This past weekend, I spent some time with my Dominican parents. To be specific, my Dominican mother and stepfather, both of whom enjoy the Dominican satellite channels offered on Time Warner Cable. They’ll watch shows rooted in guttural comedy, scantily-clad voluptuous women, and nationalism sprinkled throughout the programming. They laugh, shake, dance, and yell at the television, even when the situation doesn’t call for it. My parents respond to the automatic trigger of the palm trees, the beige dust rising after Passats sweep by the rocks of the highways. I’m shaken by images of lighter complexions featured within the studios and darker hues outside of the studio.
Even from far away, their perceptions about Blackness get reinforced by the TV they want to see.
It was only a few years ago that I got my mom to admit her own Blackness. While I don’t believe all Latinos are Black, I find it disingenuous for one of the first colonies in the Western Hemisphere to deny any parts of their Blackness. Much of this was engrained into them by the founders of the national identity, who wanted no part of anything remotely Haitian. It’s as if the duel between Dominican Republic’s founders and Haiti’s founders lies in who wanted to appease their former oppressors. While Haiti celebrates its independence from a European country, Dominican Republic celebrates its independence from its own neighbor. This belief is so prevalent still that even a literal seismic shift in the form of an earthquake couldn’t mend the fences between these two countries.
But I’ve grown weary of trying to tell others that Haitians and Dominicans practically listen to the same music, eat the same foods, and appreciate the same weather. Our flag colors are the same, and many of our traditions descend right from the continent of Africa. I’ve been stuck in between these arguments where people who refuse to accept the others’ side of things, wondering when a people so similar will actually come together and take advantage of the plentiful resources of their own island.
I’m also tired of the lack of responsibility countries like The United States, France, and Spain have played in perpetuating the frictions and tensions in this relationship. While I admit that I don’t know much Kreyol nor have I been to Haiti, I consider myself every bit as Haitian as the next Haitian.
Thus, I commend Henry Louis Gates for the exposure and care he took to document these experience in the first installment of Black in Latin America on PBS. I just wish I knew what to do with all this information. Besides be myself.
Jose, who is black, no maybe …