Listen to the full interview.
Marco Werman: Some of the people we just heard from talk about Haitians and Dominicans have united on the citizenship issue, but there is deep seated prejudice against Haitians in the Dominican Republican. There's even a term for it: anti-Haitianismo.
For The World That Was, Chris Woolf has been digging into the roots of this hostility. And Chris, what did you find?
Chris Woolf: Marco, it's all about race, identity, and money. Let's start with the money. The Dominican Republic is not a rich place, but it's a lot better off than its neighbor, Haiti, next door. About six times better off per capita of GDP income. So a lot of Haitians are moving to Dominican Republic, and have done for generations, just to find work, make a living. And some Dominicans are unhappy with that, because they see Haitians as so different.
Werman: How are Haitians and Dominicans different, on this single island?
Woolf: Let's start with language. Most Dominicans speak Spanish, as opposed to Creole, based on French, which is spoken in Haiti. They're not really mutually comprehensible. And then the big issue is race. Haitians are overwhelmingly... Haiti is overwhelmingly black, whereas Dominicans generally more tend to identify with the European part of their heritage, rather than the African part.
Werman: And yet most of the Dominicans I've met are black.
Woolf: Yeah, DNA testing confirms it. Most Dominicans do have some African ancestry somewhere in their family tree, but race here doesn't mean the same as it does in the Dominican Republic or elsewhere in the Caribbean. There are many gradations and shades that people in the Caribbean use. They maybe describe themselves as moreno, trigueno, or blanco-oscuro.
Werman: All various degrees of mixed race. So how did this all come about, what are the roots of the differences between Haitians and Dominicans?
Woolf: Well, Haiti was a French colony. Dominican Republic was Spanish. Both were racially stratified and slave based culture, but the French side was overwhelmingly plantation slavery. At the end of the colonial era, about 90% of the people in the French side are African slave, where less than half of the population on the Spanish side are Africans in bondage.
Werman: Now the African slaves in Haiti fought and won their freedom and independence, famously, they were the first ones in the Western hemisphere. What happened in the Dominican Republic?
Woolf: Well, it's long, complicated, and bloody, but the key event, Dominicans will tell you, will be the long war of independence that the Dominicans fought against, not the Spanish or the French, but against Haiti. It lasted more than a generation. Haiti took over the eastern half of the island in the early 19th century, and one expert was telling me today that the elite in the Dominican Republic even today still feel, what they call, this insult to having to answer to black overlords at that time in their history.
Werman: Hence "anti-Haitianismo." And did anti-Haitianism ever become official policy in the Dominican Republic?
Woolf: Yes, from about 1930 onwards, when the Dominican Republic was run by Raphael Trojillo, a dictator. There was an enormous stress on the European heritage, rather than the African heritage. Which is, you know, not surprising, given the prevalence in Europe, and here in the States and elsewhere, for racial theories at the time. Not that that makes it any more acceptable. European immigration was encouraged. Trojillo was famously mixed race himself, and used makeup to make himself appear lighter skinned in public.
Woolf: And then... it's no laughing matter, though. This could, and did, turn deadly. There was periodic deportations and violence against Haitian workers, the most famous being a massacre in 1937, where about 20,000 Haitians were killed in a few days along the border areas. At the same time, the government was organizing migrant workers to come in, to try and make money on state owned plantations and construction projects. So there was an organized migration in, and at the same time, this ambivalence. They need the cheap labor, they don't want these outsiders to become part of society.
Werman: And that's where the money comes in.
Werman: So does racism persist today in the Dominican Republic?
Woolf: Well, it depends who you talk to, and obviously you can't generalize for an entire population. As we were just hearing in Bruce's report, there's a lot of Haitians and Dominicans who get along just fine. But then, you come to this UN report that came out in 2007, and I have to quote it. It describes what it calls a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination in Dominican society, generally affecting blacks, and particularly such groups as black Dominicans, Dominicans of Haitians descent, and Haitians. And it goes on, while there is no government policy of racism, and no legislation that is on the face of it clearly discriminatory, the experts highlight the discriminatory impact of certain laws, particularly those relating to migration, civil status, and citizenship. Now of course, the government of the Dominican Republic denies it vehemently, and a lot of the Dominican elites will also like, absolutely say, "No, there's no racism. Just look at us, you know, we're a mixed race people." So, you know, it's a question of degree.
Werman: The World's Chris Woolf, thanks for that historical back story.
Woolf: You're welcome.