Friday, June 5, 2009

Hispañiola; Atlantic crystal

Here, here and here are three pieces from three perspectives on the contentious issues in the Dominican community around race, color, and Haitian migration. The overall picture I get from the three is that of an upcoming generation of Dominicans, raised in the US and exposed to a different value set around race and ethnicity than their grandparents and uncles on the island. As the views and comments shared show these remain sensitive topics for Dominicans, and one where there are clear generational and perhaps geographic divides. There are also real problems of semantics; what exactly do the words you choose mean to an older Dominican? How are your claims colored by what he or she knows concerning attitudes of white Americans, representations of blackness in American media, etc.? The confusion can be compounded in the case of Dominican Diasporans as even when Spanish was our first language it is not likely to have been the language of our schooling and our academic and intellectual development. This semantic issue is one that needs to be kept in mind as this conversation grows if those of us reared stateside hope to influence those on the island grappling with these issues.

About a year ago I began going onto the forums of an English language Dominican news site. I'll leave my rant on the value of internet forums for another day. In any case I haven't had much choice in the matter regarding this forum. My intellectual curiosity over this period has run to DR and DR history, and this was the only English language forum with participants among whom numbered a few with solid historical knowledge and developed opinions about DR. Unfortunately, my experience there has been largely negative. Instead of celebrating the Dominican there is considerable ferocity on display at this forum regarding the issues of illegal Haitian immigration and Dominican racial complexes. And though many, especially Diasporans, aim to inject a more humanistic perspective to Haitian immigration issue, it runs into a lot of walls. One quickly learns it isn't as simple as increasing the peace; there are not only the usual legitimate economic factors that pit one group against another, not only the layer of colorism which is present throughout the Americas, but there is also the matter of actual Dominican history. If history matters, it does matter that these nations repeatedly battled militarily since their respective births in the age of Atlantic revolutions. These wars are events that our homegrown Dominican cousins will bring up in discussions on the topic. They are not entirely without merit. These events occurred at the foundations of the national psyche, and the fires they started were re-awakened and strengthened by DR's infamous benefactor Trujillo. It may not always be evident how, but the point is these histories are relevant. One problem of the more universal, human-rights based level of values that we Diasporans bring to the table in these conversations is that this level of thought can create blindspots to the positive value of nationalism. Having a more globalist outlook on the world is admirable, and it is on the whole my own viewpoint. Still I have observed that many who operate from this worldview seem to have missed a step on the ladder. They affect to have transcended nation and tribe, but often not in an organic way that would require us to respect, value and embrace the healthy aspects of the older worldview. And it has not been my experience that we Diasporans know, much less embrace, the history of our parents' homeland as well as we could; or if we do, we know it more from a regional paradigm, and might consider DR as just one more example of many in 'post-colonial' history. As with semantics this is another obstacle to understanding between the home-grown and foreign branches of this family that could undermine any positive influence we can have on this discourse. It begs of those in our island Patria the question, who are you to discuss how we identify who do not even know our story?

For now those are my two offerings to the discussion; cautions about potential pitfalls. My feeling is that the kind of violent headlines and uninformed criticism sparking increased discussion of this matter across borders will go on. I think we Dominican-Americans can offer something to this discourse, just as I think the native Dominicans have something to offer us if we really study our story. It is a story that bears the marks of all the hurricanes and vicissitudes that came with the whole of the Atlantic transaction from the age of colonization, through the Industrial Revolution, to the Cold War, through today. Working through these issues together I hope we can one day offer new paradigms to our region, our hemisphere, and maybe even our world.


Jose said...

Here's something I always think about as a globalist Diasporan (I wonder if they're mutually exclusive or not, btw. I'm assuming so). I wonder whether the experience of being from USA and offering that different perspective and voicing those perspectives will somehow change the unwritten policies of the racial hegemony that persist in DR. Then, I think of this country and realize that there's so many racial issues to deal with at home that maybe the other home might have to figure it out for ourselves. We can always look to DR and say, "Man, your politics are messed up" and they can very much say, "With all you've said, sounds like YOURS is messed up."

Good contribution to the conversations.

Ozzy said...

Good insight Jose. I have seen just that reaction come up in conversations. If we are too Americanized in our approach we end up placed in the same bucket as the NGOs, who are seen as instruments of US political agendas & American ways of thinking. And again given history isn't their suspicion of the US NGOs and US ideas warranted?

Whatever sides we choose on issues from the other home, we are de facto agents of the culture of this home. So I wonder myself the point to bringing our viewpoint to their table, and why I'm so drawn to take part. As your entry said the islands simply call you back. Travel, communication, and personal investment back in the other homes will probably get easier and smoother as our lives progress so yeah I think this is part of the being a globalist Diasporan.