This Moment

Watching the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, a show I mostly catch if I haven’t turned the channel yet after the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (sorry, Larry), I saw the only coverage I’ve seen so far in mainstream US media of the current Haitian crises. Seriously, sorry, Larry, you clearly deserve more of our attention as a comedy show with a social conscience.

I say Haitian crises (plural) because Larry touched on the Quake from which the country has still not nearly recovered in spite of the hundreds of millions raised in aid…he spoke about the questions raised about how aid funds have been used…and he spoke about the current push on the part of the Dominican Republic which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti to expel the Haitians who make life there, some of them going back generations.

“In September 2013, the constitutional court of the Dominican Republic revoked Dominican citizenship for Haitians and Dominican-Haitians, retroactive to 1929. After international outcry and pressure from the US, UN, OAS, IACHR, and CARICOM, the government passed Law 169-14, which was nominally supposed to be a relief measure allowing Dominican-Haitians until June 16 to register for citizenship. …

If Dominican-Haitians do not have a birth certificate, a common problem here since many Dominican-Haitians were born in rural sugar-cane cutting communities (bateyes) or semi-urban slums (barrios) and without access to clinical paperwork, then they are incapable of registering. If they cannot afford the $42 fee, about 4 days’ wages here (which is assuming that they have a steady job), then they cannot register. If they do not have the logistical or transportation capability to come into a major city where the immigration offices are set up, then they cannot register. If they have trouble spelling their full names, or transliterating the Kreyol spelling into Spanish, then they cannot register.

Even among those who have gone through the entire process and have registered, I am unaware of a single case in which the registrant has received confirmation that his or her case has been processed and adjudicated. While these folks remain in legal limbo, they are still technically eligible for summary detention and deportation.” – from RYOT

In this clip, Haitian-American writer Edwidge Dandicat gives some perspective on the troubled history of the two countries sharing the island of Hispaniola.

“We share a history of colonialism and occupations, and at some point it was split between the French and the Spanish. And after the Haitian independence, there was a shift, where Haiti—and there was a—the whole island was under one rule, post-independence. And then, Dominican Republic, in 1822, there was a separation. But there are all these historical scars, where, you know, we, on the Haitian side, remember the massacre of Haitian cane workers in 1937. And then these things are brought up. But there’s also, for Americans, a common occupation of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic at the turn of the century, and both sides of the island have been marred, really, by the corporate—this other kind of occupation of the sugar industry that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century.” – Edwidge Dandicat

Two things come to mind whenever I think of Haiti. One, the Haitian Independence – a bold action (the first of its kind for our hemisphere) in which the enslaved Africans on the island re-claimed their freedom and a subject land claimed its independence – and the way it contrasts starkly with the Haiti of today (for some of the reasons Edwidge touches on and other reasons which Historian Hilary Beckles explains better than I ever could).

The second thing etched in my mind when I think not just of Haiti but of the relationship between these two countries are two literary works: Edwidge Dandicat’s The Farming of Bones, still my favourite of her books and a fictionalized account of an actual 1937 mass expulsion (and massacre) of Haitians from the DR…and Rita Dove’s Parsley which touches on the same heartbreaking incident and a single word (also explored in Farming) and how it related to belonging, and in fact to life and death.

“El General has found his word: perejil.

Who says it, lives. He laughs, teeth shining

out of the swamp.” – from Parsley by Rita Dove

I don’t mean to draw a line between that moment and this one nor do I mean to demonize the Dominican people (I’ve been to the country and anyone who’s read my Dancing Nude in the Moonlight should know, I think, that that’s the last thing I’d wish to do).

But those references shadow this moment in my mind. And this moment as Edwidge noted demands more of our attention than it has been getting, and, as the conscience moves, more of our voice/s.

“It is perhaps the great discomfort of those trying to silence the world to discover that we have voices sealed inside our heads, voices that with each passing day, grow even louder than the clamor of the world outside.” – from The Farming of Bones

3 thoughts on “This Moment

  1. Pingback: A Message from Jouvay Ayiti | Wadadli Pen

  2. Clearly a lot of us (including me) need to know more of the back story but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know that what’s happening is wrong.

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