The topic of immigration is not foreign to us as U.S. citizens. With the primaries coming to a close back at home, our past year has been far from absent of propaganda and rhetoric surrounding the topic of undocumented citizens. As we learned today, this is something we share with the Dominican Republic as over the past 50+ years, hostility towards Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent has only grown: fostered by corrupt dictators and an overall sense of nationalism.
Today we woke up early, at 6:00 am. After a hearty breakfast, we attended an academic seminar about Immigration in the DR. In our seminar we learned about bateys, migrant labor camps facilitated by the Dominican government for Haitians working in the sugar industry. During his reign as dictator, Trujillo oversaw the creation of these camps, many of which have no access to water, electricity, or proper infrastructure.
After the seminar we left for Batey Libertad, a 2 hour drive from our hostel. There we met with members from Yspaniola, a non profit working in the batey with help from both locals and other U.S. citizens. Taking a tour of the batey, the smells and sounds were completely different from those we had previously encountered in the DR. Cajun style music, creole, and children could be heard bouncing off of every wall. Outside, men and women shell peas which they can sell for $1 a pound.
We next learned about different members personal encounters with discrimination due to their Haitian descent. Many of their experiences seemed similar to those many people of Latin descent experience in the U.S., as they are consistently accused of stealing jobs, being criminals, and not being deserving of citizenship despite being natural born. I was genuinely impressed with and inspired by each of the speakers determination to get their citizenship, despite how many obstacles they had come across.
After hearing these inspirational stories, we divided into small groups for lunch. Each group joined a different host family, which graciously provided us with food and conversation. My group was made up of Vikas, Elena, and a G.G. staff member. Our lunch was delicious, consisting of the traditional rice, beans, and chicken. In the tradition of Dominican courtesy, our host family refused to sit and eat with us at the table. But after the meal, we were able to ask our adoptive mother about her 6 children, 3 of which still live in the batey.
After lunch, we returned to Yspaniola to hear more about what they do for the community. A literacy program, they offer help to many students who are fluent in Creole rather than Spanish. They also provide help to anyone in the community seeking documentation, as being undocumented limits your access to transportation, education, work, and medical assistance.
We next walked down the street to the Vudu temple of Caco Pelao. There, the esteemed priest taught us about the Haitian culture and traditions surrounding Vuduism. I was extremely proud of the respect my peers showed during this portion of our day, as Vudu is often misconstrued as something silly in the U.S. Despite this, everyone asked insightful questions that displayed their true engagement and curiosity.
Finally, we retreated back to the Literacy center for a final time in order to read books and play games with the children of Batey Libertad. Many of these children ran to us with both open arms and open hearts. By the end of our visit, I felt overwhelmed with the unashamed love that emanates throughout the community.
So overall, one thing is clear. The Haitian people living in the DR are not those to reflect what has been cast upon them. They instead resist such discrimination with unequivocal love and open hearts, no matter how foreign.
As El Lider Del Dia, I found that I like finding a balance between overpowering and indifferent. It was much easier to run the day it seemed, as each day our delegation becomes more and more like a family.