It would have been my truest expectation that any written communication moving in your direction from my desktop keyboard should’ve been about literature and books in general. Although I’m not a fan of light reading and minority-performance narratives that dazzle the gringo gaze, I somewhat enjoyed the softcore, wimpy The Farming of Bones, and even the rote, cliché-driven Drown. I did try making my way through The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a couple of times, but… Jesus Christ…
As things stand, however, I’d like to talk to you about something else: your joint participation at a forum entitled The Dominican-Haitian Crisis: Beyond the Surface, hosted by the Miami Workers Center and the Florida Immigrant Coalition. I’d like to do it in English, too, so as not to strain your feeble to nonexistent competence in Spanish or Créole; my principal concern is to make myself understood, a concern that you, as a Dominican and a Haitian migrant respectively, must share, living as you are in the United States. Mine is the routine concession we, savages dwelling at the fringes of the empire, must make to accommodate firstworlders and firstworlder wannabes.
You’d be hard pressed to peg me as one of them anti-Haitian crazies that so publicly shame the rest of us (the majority of us) with their racist posts, xenophobic declarations, and heated calls for Trujillo-like gulags, execution of traitors, and lynchings. The most cursory Google search will reveal that he who writes these lines has been at the receiving end of precisely such threats due to how vocally and persistently I have ridiculed, refuted, satirized, and unrigged their base ideals of racial purity and ethnic cleansing.
I did try making my way through The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a couple of times, but… Jesus Christ…Having said that, I’m seeing way too many firstworlders, firstworlder wannabes, and outright colonial subjects ganging up on the DR, calling us out on the repatriation nightmare we have been trying to avert for a couple of years now, happily and understandably ignorant of how hard many Dominicans have worked and are still working to stave off the rising tide of chauvinism, racism, anti-haitianism, and neonationalistic vociferations put forth by the worst of our lot, including politicians with an expertise in stoking the flames of bigotry, xenophobia and hatred. It seems to me that people living in developed countries, or under their auspices, are not equipped AT ALL to help us in this dire hour, burdened as they are with crimes of their own. US citizens, for example, have such a mouthful of assassinations by police forces of unarmed black citizens, that I can’t really make out any WORDS as they try, fervently, to brand us wholesale as racists. Mass deportations of Mexicans and Africans, dinghies full to the brim with human cargo capsizing in the Mediterranean because no country steps up to receive them, jail cells overcrowded with undocumented Mexican and Central American CHILDREN (concentration camps?… More on that later), the manhandling and use of excessive force against 14-year-old Dajerria Becton in McKinney, Texas and, on June 17 2015, the massacre perpetrated by Dylan Roof on a historical black church… turn the US, Europe, and their acolytes overseas into such a morally bankrupt bunch that the self-righteousness with which they judge the DR sounds incredibly callous, imperialistic and cynical.
Especially the US, where an advanced and multicultural citizenry can get their skinny jeans and assorted hipster regalia at very, very low prices thanks to American lobbyists that have consistently paid off Haitian officials TO NOT EVER RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE of the factory workers at the Free Trade Zones. It’s cute, ironic, yes, but cute, that all those overpriced Mickey Mouse dolls sold at Disney are manufactured in Haiti by people who survive with less than a dollar a day. How convenient, isn’t it?, to make the DR the bad guy now… And of course I leave a ton of stuff out in the interest of brevity: how the Clintons SWEPT the international aid pouring in after Haiti’s quake, making the Clinton Foundation the receiving basin of the influx of money, and redistributing all this wealth to family and friends; housing projects of tens of thousands of emergency dwellings reduced to six hundred shacks badly built, and worse; the legitimation of the most corrupt Haitian politicians by bringing them into the Clinton fold; the granting of mining permits to Tony Rodham, Hillary’s brother; etcetera.
The Dominican industrial elite and our Sugar Barons (who have strong links and important business partnerships in the US) are in no uncertain terms guilty of vampirism against our Haitian neighbors, and the ruling of our Constitutional Tribunal, revoking Dominican citizenship from more than two hundred thousand Dominicans born of Haitian parents (at least as it stands in the original census), is inhumane, racist to the core, and shameful. But before racing to place all the blame on the DR, firstworlders (political leaders and civilians alike), should take a LONG HARD LOOK at their own participation in the gruesome exploitation of Haiti. It is my contention that until this self examination is complete, no useful contribution to our present problems can be expected from such quarters, and none will be appreciated. Insults and condemnation are easy manifestations of precisely this ignorance. We, Dominicans, are fighting HARD against the overwhelming apparatus of a corrupt, dictatorial elite bent on appropriating our Republic, materially and spiritually, following a colonial narrative learned from societies that directly prospered from it, indirectly prosper from it still, and that now want to play the role of delicate, enlightened flowers using unwitting sound boxes such as you two.
You see, the widespread outrage felt by all Dominicans and sparked by your declarations in Florida is not unwarranted and it has a very simple cause: you leave stuff out. What I’d like, what we’d all like, is for you to take advantage of your privileged public platform to finally give the world the whole picture. For example, we’d all like to hear you, Edwige, condemn the physical, psychological, and economic violence that the Haitian government exercises against its own people on a daily basis; describe in minute detail, in a way only a writer of your caliber can, the rotten practices of the grotesque Haitian elites and how they hog public resources to maintain a status quo which, alas!, includes such a strict racial hierarchy it comes close to being a caste system; delve into that noblest of Haitian practices, the restavek, and let that be the backdrop for any discussion of human rights violations; fustigate the Bahamas, Bermuda, Brazil and all those other countries that have done and are doing exactly the same thing the Dominican Republic is doing against its Haitian minorities, and fustigate them as passionately and wholeheartedly as you are fustigating the DR; educate firstworlders about the nitty-gritty of REAL life in the Caribbean. Can you do that? Notice that I’m not asking “Would you do that”? CAN you?
Also, we’d all like for you, Junot, to inform whoever is there to listen how after the 2010 quake the Clinton Foundation (of which, of course, Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate for the Democrats, is a master cog) provided the hinges and junctures that facilitated the channeling of international aid to Clinton Foundation donors and to corrupt Haitian officials that, posing as contractors, proceeded to use the money to build themselves luxury mansions and countryside retreats; explain, if you will, where are the half a billion dollars raised by the Red Cross to rebuild Haiti. But I think the most pressing desire all Dominicans share is for you to maybe shift your emphasis from how Dominicans consistently forsake Haitians, to how they help and embrace them; illuminate your audience as to how, in that dire hour, and after the First World failed them miserably, the Dominican Republic was there to assist their Haitian brothers and sisters in the meager but honest ways that it could. I should know. I was there in Petit Goave with a crew of hundreds of Dominican young men and women building new houses for families who had lost everything. The border was opened and Dominican hospitals received and healed the throng of mangled and injured humanity that crossed over, no questions asked, even as René Preval fled to Miami, the MINUSTAH got busy rescuing only international personnel, and firstworlders squabbled over funds that disappeared as soon as they arrived.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no unqualified paradise, not even close. Sure there’s racism, Sherlock, but we need to address that HERE. Sure there’s lots of work to be done, but you are not helping when in front of a foreign audience you use most of your time explaining how we lose instead of showcasing how, little by little, we win. That just makes us look weak, at best, and collaborators, at worst. If you took your time to pinpoint the intersections where Dominicans and Haitians are working in tandem (and friendship) to resolve our crisis, then maybe those firstworlders seeking absolution for their sins would know where to put their efforts to help us win more. And I’m not sure sending a letter to your congressman is the way to go.
We, Dominicans, are fighting HARD against the overwhelming apparatus of a corrupt, dictatorial elite bent on appropriating our Republic…You are both sophisticated intellectuals, or so one might think. It behooves you to think critically and be mindful of the consequences of your words. Right now, your clumsy-ass declarations have had two immediate repercussions. First, they have rekindled anti-Dominican sentiment EVERYWHERE, as Eugenio García Cuevas has so pointedly remarked in a recent post. In Puerto Rico, for example, where anti-Dominicanism had been ebbing over the years, misguided, well-intentioned firstworlder “outrage” has signaled all bigots and racists that had gone into hiding that it is OK to come out to play once more. The same thing it’s being reported out of Spain, France, and the United States, home of the brave and land of the free. Dominicans become fair game because, hell, look at what they’re doing to their Haitian brothers and sisters! Firstworlders like yourselves have made it “cool” to be anti-Dominican again… So, thanks.
Second, in a move that reveals your utter ignorance of our island’s economic configurations, you, Edwige, have lent your voice, and you, Junot, your presence, to support travel boycotts to the Dominican Republic. Tourism is a multimillion dollar industry in the DR, populated, served, and even managed by a high percentage of Haitian personnel. Thus, your moronic call for a travel boycott delivers a brutal blow to the very people you are trying to help… As a matter of fact, in one sitting you have hurt two very large, very vulnerable migrant communities (Dominicans abroad and Haitians in the DR), leaving the real culprits (the judges of the Constitutional Tribunal, our far-right senators and representatives, construction companies, the Clinton Foundation, the Sugar Barons) completely unscathed.
I guess we, Dominicans, could boycott American products over here in the DR to punish the United States for its genocidal war against black people. Wouldn’t that be something? In solidarity with Charleston. With Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Grey… Am I missing one? I just can’t keep track. I know I’m risking a tu quoque fallacy here, I know two wrongs don’t make a right, but my point is that the problems we are facing (WE, not you, WE over here) should be framed more intelligently, in a manner that fosters solidarity and friendship, not finger-pointing, rabble-rousing and dantesque scenarios; that’s already being done by the neocrazies over here. Please do not add to that. I do not think that speaking abroad about a Dominican “reign of terror” helps us none, nor does it help to vividly depict for your audience the spectacle of Haitians fleeing en masse towards Haiti to avoid triggering “a certain response” Dominicans have been conditioned “over 20, 30 years” to give.
Case in point and adding, indeed, to the already all-consuming flames of enmity and misinformation, and reaching unheard of heights of professional irresponsibility, during his turn to speak at the forum professor Edilberto Román declared that the Dominican Republic has built “concentration camps”. You were there, remember? Asked by a reporter if he had seen one, or been in one, Román directed her to a website… TO. A. WEBSITE. You two just stood there as the reporter was escorted outside by security. Junot, you heckled her as she was going out, telling her: “Doña, pero ¿y eta vaina? Yo no he visto Mongolia y yo te puedo decir que existe. Yo te puedo decir que esa vaina existe. Google it.”… Which is precisely the advice I’d like to give you now if, for whatever reasons, you become mystified and confused by all the information I’ve been showering you with… Google it. I’ve already made the language concession; I think you can do your own homework from here on out. However, for real fact-checking nothing, NOTHING beats being here and seeing for yourself.
You are both sophisticated intellectuals, or so one might think. It behooves you to think critically and be mindful of the consequences of your words.And what you’d see is that there are no “concentration camps”. There have been no mass deportations, no busloads of people, no mass human movements across the terrain, like you, Edwige, envisioned in your dramatic allocution. And you want to know why this is? Because of the work that has been consistently done OVER HERE by political activists, writers, journalists, political thinkers, scholars, historians and artists that are looking after the health of our Republic, counteracting and defusing, via multiple means, the insane measures taken by a rogue government that would dehumanize us all if we let it. The indefatigable Comité de Solidaridad con las Personas Desnacionalizadas has even issued a public statement celebrating the Junta Central Electoral’s decision to revalidate the birth certificates and citizenship status to 55,000 Dominicans initially included in the census as aliens. And this is no mere lip service. Members of this committee include Juan Bolívar Díaz, Carmen Amelia Cedeño, and Miguel Ceara Hatton, none of who can be remotely accused of yielding to government pressure (on the contrary; they have been branded as “traitors” by our rambling neocrazies, and a “patriot” from Santiago has sentenced at least one of them to “death by firing squad”). Assisting, and being assisted by, numerous other organizations integrated by both Dominicans and Haitians, they have forced the hand of the government to recognize its mistake and make the necessary reparations. Like all firstworlders, you arrive late at the party, want to piggy back on the results, and end up fucking everything up again. Mucho ayuda el que no estorba. I’m sorry to say that you have come to embody the very concept of the pariguayo.
Edwige, Junot, firstworlders and firstworlder wannabes: Your superficial posturing, denunciations, and harsh words, clearly aimed at showcasing your adherence to noble and righteous causes, only benefits you, as it gives you luster and good standing among the members of your tribe… But it muddles the battlefield for us who are at ground zero, destroying any international sympathy for those who, believe it or not, are trying dismantle the framework of a regime that YOUR COUNTRIES HELPED TAKE HOLD AND THAT STILL BENEFITS YOU TO THIS DAY. You want to help? Do some research and focus on what’s being done by those who resist, instead of wallowing in our oppressors’ victories as if they were shared by the whole of our Republic. Or, better yet, do nothing at all, and leave us to deal ourselves with what, apparently, only we understand.
This open letter has been edited to reflect newly surfaced videographic information that completes the reporting by two separate online newspapers (Fusion and Ensegundos) of the event referred to above. Having seen it, I cannot in good conscience accuse Junot of having failed to place our current humanitarian crisis in the context of a larger, global, first world war against vulnerable minorities and people of color. I have struck those passages and admit to having jumped the gun in a manner unbefitting an officer and a gentleman. At the same time, I do include new, ham-fisted pronunciations damming to our cause when said before an audience little immersed in the details of our troubles. These, I might add, do not appear addressed in the recent press release where he attempts to “clarify” the incident. As such, I have dismissed Junot’s accalarandum as the lyrical, self-congratulatory piece of spin doctoring that it is, adding that it barely conforms to what we can clearly see in the video.
In my original, unedited letter, I never accuse Junot of speaking about “concentration camps,” nor do I say that he verbally proposed any kind of travel boycott. I always did have those facts straight, thank you very much. I would like to point out, nevertheless, that at no moment did Junot correct professor Román when he did speak vehemently about such places, and even validated the professor’s claims when he heckled a person asking for facts. Nor had he any qualms about hearing his colleague Danticat call for a travel boycott. He is now horrified that these declarations have been attributed to him, but he didn’t look too bothered when they were uttered at the forum, in his presence, by the people sharing his table. If these ideas are so shameful and embarrassing that he now wants to distance himself from them, he should’ve said something then. Maybe even walk out of there. At least that’s what I think.
Finally, some of my readers have expressed disgust at my valuation of these writers’ works. No one likes the little kid that happens to state the obvious fact that the Emperor has no clothes. The dig stays. If you are such a humorless, fawning groupie that you still need a justification for it, I leave you with the words of a commenter that has chosen to remain anonymous: “I thought stating right off the bat that he wasn’t awed by their reputation abroad was a nice rhetorical gambit on the author’s part–a way of saying that some of us down here can recognize (in a way that the “dazzled gringos” Cabiya mentions maybe can’t) a certain element of shtick in the stories they tell about the Dominican Republic. That, to me, seems of a piece with the rest of the essay.”
But maybe that doesn’t wash either, so let’s just say that if I want to commit sacrilege against two established authors just for kicks, that, dear friends, is my prerogative.