Story, photos and video by Sherry Mazzocchi
Claudia De la Cruz is an educator, community organizer and the general coordinator of the youth leadership development project at Da Urban Butterflies in Washington Heights. Her parents moved from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx, where she grew up.
Being Dominican is a cultural identity. De la Cruz sees it within an Afro-Caribbean diaspora that includes African heritage along with the history and struggles of colonialism. “It encompasses all those things that connect us – more than those things that divide us,” she said.
Many Dominicans bring the harsh legacies of Trujillo with them to the United States. Being black was connected to being Haitian. During the time of the Parsley Massacre, Haitians were considered less than human and murdered. And as a result, Dominicans detached from their African heritage—and instead attribute dark skin tones to an indigenous heritage. “The levels of racism in the Dominican Republic are so deep,” she said. “It’s been very difficult to seem themselves as black.”
Growing up in the United States, she saw Dominicans who straightened their pelo malo every week. Learning the struggles of African Americans and even Puerto Ricans who experience racism because of their skin color offered De la Cruz some insight.
“Knowing that history made sense to me as a second-generation immigrant who had an accent because my parents spoke Spanish,” she said. “In all that dynamic, you are constantly fighting who you are. Why should I not be comfortable in my own skin?”
It is important to claim herself as a black Dominican.
“When we start identifying ourselves as such—we start deconstructing those levels of racism we’ve been taught through history,” she said.
Nathalie Tejada is a poet, community organizer and the development officer at the Dominican Women’s Development Center. She is a healer and also a co-founder of TINGÓ: Grita Fuerte, “a cultural, spiritual and political organization for Afro womyn.”
She says it is a privilege to be born in a country with a rich culture, filled with an indelible sense of self, as manifest in the pleasures of delicious food, music and dancing.
The Dominican Republic, she says, receives its visitors with open arms.
Yet Tejada said she felt that the tribunal ruling unjustly denies Haitians, so many of whom come for work, all of the love and dedication they have brought to the Dominican Republic.
They take on jobs in construction, sugar fields and domestic service.
People there love and respect Haitians, she said. “We consider them Dominican as well because they were born and raised in the Dominican territory.”
She feels the country’s focus on the ruling is shameful and bringing the country to a crisis. The Dominican Republic has high rates of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. Yet Haitian-Dominicans work and give back to society.
“It is sad to see that the government, instead of putting all their energy to bringing more employment, more jobs, more education, more opportunities to the Dominican people as a whole,” she said, “they are just bringing this type of conflict.”