As racial tensions reach boiling points in the United States due to the killing of George Floyd and countless others. The topic of racism has been under a magnifying glass across many facets of life and within every community. The Dominican community is not immune from such criticism. One such instance that provoked the ire of Black Twitter recently – a video circulated throughout social media depicting a group of individuals, presumably of Dominican descent, chasing away a group of individuals, presumed to be part of the Black Lives Matter protestors gathered in the Washington Heights area of New York City.
For those who have not seen the video, it can be viewed below. Be cautioned, it does contain graphic language.
An Unfortunate History
This comes on the heels of an ongoing conversation taking place within the Dominican community. One that focuses on comments made by Dominican media personality, Frederick “El Pachá” Martínez, co-host of El Jukeo radio show on New York’s La Mega 97.9. While serving as a co-host of a TV show called El Show Del Mediodía, El Pachá was seen on air discrediting the career of Dominican Univision reporter, Tony Deandrades. During his rant, El Pachá went as far as saying that the only reason why Deandrades got, and holds, his job at Univision was due largely in part to being a person of color. His point, the media company is simply seeking to meet its racial quota.
This is not the first instance of racial tension in the Dominican community. One can recall 2015, when the Dominican government was in hot water over a “denationalization” program. A program that essentially stripped Dominican citizens with Haitian lineage of their otherwise birthright citizenship. This sparked an international uproar with many questioning, “Does the Dominican community truly have an issue with race?”
Community Members Weigh In
Dominican-Puerto Rican activist-comedian-actress, Aida Rodriguez, believes that, yes, the Dominican community does indeed have a problem with race and racial identity. However, believes it all has to be put into context. “I think the demonization of the Dominicans is very problematic for me because we don’t unpack the reasons why there is anti-blackness and this self-hate exists,” Aida told ‘LLERO, adding, “Aside from colonization, which played a role in all of us feeling that way about ourselves, there are a lot of disparities and issues when it comes to race. We don’t even know how to properly define ourselves. And, when it comes to the Dominican Republic, we’re talking about a country that’s been plagued with conflict with colonizers, then with Haiti and, to add to that, the trauma of [Rafael Leónidas] Trujillo.”
Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, who ruled over the Dominican Republic with an iron fist from 1930 to 1961 and is infamously known for an event in history known as the Parsley Massacre (also known as “El Corte” or “The Cut”). Trujillo is said to have ordered his military to seek out Haitians living in the D.R. during 1937. The soldiers would, then, conduct a pronunciation test. If the person suspected of being Haitian had difficulty saying “perejil,” which is Spanish for parsley, and oftentimes difficult for a native Haitian Creole-speaking person to pronounce, the soldier was free to execute the presumed Haitian. The episode resulted in the deaths of approximately 35,000 individuals of Haitian origin.
Carlito Rodriguez—former editor of The Source magazine-turned-producer/writer for hit shows like Empire—expounded on Trujillo’s impact on anti-blackness within the Dominican community. “[Trujillo] made a concerted effort, a campaign of propaganda of anti-Haitianism, anti-blackness, anti-anything to do with our African ancestry,” the writer of Dominican and Cuban descent said. “There are some aspects that have tried to paint it as a cultural thing, which it very much was—cultural difference and dissonance. But, it’s very clear that it was also racial,” he added.
For Dominicans, this legacy of colorism has been passed down through generations, and it still plagues the community today. On a more local and familial level, Dominicans have heard once or twice in their lives back-handed compliments like, “Ella es linda para ser negra,” and are all too familiar with the “pelo bueno-pelo malo” talk.
Carlito, who is also part Haitian, experienced first-hand this type of discrimination within his own family growing up. “At this point it’s still damaging, but I grew up hearing that I had pelo malo. I’m talking about really hateful shit that I’ve heard family members of mine say when I was a kid,” he recalled.
However, Dominicans are not a monolith. Every upbringing is not the same. Juan Goris—owner of Mediterranean-themed restaurant, Luxor NY, located in the Inwood neighborhood of New York City—admits that there is racism within the community as there is in nearly all societies today. However, he says he was not raised to think that way.
“My upbringing was never dictated by color. I came to this country in 1989, and Bushwick [Brooklyn] was made up mostly of African Americans and Puerto Ricans, so my upbringing was with different races,” the Dominican business owner said, adding, “Even when I was in the Dominican Republic, the way that I was brought up was to love everyone—it didn’t matter what race you were, if you were rich or poor, or what language you spoke. I was taught always to have respect for others, so that the other person could respect you.”
Goris’s restaurant is located near the Dyckman Street area where the viral BLM video was shot. His point of view is different than that which was painted on social media. He says it was more of an effort to protect their community from looters and rioters than simply chasing people away because of race or as an opposition to the protests.
“I think everything was misunderstood. What was established by the community was that anyone from outside of that Inwood community, was going to be watched closely. They didn’t say any race specifically. The community itself was going take a good look at [outsiders] and establish if that person was there to protest or that person was there to break into businesses,” he said. “We cannot view the two groups as being the same. One was peaceful, and was out there for a great reason, and the other was taking advantage of the situation and bringing damages to businesses that owners work hard for. I saw a few videos of grocery owners crying. They put all their hard-earned money into these grocery stores,” Goris added.
Both Carlito and Aida concurred on the points laid out by Goris during our chat. To an extent. “I believe that rioting is the language of the unheard, and I do believe that it is necessary to affect the pockets of the corporate structure in America for real change to occur, because corporations are really who run this country,” Aida said, adding, “But, I also understood the fear of smaller community businesses that were in New York, like the Dominican community and the Mexican community in Chicago, who were fighting alongside Black people to keep looting and damage from their businesses. They are the low men and women on the totem pole—specifically when it comes to insurance—and they were just protecting their property. You see small businesses protecting their properties because they know that they will not enjoy the benefits that the corporations do. That Target that got burned down, will get rebuilt immediately because the insurance company will always favor Target over a small business on Dyckman.”
Carlito, an experienced video and film editor can see how things could have been misunderstood from a 20-second video. “Here’s the thing about videos that go viral. You can affect the messaging just by how much you show. We don’t know what happened before the video. We don’t know what happened after,” Carlito said.
However, having grown up in that area of New York, he still believes that his eyes nor ears deceived him all that much when he watched the video. “That video looked like what it looked like. Having grown up in the Bronx with family ties to the Heights, Dyckman, Inwood, I knew exactly what that video was. I knew exactly why it was so problematic,” he lamented. “We got to own it, but also, not running away from who we are. What I saw in that video had me like, ‘Yo, man, this makes me ashamed to be Dominican.’ My wife, who is Mexican American, said to me, ‘Well, that’s not everyone, because that’s not you.’ So, don’t be ashamed. Own up to it. Stand up against it.”
As for Aida, she believes the Dyckman video can be, and evidently was, used to reinforce divisiveness taught and passed down through generations. From the colonizers all the way to present-day white supremacists. “The problem is that they educate us improperly, and not just in the Dominican Republic, but throughout the world, so that we can continue to feed white supremacy,” Aida explained.
“When I saw Dyckman trending and I went to the hashtag, I saw a bunch of MAGA people saying, ‘Dominicans get it,’ and I thought that was weird because Jeff Sessions spoke on the Senate floor about how Dominicans come to America but don’t have any useful skills. So, when people that are from that bad school of thought are celebrating a group of us, I know that it’s because of division.”
Carlito, Aida and Juan talk what needs to happen for change to occur, after the jump…