Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Two countries with their backs to each other
The Dominican Republic has a slightly different history when compared to the other countries within the western half of the world, it is the only country to not have claimed its independence from Europe but instead from another country in the Americas. This is because the DR actually got its independence from Haiti; Port Au Prince a colony of the French, became the capital of the second country in the new world (second only to the US) to fight back and oust its oppressors. A big difference in the United States fight for independence and Haiti’s is that ours was over taxes and Haiti’s was over the enslavement of its people! I think Haiti’s independence was in the early 1800’s and then the Haitian invasion of the Spanish Colonies (the DR), on the eastern side of Hispaniola was in the 1820’s. This got the Spanish rule out of modern day DR and was held by Haiti for 22 years until the people of the DR fought for their independence became a country in 1844. So this kind of mixes up the ideals of the Dominican mind in the sense that now, people think of Haitians as the bad guys and Spain as the wonderful motherland! It also throws in a whole new aspect of racism because of the completely African composition of Haitian blood and the Spanish/African/Native mix in the DR. Ok, so why the history lesson? As I rode back from Bahoruco to the city of Barohona in a guagua that fit about 12 people, I realized as we stopped at one of the security checkpoints that the rest of the passengers where Haitians who were illegally immigrating to the DR. I was told by another volunteer that if you pay 30 Pesos per person in the Guagua you can go through the checkpoint without being checked (that’s about a dollar a person to get into the DR plus a couple other check points), the rest of the people in the Guagua got out and started walking right before the checkpoint and I’m not sure what happened, I asked the driver but between my broken Spanish and his reluctance to talk about it I couldn’t really get any real reason… other than that they were Haitian and needed to get across differently. I sat there in the then empty guagua (except me and the driver) and I thought about how huge of a contrast this trip across the island was for Haitians when compared to the proud (and violent) entrance made 150 years ago. The moment was definitely one of the “eye-opening” experiences I keep hearing about, and I know that there is a lot more complexity to the whole situation than I can understand. It definitely made me think, when noticing a boy, his mother and a man who was probably his grandfather getting out and walking with fewer belongings between the three of them than I had for the weekend trip, what it would be like to be making that journey and what things must be like on the other side of the border to make them sneak across to a country that is the beneficiary of USAID, countless NGOs (and of course, the Peace Corp).