Keynote at Hobart and William Smith College’s 15th Masquerade Ball
Geneva, New York, Saturday, March 29, 2014
Born of several cultures, yet belonging to none!
“Bonswa a la Societé!”
GOOD EVENING Hobart and William Smith Colleges and distinguished guests. … Thank you for inviting me to deliver your keynote this evening during the 2014 Masquerade Ball being offered to our Dominican and Haitian sisters and brothers in the Caribbean. A special thank you to the Caribbean Students Association for sponsoring such a beautiful event. And special shout out to all the students who have dedicated their time to me making me feel super welcomed. Tatiana Soto…te adoro.
I am a storyteller…..
When the enslaved African was ripped from their lands, their homes, their families, their communities, their societies, their culture… they were stripped of everything… yet the one thing they attempted to hold onto was this sense of home… this sense of belonging… of belonging somewhere… a place that was theirs… forced to come to this foreign place and faced with the task of making it their own.
400 years later… the oppression continues…
How is it that those who have been oppressed oppress?
We are talking about an oppression from over 400 years ago being relived today. Where does one belong when they’re from neither here nor there?
I am thinking about my parents… how they migrated to the United States and landed in Brooklyn, New York. My parents as I am sure most of our parents did… came for that promised dream that many of us are still waiting for… they came for that better way of life… that many are still waiting for… they came for that opportunity and all the money that they would be able to send back home… and they are still waiting… and all of this waiting… as they are filled with faith and hope that one day they would return… to the ONE place where they belong—where they could call home. Unfortunately, what they got when they landed here were terms such as, acculturation, exclusion, discrimination, racism, you’re in America now… learn the language… lose your culture… lose your identity. When you lose your sense of identity you no longer know who you are … when your language is taken from you and you are forced to speak a tongue that is not native to you this takes you further away from your home.
Born of several cultures, yet belonging to none! When neither place wants you there is this sense of homelessness and Statelessness…
When I was young coming up in the 70s there were only ONE of two groups I could belong to… you were either white or you were black. You couldn’t be both. You had to choose one. I wasn’t light enough to be white. I wasn’t dark enough to be black. I was somewhere in the middle and felt alone. I desired to find a sense of belonging. There was no Latino/Hispanic box to check off back then. So I chose to align myself with the black kids. This is where I would find my identity.
Until I got older… and realized that perhaps I chose incorrectly. Now I was part of a minority group. A group that was not accepted. A group that did not have the same opportunities. So maybe I needed to align myself with a more acceptable group. Perhaps I needed to become more white.
This is what I understood identifying as being American was … my American nationality made me white. And this was confirmed when I would visit the Dominican Republic, where my parents were born and the argument was that I was NOT Dominican… tu eres de alla… you’re not from here… tu eres gringa… the American girl!
And it was the way they said it too… almost with disdain, disgust and underlying envy as if life was somehow better for me here than for them there. I felt as though I had to constantly prove my Dominican-ness because I wasn’t Dominican enough.
And so now we are facing a moment in history that may affect an estimated 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian decent who are being told that they are NOT Dominican!
The 168-13 ruling by the Tribunal was issued on September 23, 2013 by the Constitutional Court, which ordered the Central Electoral Board to put in motion the denationalization of Dominican citizens. The highest court in the Dominican Republic passed a ruling that would affect thousands of children of illegal immigrants or those in transit… a change that was made to the nations constitution stating that they are not Dominican. How this directly impacts those affected is that even if they are born in the Dominican Republic they are not considered citizens and are denied Dominican nationality and all the rights that go along with that, such as birth certificates, identification cards, passports, and access to education and healthcare.
ESO NO SE HACE!!! That cannot be done! It is wrong to deny those who are born in the Dominican Republic their naturalization and expect them to register as foreigners—which is what the Electoral board is requiring. You are not a foreigner when you are born in a country. Basically the Dominican Republic has decided to retroactively deport anyone born after 1929 who does not have the proper documentation of citizenship and naturalization. Unfortunately, this is directly targeting Dominicans of Haitian decent, a people who only know the Dominican Republic as their home. The 168-13 ruling for the denationalization of all those without documentation who were born after 1929, threatens to effect an estimated more than 200,000 Dominican born citizens who are and will be deported this year. This ruling is in direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “everyone has the right to a nationality and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.”
On Monday, myself along with the members of the Dominicanxs por Derecho Coalition attended the IACHR Hearings: The 150 Period Sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Our purpose for traveling to Washington was to deliver a letter signed by the members that was to be hand delivered to the head of the Dominican Embassy in DC (who did receive our letter and where we were asked to leave). The second reason was to show support during the hearings. The cases that were to be heard before the commission were testimonies from Dominicans who have been directly affected. One of these cases is that of Juliana Dequis Pierre, a Dominican-born woman and mother, daughter of migrant parents who moved from Haiti decades ago. Although she was registered as Dominican at birth, under this ruling she does not meet the requirements for Dominican nationality. Juliana’s is one example of the thousands of Dominican’s who have been denied citizenship and face deportation. Juliana was scheduled to participate in the hearings in DC and was granted a special visa, but when she went to the airport to catch her flight she was told she could not travel because she did not have a Dominican Passport.
During the hearings we received the unfortunate news that Juliana would not be participating, which raised flags for the commission and which did not look good for the Dominican Republic.
The two hearings we attended were The Human Rights Situation of Haitian Migrant Workers and their Families in the Dominican Republic and the Situation of the Right to Nationality of Dominicans of Haitian Descent affected by Denationalization Policies in the Dominican Republic.
Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, United Nations High Commission Chief of Mission in Santo Domingo says,
“Most worrying is that the Tribunal requested Dominican authorities to identify similar cases of Dominicans of Haitian descent formally registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929 who would not have qualified as citizens under the Tribunal’s criteria. Should this process indeed be carried out without the necessary safeguards, three generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent could become stateless. It’s difficult to imagine the devastating effect that follows after being told that you are no longer a citizen of the country where you were born and lived your entire life.”
“The ruling runs contrary to a 2005 judgment by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the issue of nationality in the Dominican Republic. It is also at odds with positions and recommendations made by the United Nations system in the Dominican Republic, UNHCR, the UN Human Rights Council, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and civil society groups”. Source: http://www.unhcr.org/524c0c929.html
At the moment there are talks in the country about a resolution to this issue. President Danilo Medina met with ex president Leonel Fernandez over the plan of Naturalization or as it is being called el Proyecto de Naturalizacion that will be submitted to the National Congress of the Dominican Republic… A naturalization act, which seeks to resolve the legal status of the children of illegal aliens born in the country.
There are many organizations doing incredible work: Dominican@s x Derecho, We Are All Dominicans Coalition, Centro Bono, and MUDHA who have hosted a series of events to raise awareness. There is a grassroots effort to gain support, gathering signatures, doing outreach in Washington Heights and we have received support from various universities in New York.
We will not sit back! We will not be silenced! We fully support human rights for ALL Dominicans and we are holding onto faith that we will come to a resolution that is acceptable! We will not be stateless! We are ALL Dominican!
I will leave you with the words of a comrade from the hearings:
“Tenemos derecho a existir con dignidad”, reclamó el abogado Roberto Antuan, del Centro Cultural Dominico-Haitiano (CCDH), que terminó su exposición entre aplausos del público. “Me resisto a aceptar que me desnacionalicen a mí, a mis hijos y a todos los dominicanos y dominicanas de padres haitianos porque se trata de un crimen de lesa humanidad del Estado dominicano”, dijo. source: http://eldia.com.do/republica-dominicana-se-queja-ante-cidh-por-reiteradas-convocatorias-audiencias/
We have the right to exist with dignity, said attorney Roberto Antuan, of the Dominican-Haitian Cultural Center who received an explosion of applause when he closed his testimony by saying, “I refuse to accept the denationalization of me, my children, and all Dominicans of Haitian parents because this is a crime against humanity of the Dominican state.”
WE ARE ALL DOMINICAN!