of stateless people in modern history, with over half a million people affected and force deportations occurring on a daily basis. Although currently, due to international pressures, the Dominican government as it claims, is aiming to solve the legal status of these people, my experience in Haiti made me question this initiative. When I questioned my student’s parents on whether or not any progress had been made to legalize the status of their children as Dominican citizens the answers were always no. They had talked to lawyers and representatives appointed by the Dominican state to handle this issue several months back, and had not received any information regarding the status of their case since. This situation reflects in great lengths the history of violence and struggle between the two nations, as well as the island’s colonial past and its consequences on what today makes up the Dominican and Haitian national identities. Racism plays a key role in this struggle, and is a problem that has been naturalized in Dominican society to the point where racism against Haitians in the country hardly receives the attention it deserves.
There are currently over a million Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, an outstanding number considering the nation’s population consists of a total of 10 million. Our proximity and our shared history make good communication and diplomacy between our people and our governments’ imperative. My experience in Haiti made me realize that there is a desperate need for a platform in which Dominican and Haitians can discuss these issues openly, and where Haitian workers and their descendants living in the Dominican Republic can receive the assistance that they need. My interest in human rights and activist work has influenced my decision to one day create my own NGO and in this way establish such a platform. I want to provide some of the tools by which Dominican-Haitian relations can one day hopefully change for the better and leave behind the history that has tainted it.