By Sabine Tessono
Many associate Caribbean islands like the Dominican Republic as tropical
paradises filled with diverse languages, rich cultures, and people with various ethnic
backgrounds. Part of this is true, but there is unfortunately another side to the story to which
the masses are not aware. The history of the Dominican Republic reveals an ugly side
of racism, oppression, and unchecked violence that spills into its modern day society and
affects the relationship it has with its neighbor, Haiti, and even its own citizens.
In October 1937, the Parsley Massacre, one of the most horrific extermination
attempts occurred on the island of Hispaniola. Dominican citizens refer to it as “El
Corte”, or the cutting, while Haitians remember it as “Kout kouto”, or the knife blow.
Under the orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, soldiers would conduct several
raids on the countryside and test dark-skinned civilians, and killed them if they were
suspected of being Haitian. Even those who were proven to be Dominican were
murdered due to the color of their skin or for harboring Haitian fugitives. The
justification behind these actions were that “Dominicans [were] complaining of
the…thefts of cattle, provisions, and fruits…and were thus prevented from enjoying in
peace the products of their labor”. Yet, even with such harsh treatment, and
thousands of people killed in cold blood, this massacre is widely unknown to the modern
world, and even the residents of Hispaniola.
This ignorance, inaction, and the hateful ideas it continues to carry have been left to fester in the Dominican Republic’s way of life. And as a direct result, Haitians and darker skinned citizens living in the DR have to suffer the consequences.
The obvious example is the recent deportations of Haitians seeking refuge and
Dominicans of Haitian descent. According to Amnesty International, “the Dominican
Republic has unlawfully expelled hundreds of Dominicans to Haiti who have been caught
in the middle of a wave of returns and deportations of more than 100,000 people”. Many
of those who have been forcefully ejected from their homes have had to live in refugee
camps across the border, with unstable shelters and no running water or sanitation.
Other have been marginalized in their communities and threatened by local soldiers to
leave under the threat of violence. Even children who were born to such parents and who
lived their whole lives not knowing about their ancestry are suddenly caught in a
legal limbo due to the fact that they are considered to be “in transit”, or just passing
However, this oppression of the minority, or the “other” in Dominican society
does not only affect those in danger of imminent deportation. Citizens who contribute to
the mistreatment of these people by remaining silent are doomed to live in a hateful,
isolationist culture with a government that stifles their own personal freedoms as well. If
Dominicans choose to remain complicit in such immoral actions, they are doomed to
consistently repeat an abhorrent history. No amount of claiming to embrace diversity
will change that. Action will.