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Dominican Republic high court ruling sparks international outrage

Yawu Miller | 11/20/2013, 10:51 a.m.
A controversial ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court to strip citizenship from people of Haitian descent born there has ...
Kendra Lara says many Dominicans in Boston are outraged by the republic’s Constitutional Court ruling stripping citizenship from people of Haitian descent. Photo by Yawu Miller

“They’ve become more conservative and more corrupt,” he says. “And they’ve tried to use race as some kind of nationalist campaign.”

In his book “Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic,” University of Colorado Ethnic Studies Professor Ernesto Salas argues that antihaitianismo serves the interests of the nation’s wealthy elite.

“From its origins as Hispanic racism, to its transformation into anti-Haitian nationalism, to its culmination as Trujillo’s state ideology, antihaitianismo has had one objective: the protection of powerful elite interests through the subjugation of the lower (and darker) sectors of the Dominican population,” he writes. “Antihaitianismo serves elite interests well and has even been accepted by the great majority of the Dominican people as part of their political culture, thereby institutionalizing and giving it the moral legitimacy that it lacks.”

Jean Ford Figaro, a health education coordinator at Boston Medical Center, attended medical school and practiced medicine in the Dominican Republic from 1998 through 2006 and says he encountered racism at all levels of Dominican society.

“You would find it in people who had money and in people who hadn’t even gone to school who think they are better than you,” he said. “I was a doctor, and still I feel as rejected. Now the level of hostility is even greater than when I was there.”

Figaro, who works with many in the Haitian and Dominican community in Boston, says that same racism is largely absent from the local community.

“Most of them think the court ruling is not good for the country,” he said.

On social media, Dominicans in the United States have been highly critical of the Constitutional Court, viewing the ruling as an embarrassment, says Kendra Lara, a Dorchester resident who lived in the Dominican Republic until she was 12.

“Naturally your politics are going to change when you’re the marginalized demographic,” she says. “When you come here, you’re a person of color. You’re part of the same marginalized group as everyone else in your community.”

While Lara comes from what she describes as an Afro-Dominican family, some of her light-skinned second cousins in the Dominican Republic opined in favor of the court ruling on Facebook, arguing that Haitians are taking Dominicans’ jobs.

“It’s the same rhetoric you hear about immigration in the U.S.,” Lara says.