Transnational Black Feminist Retreat
We gathered in the Dominican Republic in March 2013 as part of a delegation to understand the history and current conditions of anti-Black racism and Black resistance to racial inequality, exclusion, and subordination in the Dominican Republic.
As a body –of scholars, artist, students, activists, spiritual and cultural workers–of citizens from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. and Canada, of queer and queer allied Black feminists – we stand in solidarity with the thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians – both documented and undocumented – who are systematically discriminated against by the Dominican state’s racist policies, the nation’s long history of anti-Haitianism and the ongoing suppression of Afro-descended people, history, and culture in Dominican society.
This statement is a call to all people of conscience committed to dismantling anti-Black racism in its many structural, institutional, and discursive forms. This is our call to support local efforts by Dominican activists, artists, and intellectuals as they continue to dismantle the discriminatory policies that systematically target Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent.
Our trip to the Dominican Republic, birthplace of colonialism in the hemisphere, served to illustrate to us how historical and ongoing processes of racial discrimination, state violence, gender subordination, the dehumanization of African and Indigenous populations, and the institutionalization of white supremacy continue to shape the social experiences and life chances of Afro-descendant communities globally. We were witness to the specific manifestations of these processes in the Dominican Republic. As a result, we have strengthened our individual and collective resolves to continue dismantling the structures of inequality through practices of solidarity with local organizations working on the ground to create more just and livable conditions for Black communities in the region.
Women have historically been and continue to be the leaders of anti-racist struggles. They reject the attempts of the Dominican state and the Catholic Church to regulate and discipline Black communities who are seen as a threat to the stability and racial integrity of the nation. From the legacy of Ana María, an enslaved Black woman who was one of seven leaders tortured and executed for her role in a 1796 slave uprising at Boca de Nigua, the first sugar mill in the Americas, to the work of Mama Tingó, a rural activist whose leadership helped form the current movement for women’s land rights in the Dominican Republic, women of African descent have maintained their communities in the face of persistent and pervasive patterns of violence, inequality, and displacement.
These histories of Black women’s resistance and resilience remain marginalized in official, state-sponsored retellings of the nation’s past. Those intellectuals who do attempt to counter the repression of these subjugated histories are often marginalized in the academy and discredited by the state and the Catholic Church. This is clear in the way that the state and the Church continue to privilege the colonial architecture of the island, its cultural and political ties to Spain and Europe, and the famed wealth of the Spanish empire, while downplaying the legacy of violent chattel slavery that made this wealth possible. Likewise, the Dominican state continues to ignore those activists and social movements who are currently leading the struggle for racial, economic, gender, and sexual justice in the Dominican Republic.
Over the course of a week, we met with several women-led organizations at the forefront of rural and urban movements to empower Black communities and combat social and economic inequality. We met with activists at the National Confederation of Rural Women (CONAMUCA in Spanish), who shared with us their experiences of struggling for more than thirty years to increase rural women’s access to land and the resources to sustain their agricultural livelihoods. The vast majority of women’s organizations involved in the federation are led by women of African-descent, struggling to create lives and communities free of structural, interpersonal, and gender violence. They identify Florinda Soriano Muñoz, better known as Mama Tingó, as the ideological foremother of their movement. Born into a poor rural family in 1921, Mama Tingó became a central figure in the rural women’s movement by advocating for dispossessed Dominicans whose lands were fraudulently taken from them by politicians, military officials, and wealthy landowners. Provoking the wrath of the state and the nation’s landowning elite, she was assassinated in 1974 during the tumultuous administration of Joaquín Balaguer.
We also met with famed dancer and teacher, Marily Gallardo at the Kalalu School. There, through the exuberant African dances of the children, we witnessed the effect of a curriculum that teaches Dominican youth to be proud of their African ancestry. Her work disrupts conventional narratives of Dominican cultural identity that disavow the place of Blackness in the nation. Additionally, we met with members of the Women and Health Collective (Colectiva Mujer y Salud), a feminist organization that has been advocating for women’s human rights and the rights of sexual minorities in the Dominican Republic since 1984. Our interactions with La Colectiva and CONAMUCA explicitly illustrated to us how the work of securing women’s rights to equality, full citizenship, and body-sovereignty is an on going effort that has continued despite the lack of governmental support, state violence, and even death threats.
We were particularly dismayed, however, by the current situation of undocumented Haitian workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent and the systematic forms of discrimination, marginalization, and violence that the Dominican state enacts against these vulnerable populations. We had the opportunity to visit with the Dominican-Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA), an organization that has been working for 30 years to advance two principal political goals: 1) challenge the sexism, racism, and anti-Haitianism that pervades society and 2) to safeguard the civil, political, cultural, economic, and human rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent. MUDHA are currently organizing against Resolution 12, a law passed in 2007 that denies Dominicans of Haitian descent citizenship and legal documentation thereby rendering them effectively stateless. This has serious implications for Dominican Haitians who, without documentation, are barred from securing legal employment, continuing their post-secondary education, marrying, are unable to leave the country and travel—essentially they are transformed into non-citizens whose presence threatens the stability of the nation.
MUDHA also works closely with Haitians living in bateyes, the company towns of sugar corporations where undocumented Haitians live in conditions of extreme poverty. We visited Palmarejo, a batey community where the vast majority of the residents are undocumented Haitian workers whose children–born in the Dominican Republic–are systematically denied access to education, employment opportunity, basic social services, and citizenship. During our visit, we witnessed a batey school comprised of more than 200 students from kindergarten to grade four. We met and spoke with their teachers and school psychologist. Of these students, approximately 80 percent are undocumented. We witnessed an educational situation made bearable by the herculean efforts of its staff– a staff who have created a school that, though state inspectors verbally assured them is in compliance with educational guidelines, remains officially unsanctioned. Graduation from fourth grade marks the end of formal education for the vast majority of students enrolled in the school. While teachers and allied activists have been able to secure twenty places annually for their students in local private and public schools, even those who graduate high school cannot mark their diploma as a step toward college or professional employment since access to these advancing next steps requires documentation–documentation they’ve repeatedly been denied. Groups like Reconoci.do, an organization of young Dominican Haitians, have been working to overturn this discriminatory legislation, but the road ahead is long and it is unclear whether the Dominican state will rescind these policies.
It is easy to point to the Dominican Republic as an exceptional case. We prefer, however, to use this opportunity to think about the ways in which all modern states, particularly in the Americas, are premised on anti-Black racism as an organizing institutional logic of statehood. If we are correct in privileging the Dominican Republic as “the primal site of coloniality,” we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that the Dominican Republic is alone in its reproduction of colonial violence and racial terror. It is more productive to consider how the history of anti-Black racism and anti-Haitianism that animates Dominican state formations is also reflected in the state-making practices of many modern nation-states. This racist legacy is perhaps best exemplified in the 1937 massacre of Haitians, Haitian-descended Dominicans and Afro-Dominicans along the Dominican Haitian border. Indeed, the 1937 massacre took place only three years after the U.S. Marine occupation of Haiti formally ended and was enacted under the authoritarian rule of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, whose dictatorship enjoyed the full backing of the United States government. The treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent is just one reflection of this larger history. The historical denigration of Haiti is reflected in the policy of Western states that continue to view Haiti as pathologically underdeveloped, a site of political chaos, a vector of disease, and a perpetually failed state whose fragility is the result not of repeated intervention and destabilization but rather a reflection of the inherent contradiction of a Black republic. Under this reading, we are all implicated and therefore all responsible for confronting this reality and doing all that we can to see it change.
Currently, the question of Dominican Haitians and undocumented Haitians in the DR is being debated within Dominican and transnational civil society. MUDHA along with the support of a broad range of non-governmental organizations, cultural groups, and grassroots organizations has brought a case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, which is reviewing the legality and constitutionality of Resolution 012 . It is imperative that we support this case and advocate for the right of Dominicans of Haitian descent to citizenship and continue to press for full and equal rights to undocumented Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. This case is an important first step in disrupting these racist state policies masquerading under the guise of nationalism and patriotism. Given our own challenges with immigration reform in the United States, this is a familiar debate that should compel us to look more closely at discriminatory immigration policies that disproportionately impact poor people of color from the Global South. But beyond calls for national inclusion and equal treatment, it is equally critical that we continue to challenge those forms of anti-Blackness and anti-Haitianism that are reproduced in both popular and academic discourse throughout the Americas.
This collective statement was written and is supported by participants of the Transnational Black Feminist Retreat.
 This event is popularly referred to as the “Parsley Massacre,” so named because Dominican soldiers often identified native Creole speakers by their inability to properly pronounce the Spanish word for parsley, “perejil.” Given the fact that Dominican and Haitian communities along the border interacted and mixed extensively, it is clear that regional linguistic differences would have rendered many Dominican Haitians and Afro-Dominicans as well as Haitian immigrants vulnerable to this campaign.
 As of September 23, 2013 the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) – the Dominican equivalent of the Supreme Court – passed into law the “irrevocable” decision to deny citizenship to children born to foreign parents, including those “in transit” – a term used to target Haitians and Haitian descendents most explicitly. The decision calls for the review of birth documents going all the way back to 1929. Reconoci.do and other groups and organizations have stepped up their efforts; allies throughout the Caribbean have called for state sanctions and international bodies have demanded that the Dominican government repeal this decision. The struggle continues.