4. A Brief History of Hispaniola
The Dominican Republic and Haiti are two sovereign West Indies nations that share the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles, the second largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba, and the location of Christopher Columbus’ first European settlement in the Americas (1492–1493). Most of the native population, Arawak Taino, died due to exposure to new diseases. Between diseases and subsequent slavery of the remaining indigenous population, 95% of the original population was decimated (Gates 2011
In 1503, the Spanish brought African slaves to the island. The French also established a colony on Hispaniola that became official in 1665. By 1697, the island was divided between Spain and France when Spain ceded the western third of the island to France. In Haiti, a successful rebellion by freed slaves in 1804 resulted in the world’s first Black republic while the Dominican Republic became independent from Spain in 1821. The nature of Haiti’s revolution resulted in a US arms and goods embargo, driven in part by US fears of their own slave rebellion. Haiti’s financial woes were then exacerbated when France demanded high compensation for slaveholders deprived of their property.
Shortly after its 1821 independence from Spain in 1822, the Dominican Republic was subject to an oppressive twenty-two year occupation by a cash-strapped Haiti which mandated French instead of Spanish, the confiscation of all church land and property, and heavy taxes. After the Dominicans gained their independence from Haiti in 1844, tensions remained high as they thwarted various attempted Haitian invasions over the next 12 years (Mayes 2014
; Wucker 1999
Since the 1920s, when Haitians worked in the Dominican Republic’s prosperous sugar industry, the Dominican Republic has made significant financial gains, in part due to employing Haitian migrants at low wages, as Haiti maintains a dubious distinction of being the poorest country in the western hemisphere. An extended multi-generational underclass of as many as a million Haitians living in the Dominican Republic is of indeterminate nationality, without the same rights and privileges as Dominicans, and subject to periodic expulsions and repatriation to Haiti where they no longer have connections or opportunities (Roth 2012
The wide disparity in annual per capita income (US $
1300 in Haiti and US $
8200 in the Dominican Republic) continues to serve as an incentive for undocumented Haitians to seek work in the Dominican Republic, especially in the wake of the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake that killed 100,000–160,000. Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 added to deficits in infrastructure and the need for humanitarian aid for hundreds of thousands of people (Ahmed 2016
). Partly as a result of these kinds of events, Dominican resentment of Haitians has persisted (Dubois 2013
). This raises questions about whether immigrants to the US from both countries have been able to distance themselves from these historically and culturally inculcated tensions. The answer lies largely in racial self-concept.
Because most Dominicans identify as indio
, the dichotomous Black-White split shows the inadequacy of an oversimplified concept of race. The word indio
(Indian in Spanish) denotes the Taíno-Arawak pre-Columbian inhabitants of Hispaniola. Ironically, this indigenous population that occupied Hispaniola, where Christopher Columbus (and his brother, Bartholomew) established the first European settlement in the Americas in 1492 and 1493, were victims of Spanish genocide (see the story of Anacaona for a poignant account of the egregious treatment of the indigenous population (Oliver 2009
)). Among the more-than-a-dozen descriptors of skin color in the Dominican Republic (Duany 2011
; Guzmán 1974
is the term most commonly used, and a term that is employed only by Dominicans (Telles et al. 2015
). Although most Dominicans (82%) designate their race as indio
while few (4%) self-identify as Black, the indio
population is phenotypically Black (Gates 2011
) in sharp contrast to the historic one-drop rule in the US with its legacy of hypodescent.
The term indio
belies that 73% of Dominicans are mulatto, 16% are White, 11% are Black (World Factbook 2016a
). However, Dominicans are lighter-skinned than Haitians who have had much less miscegenation: 95% are Black and 5% are Mulatto and White (Simms et al. 2010
; World Factbook 2016b
). The term indio
connotes Indian, and while their ancestry is as much as 9% Indian (Gates 2011
), their African ancestry far surpasses their Indian ancestry and is determinative of their Black phenotype. Although Blacks and mulattoes comprise nearly 90% of the contemporary Dominican population, compared to other countries in the same hemisphere, they are uniquely indeterminate about their racial identity (Gates 2011
There are a number of explanations for the term indio
, including that indigeneity and Hispanicity serve to reinforce Dominican sovereignty given previous Haitian unification efforts and US imperialism (Candelario 2007
). The weight of evidence, however, suggests that the term reveals Dominicans’ denial of their blackness and acceptance of white primacy that includes calls to “adelantar la raza
” or advance the race through only mixing with lighter-skinned people (Torres-Saillant 2000
) while the term blanqueamiento
connotes socioeconomic advancement through gaining acceptance from those classified and self-identified as White (Whitten and Torres 1998
). The Dominican government promoted the belief that they have a non-Black population, reflected in its identity cards that classified 90% of the population as indio
). This manifestation of colorism, found in many parts of the world, is a legacy of colonialism that made race a traceable lineage and a legal status wherein whiteness was sought and blackness constituted regression (Jha 2016
; Mayes 2014
; Telles et al. 2015
6. How the Use of Indio Is Linked to Anti-Haitianismo
is a psycho-linguistic device that allows Dominicans to avoid using the terms negro and mulatto (which imply the presence of Black heritage). Black becomes indio oscuro
is a more neutral source of heritage, helping Dominicans maintain a Spanish identity. The term indio
allows Dominicans to forget their African ancestors’ enslavement while encouraging White Dominican oblivion about the legacy of slavery. Furthermore, the notion of the indio
distances them from associations with being a “lowly Haitian or negro” (Suriel 2005, p. 28
). “One of the most offensive things one could say to many other Afro-Caribbean immigrants, as well as to African immigrants, was to ask them if they were from Haiti” (Johnson 2016, p. 40
Furthermore, “Dominican identity is constructed through a negative identification with the Haitian/negro identity” (Howard 2001, p. 3
) as reflected in the frequent response to the question about what it means to be Dominican: “Not Haitian” (Gates 2011, p. 138
). In fact, “Haiti stands for all that is allegedly not Dominican” (Howard 2001, p. 5
). This is a view that is commonly expressed:
“Are Dominican people Black? Ask that to a Dominican person and you might get cursed out…[A]cknowledgement of one’s Blackness is perceived by many Dominican people as an irrational confession and sometimes an unforgivable betrayal, for to be Black in the Dominican Republic is to be the antithesis of Dominican national identity, to be anti-Dominican, in other words, to be an ‘inferior’ Black Haitian”.
allowed Dominicans of color to bond and feel that, in spite of being second-class citizens in their own country and deemed subordinate to White people, their Spanish heritage placed them above intrinsically inferior Black people in Haiti (Sagás 2000
8. Historical Roots of the Dominican-Haitian Division
In order to see themselves as an ethnically and culturally Spanish nation, Dominicans discourage Haitian immigrants seeking better economic opportunities and condone the expulsion of Haitians, even those born and raised in the Dominican Republic (Amnesty International 2016
). The simultaneous vilification of Haitians and glorification of Whites has been promulgated unambiguously by leaders at the highest levels including the reign of Rafael Trujillo (1930–1961) and Joaquín Balaguer, a proponent of antihaitianismo
and Dominican president for much of the 1960s–1990s (Mayes 2014
; Wucker 1999
). Trujillo’s genocide of Haitians in the Dominican Republic and darker complexioned Dominicans was sanctioned by members of the white elite (Candelario 2007
; Sagás 2000
The climate for acceptance of antihaitianismo
is also undoubtedly lingering resentment of the 22 years of Haitian rule (1822–1844). In fact, Dominican Independence Day does not celebrate independence from Spain, but rather from Haiti (Suriel 2005
), an unprecedented choice for this type of national commemoration. In contrast, Haitians embrace their victory over the French and revere their Black leaders, rather than Dominican heroes such as Christopher Columbus.
While in the US there are protests about Columbus Day, in the Dominican Republic, Columbus continues to be honored, part of hispanicismo
, the celebration of the Dominican Republic’s Spanish heritage (Mayes 2014
). In a major tourist attraction in Parque Colon, a large bronze statue of Columbus erected in 1887 by French sculptor Ernest Guilbert in Columbus Plaza patently glorifies a white European (Krohn-Hansen 2001
). The Columbus Lighthouse monument (Faro a Colón
) that purportedly contains some of Columbus’ hallowed remains was built recently (between 1986 and 1992) at a cost of $
70 million, revealing continued reverence for the Spanish and heroes who either possess or are portrayed as having Caucasian features (Gates 2011
). In addition, their homage to Juan Pablo Duarte as a national hero is notable because even though he was only one of three men who orchestrated independence from Haiti, he also was three-quarters European with a white phenotype, evident in images of him with blue eyes, unlike the other founding fathers (Ramón Mella and Juan Sanchez Ramírez) who are revered less frequently (Eller 2016
In contrast to Dominicans celebrating their connection to Columbus, Haitians pride themselves on their liberation from the French in the Haitian Revolution (1804), the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state free from slavery and ruled by non-Whites and former captives. The heroes they celebrate are Black. By the end of April 1804, the white Haitians (of French descent) were practically eradicated, an event that created a permanent rift between the French and the Haitians. In addition, to counteract colorism that is perpetuated by distinguishing different people by their hue (Guzmán 1974
), when Haitians defeated Napoleon and devised their own Constitution (1805), they decreed that Haitians would subsequently be known only generically as Blacks (Dubois 2013
Despite tensions between Dominicans and Haitians, their joint history also includes collaboration that is often neglected by historians and scholars (see Paulino 2016
). However, the extent to which their relations remain antagonistic and the potential impact of such sentiment in the United States are the focus of this paper.
After obtaining IRB approval, the first author interviewed a small sample of three Haitians and four Dominican first-generation immigrants from among clients at a Miami-area hair salon with primarily Haitian and Dominican customers (with permission of the Dominican salon owner). Given the propensity for “commercial friendships” and openness to sharing perspectives on various social issues in this type of setting (Garzaniti et al. 2011
), the first author approached a select number of salon clients who had been talkative during previous salon visits. The exploratory nature of the work and the need to establish a rapport to elicit honest, thoughtful answers about a sensitive topic led to the decision to seek a small sample that might be willing to divulge sensitive information. All clients who were approached agreed to participate, at which time they completed an informed consent form and then moved to a room in the salon where the 20–30 min interview could be private.
The first author grew up with a white father and Dominican mother who identifies as indio
and is among the almost half of all the Dominican Americans that immigrated since the 1990s (López 2015
). Miami is one of the areas in the US known for having a significant Dominican diaspora community (besides the New York City metropolitan region, which alone is home to about 40% of Dominican Americans) (López 2015
). Raised in a diverse neighborhood with close connections to Jamaicans, Ecuadorians, Cubans, Hondurans, Colombians, Indians, and Panamanians, the first author has a high comfort level with a culturally diverse array of people.
While one interviewee had been in the United States only for three years, the remainder had lived in the United States for at least 10 years. All but one interviewee spoke English. The only male interviewed, a Dominican, spoke Spanish throughout the interview. The other Dominicans spoke English, but inserted Spanish words when they felt unable to find an English equivalent during the interview.
Interviewees’ ages ranged from 21–60 although most interviewees were around 45 to 55 years old. They were from a variety of social classes, including lower, middle, and upper middle classes. Despite the sensitivity of the topic, the interviewees expressed their confidence and trust in the first author after learning of her goal to better understand how racial identity relates to intercultural connections within the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. The scripted interview questions were as follows: What are your perceptions of (Haitians/Dominicans)? What is something from your childhood that you remember being told about (Dominicans/Haitians)? What images about (Dominicans/Haitians) do you recall from your early years? How has your self-image or identity changed since moving to America? How would you react if the island of Hispaniola were combined? What race do you consider yourself now versus before? Do you feel like you are more judged by your race in the US or your country of origin? Why?
9.1. Interview Results
9.1.1. General Perceptions
Interview data were organized by themes, including general perceptions of the other group (Haitians or Dominicans). Haitians emphasized the two countries’ cultural similarities (e.g., their love of dancing, elaborate parties, the Carnival celebration) and food like plantains, rice and beans (irrespective of culinary distinctions based on French versus Spanish influences). Haitians also brought up musical similarities (meringue
for Dominicans and konpa
in Haiti) that are both based on European contradance and a five-beat African rhythm (Wucker 1999
). In addition, they mentioned commonality as descendants of African slaves. They also acknowledged that Haiti is further behind in its economic welfare than the Dominican Republic. There was less variety in responses from Dominicans about Haitians; the most common Dominican impressions of Haitians were about their shouldering a disproportionate amount of the hard work in the Dominican Republic and their lower educational attainment compared to Dominicans.
9.1.2. Childhood Warnings
Interviewees were asked what they had learned about Dominicans/Haitians in childhood. Haitian answers included warnings about Dominicans treating Haitians like slaves. One interviewee had been told that Dominican women in Haiti worked as prostitutes (a depiction that Howard
) attributes to the comparatively large number of Dominican-managed brothels and beauty shops in Port-Au-Prince).
Dominicans were encouraged to be fearful of Haitians, likely part of anti-haitianismo. These apprehensions were instilled by references to Haitians as threatening, for example, by adults saying to children, “The demons are coming”, when they passed a Haitian in the street. Some respondents’ relatives also told them that Haitians would come after them if they misbehaved. Even looking at Haitians was ill-advised, as Dominican babies that looked into the eyes of Haitians supposedly risked being cursed as victims of the “evil eye”. Other warnings included Haitians’ purported ability to turn people who looked at them into a donkey or a tree, admonitions that could stem from Dominican uneasiness with Haitian vodou.
9.1.3. New Self-Concepts as Immigrants
When respondents were asked if their self-perceptions had changed since immigrating, both Haitians and Dominicans downplayed any changes and instead discussed their improved life chances due to opportunities available in the US. Haitians decried the lack of middle class in Haiti, and expressed pride in their achievement of middle class status in the US. One Haitian described how African American students had bullied her in middle and high school, deriding her accent and Haitian origins, taunts that were reportedly commonly directed at other Haitians as well. She said that over time, this mistreatment instilled greater pride in her background and spurred her to be more vocal in representing her country. Dominicans, like Haitians, seemed relatively unconcerned about assimilation or how they were perceived, focusing instead on their upward mobility.
9.1.4. Lasting Impressions of Dominicans/Haitians
When asked about whether images of the other culture (Dominicans/Haitians) that had been learned earlier in their lives had continued to resonate, Haitians said they only remembered what they had heard since they had not been exposed to Dominicans. They mentioned Dominicans’ flair for doing hair and delicious food. One of the interviewees who grew up in the countryside far from the border of the Dominican Republic said she never heard anything about Dominicans.
In stark contrast to these responses, the Dominicans recalled very negative portrayals of Haitians. These centered around Haitian aggressiveness and dishonesty, as well as rumors of vodou which they viewed as an aberrant religion, consistent with historical scapegoating of the religion by colonial powers (Hebblethwaite 2015
). One interviewee remembered knowing one good Haitian at her school, but felt the rest were very confrontational. She also recalled buying something from a convenience store and not receiving any of the expected change back from a Haitian cashier.
9.1.5. Question of Reunification of Hispaniola
When asked about how they would react if the Dominican Republic and Haiti became a single country on the island of Hispaniola, Haitians were much more positive than Dominicans. They believed that combining the countries would provide more funding and opportunity for both countries, saying it was an appealing prospect but one that would face resistance given the many differences and disagreements between the two countries. In contrast, Dominicans expressed uncertainty about the impact of such a union, and lacked any optimism about unification, given what they saw as irreconcilable cultural differences.
9.1.6. Racial Self-Concept
The first Haitian interviewee considered herself to be Black and a Haitian-American. The second Haitian interviewee did not identify as African American but instead only as Haitian, adding that she would “live and die” being Haitian. The third Haitian interviewee had always seen herself as 100% Haitian, and expressed her commitment to this identity, irrespective of her move to the US. She was saddened by people who were of Dominican descent, but who had been born and raised in Haiti, and pretended to be only Dominican, taking no pride in, and in fact rejecting, any connection to Haiti.
The first Dominican identified as indio in the Dominican Republic, but as Hispanic in the US. The next interviewee saw himself as an indio, and also as a Hispanic-American (after moving to America), yet also always Dominican. The third Dominican interviewee identified simply as indio. The fourth Dominican interviewee also identified as indio in Dominican Republic, but as Black in the US. She believed that fellow Dominicans are actually Black but will not admit it, a point of view that could be connected to her complexion (that was darker than that of the other Dominicans interviewed).
With about 40% of US Hispanics born outside the mainland US (Roth 2012
), it is important to understand facets of their identity that provide insight into a significant and growing segment of the US population originating in an island just over 700 miles from Miami. The Dominican interviewees communicated that they view Haitians as a people with whom they have nothing in common. Consistent with historical precedent, they saw Haitians as an underclass relegated to arduous work; during World War I, when the European sugar supply was cut off, Americans occupied the Dominican Republic (1916–1924) and imported Haitian workers to fill undesirable jobs that Dominicans turned down. The association of Haitians with low status work remains unchanged (Whitten and Torres 1998
). This helps elevate the Dominicans, whose status is higher by comparison. Devaluing Haitians also reflects color coding wherein Haitians’ darker, more homogenous hue is linked to lower social standing (Sagás 2000
), while whiteness provides symbolic capital. By having an underclass of dark-skinned people, the Dominicans can place themselves in the middle class as indio
, with the whitest blancos
as the racial elite, and dark-skinned Black people as the lowest caste.
In order to associate themselves more closely with White people, the relativity of racial schemas make Haitians functional given that a dark-skinned person would call someone with lighter skin “blanco” while a lighter-skinned person might call that same person trigueño
(wheat colored). Similarly, within a family, the lightest or darkest might be identified as “la blanquita” or “el negrito” because of relative comparisons (Roth 2012
). As a result, incorporation of Haitians within the Dominican racial consciousness makes them relatively lighter which confers higher social status. In accordance with this racial schema, blackness is externalized so that Haitians serve as the bottom rung of the social ladder, making success relative to those darker and poorer. Consistent with this type of relational self-assessment, Dominicans of a higher social class are less apt to reject a Black identity in the absence of a need to define their success in relation to those lower in the social hierarchy (Roth 2013
Our finding is that Haitians see common cultural ground, such as food and a love of dancing, while Dominicans focus on differences, such as language, which is consistent with a study of second generation Dominican high school students in Providence, Rhode Island for whom speaking Spanish demonstrates a “non-Black identity” in favor of an ethnolinguistic identity. This language-based sense of self appears to supersede the role of skin color (phenotype), religion, or music (e.g., bachata, salsa, merengue, and reggaeton) in identity (Bailey 2001
; Cherry 2015
). Interestingly, language can also legitimize Whites’ marginalization of Dominicans in the US, given the stigmatization of speaking Spanish as backward (Rosa 2016
As Dominican immigrants experience acculturation, they undergo a type of cognitive rewiring where concepts of race shift based on new information gained through social networks, institutions, and the media that are influenced by trends in immigration, transnationalism, and globalization (Roth 2012
). Despite the variety of factors involved in this “rewiring”, lighter-skinned individuals maintain an advantage not dissimilar to that conferred by career success (power and money). This phenomenon extends to African Americans who are called (and considered) White by both their peers and by White people based on factors such as their educational accomplishments, career success, financial status, and neighborhood—attributes that override their Black phenotype, and are independent of their own self-perception (Carbado and Gulati 2013
; Thelamour and Johnson 2016
While many Dominicans maintain an indio
identity rooted in sociocultural factors and not just skin color, African American identity relies more on the validation of Blackness over cultural attributes (partly lost as a result of slavery). Zoe Saldana, a light-skinned Puerto Rican and Dominican actress (with some Haitian heritage), spurred controversy in 2016 when she was cast as musician Nina Simone, a dark-skinned African American. While Dominicans embrace and admire those with lighter skin, some African Americans believe that Saldana should have turned down the role to allow a darker-skinned actress to portray Simone. Some African Americans believe that racial solidarity calls for rejecting any advantages that separate light-skinned Black people from other Black people, especially since they will still remain subordinate to Whites. Some believe that to subvert the privilege of light skin, it is necessary to dismantle the system that devalues darker-skinned Black people and rewards Black people whose phenotype and features are closer to those of white people (Oluo 2016
Black people who immigrate to the US may feel alienated from African Americans if they are expected to place their allegiance to being Black above their culture, which for them is part of a complicated racial schema that goes far beyond phenotype. Flores-González
) describes a Dominican American who identifies as Latina yet is “often perceived as black because of her dark skin, [yet] does not identify racially as black and feels more distant from blacks than any other racial group
” (p. 87, emphasis added).
Afrolatinos realize their status in the US hierarchy is below white people, but yet at the same time, may lack solidarity with African Americans especially in regard to docility encouraged in an exploitative service sector economy (Ramos-Zayas 2011
). This trait, also known as “buena presencia
” or non-aggressiveness, has been identified as helping to create a tractable labor force (Honig 2001
). As “super citizen migrants”, Afrolatino immigrants hold out hope for the American Dream and contrast with other minorities lacking the same mindset. Rewarding immigrants’ docility and acceptance of white hegemony furthers white interests while pitting Black immigrants against African Americans who fight for change. Meanwhile, the immigrants can gain cultural capital by distancing themselves from African American efforts to challenge the status quo (Jackson 2010
Similarly, African Americans, like Haitians, are more apt to consider their struggles for empowerment and against subjugation by White people as a central part of their identity. Because of Dominicans’ history of embracing the white part of their heritage, they may be less prone to seeing the US White establishment as oppressors undeserving of prima facie respect, and instead view resentment of White people in power as psychological weakness. In fact, some deem resentment a cause
, not a consequence, of racism. Their different perspective based on Dominican culture and greater acceptance of the power structure makes them more appealing to Whites, which results in a higher position in the hierarchy of Black people living in the US (Ramos-Zayas 2011
These factors likely contribute to the fact that only 18% of US Afrolatinos identify one of their races as Black, less than half as many as those who identify as White (or partly White) (López and Gonzalez-Barrera 2016
). Beginning with the 1980 US Census, Hispanic has been considered an ethnicity but not a race (Gonzalez-Barrera and López 2015
; Humes et al. 2011
). Revisions planned for the next decennial data collection (in 2020) include a reversal in which Hispanic ethnicity would no longer be assessed as a separate question, but rather would be incorporated into a single question about racial identity.
The proposed re-design for the 2020 Census has the potential to reduce the relatively high proportion of Hispanics that either skip the Census race question or select “some other race”, an overly broad, less useful category (Compton et al. 2010
). Subsuming Hispanic ethnicity into a question about race would allow respondents to select all applicable racial and ethnic options (Krogstad and Cohn 2014
; Compton et al. 2010
). However, parallel with examples of the different categories, such as “German, Irish, Lebanese, Egyptian” for Whites, the examples proposed to illustrate who is Black are “Haitian and Nigerian”. Although some Afrolatinos already do not identify as Black, using “Haitian” as an example of the Black racial group could lead to even fewer Afrolatino Dominicans identifying as Black due to antihaitianismo
The lines of a racial in-group depend on cultural traits ascribed symbolic meaning such as spoken language, food, art, religion, and music that exist within the confines demarcated by the “other”. The formation of group consciousness stems from microcosmic childhood learning evidenced in our interview data revealing previously unreported elements underlying Dominican antipathy towards Haitians including the depiction of Haitians as threatening—capable of casting spells and acting as agents of punishment for misbehaving Dominican children—negative portrayals not matched by Haitians’ views of Dominicans.
In addition to these elements of individuals’ socialization, macrocosmic influences like colorism play an equally important role. These forces may operate on a governmental level, specifically the promotion of antihaitianismo and acute awareness of skin color that prizes whiteness associated with Europeans over blackness associated with Haitians. These various factors coalesce and elevate Dominicans, setting them apart from Haitians, as reflected in Dominican Independence Day that celebrates the end of Haitian occupation rather than the end of Spanish rule.
Dominican identity seems to be distinct from African American identity, even though the hue of many African Americans resembles that of Dominicans who call themselves indio. The divide between Dominicans and African Americans seems to have more to do with contrasts in interactional style and political acquiescence, differences that fade in subsequent generations. In contrast, the divide between Dominicans and Haitians is longstanding and deep, complicating the achievement of cultural rapprochement.
Race is a negotiated, constructed status, determined by perceptions of others and dynamic individual self-identification. Haitians, as outsiders, serve to enclose the boundaries of Dominican self-identification, a phenomenon reinforced by fluid and interactional historical, economic, and political dividing lines. These phenomena reflect the complexity of race and how its assessment should occur within a relational context that recognizes historical conflicts, childhood socialization, as well as psychosocial and geopolitical facets of racial identity, without diminishing efforts to dispel racial bias.