On Friday, November 30, I stood in a room of about 70 Dominicans and Haitians in the East Harlem church that the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, occupied to provide health services to their community in 1969. For 40 minutes I shared the floor with my colleague, France François, a Haitian human rights activist and founder of In Cultured Company [ICC]. Together, we weaved the colonial and post-colonial stories of Haiti and the Dominican Republic into a tapestry of recognition and mutuality, rather than racial conflict. ICC was launched in 2018 to provides workshops, facilitations, and conflict resolution tools to Dominicans and Haitians both on and off the island.
The ICC team (L-R) Alexis Francisco, Saudi Garcia,
France François, and Cassandre Theano. (photo credit: Kim Toledo)
My work as a facilitator with ICC is the latest manifestation of my efforts to facilitate reparation and healing work between Dominicans and Haitians in New York City. After completing the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers program, I served a year with the National Service Corporation (AmeriCorps) at a middle school in the South Bronx and earned a seat in New York University’s Department of anthropology. My educational journey has always contained an element of practice and activism. It is what allows me to stay grounded in a world of ideas and concepts. I continued this pattern by forming and organizing with an affinity group of Dominican women to host workshops and events that decolonized Dominicans’ connections to our African ancestors. Convened by Heidi Lopez, this group had the goal of creating a space for Dominicans to learn how to practice racial equity in order to create a bridge of solidarity and healing with other Afro-diasporic populations, in particular Haitians.
At the same time, I organized direct actions and wrote for We Are All Dominican, a collective that provides support to Dominicans of Haitian descent in the D.R. Since the 2013 denationalization crisis erupted in the D.R., Dominicans of Haitian descent have been affected by statelessness and a poorly executed, exclusionary, and expensive immigration status regularization process. Haitian immigrants and their children face various forms of violence that coalesce around a combination of anti-blackness and xenophobia that I have witnessed as a normalized aspect of Dominican culture.
Through this previous work, it has become evident to me that “decolonizing” Dominican identity means transforming relations to self, other humans, and non-human plants, animals, and environments. Unfortunately, those relations have long been shaped by the dominant interests of the country’s and the island’s ruling classes. When I was asked to help facilitate the first iteration of the Decolonizing Hispaniola workshop in September 2018, I felt it my duty to share what I am learning in my doctoral studies with a broader audience.
Organizing that very first event was fascinating because, as with anything that is a new creative offering in the world, we absolutely did not know what to expect. We gathered inside New Women Space, a radical organizing and healing space in Williamsburg, VA; and welcomed a crowd of Dominicans and Haitians for more than four hours of conversation. We facilitated using small groups that discussed historical narratives, spirituality, and the legal implications of denationalization. We observed as people opened up about their experiences growing up stigmatized for being Haitian in the United States and of witnessing anti-Haitianism within Dominican families. Many beautiful moments happened in that space, but I recall being filled with joy at seeing more mutual understanding flourish when Dominicans learned that Haitians do not hold a hateful perception of Dominicans—something that the Dominican government says is true in order to goad anti-Haitianism’s constant siege mentality.
These delicate conversations are just the beginning. With the leadership of France François and the collaboration of our team (Alexis Francisco, Cassandra Théano, and Brittnie Demosthene), the possibilities for ICC’s work are truly endless. We will continue to explore what healing, reconciliation, equity and justice can and will look like between Dominicans and Haitians, the first free black peoples of the Americas.