Recently I came across a Huffington Post column by Claudio E. Cabrera, a Dominican American writer who wrote about the issue of Dominican Colorism and racial aptitudes in our country and among its people. I wanted to respond on the comments sections of Mr. Cabrera's column, but try as I may I could not fit what I was trying to say in the 250 words limits of the comments section.
So again I decided to dust off my blog, which has not been updated since the day Whitney Houston died and respond here. I intend to tweet this response to Mr. Cabrera with the hope that he's at least able to see it and be open to an alternative view of this phenomenon that he describes. So here is the response in full:
I'm a black man born and raised in the city of Santiago, in the Dominican Republic. My brothers and I went to a private elementary school in my hometown (the old “Instituto Iberia”, which no longer exist). During recess one day my brother and I were taunted by white kids calling us "monkey, monkey". I was about five or six at the time, so at a very young age I was aware or racism, even if I did not know the world myself. When I turned 16 I was required to get a government issued id and in the section about identification traits under "color" (nor race) it said "indian".
I did not chose that, it was assigned to me and when it came time to renew that document I made sure that it read "black". I remember being told by the government bureaucrat that was issuing the document "but you're not black, you're indian" (which is how dominican tend to refer to people of my color complexion), but I prevailed. My interest was accuracy as I knew that my father and his father were black, my mother was a light skinned black woman and her mother appears to be a black woman in the only picture I have of her (she passed away in the early 1940s).
I was not interested or even thinking about my "true roots", because I always thought of myself as Dominican and not by race. I live in Maryland now and a few weeks ago I went to visit my girlfriend father, who lives in the city of Baltimore with his sister (all of them are blacks). I'm not exactly a talker, so besides the customary greetings initially I didn't say much and the conversation was mostly between my girlfriend and her father and aunt.
At some point somebody (I don't remember who) asked me a question and I started to respond with my accented English and at that time aunty looked at me as if she was looking at an alien and just asked "What are you man..!!??"
What was she asking me..? was she asking me if I was black? I don't think so, she could see that herself. I responded with the only answer I could give her that would quickly explain to her why I was talking the way I did: "I'm Dominican" (BTW, I found the who episode hilarious, but understand that to american sensibilities her 'what are you..” question might be slightly offensive).
So, was I committing the cardinal sin of "denying my roots" because I said I was Dominican? Yes, racism is a problem in my country. But people need to stop and think before reflexively getting to the conclusion that because some people identify themselves with their country of origin and not a race that they are running away from their true roots. The issue of race and identity is a very complex one and it does not lends itself to simplification.
Yes, there is distrust and dislike of Haitians in the D.R. At the same time a black man who's father was from Haiti (Ulises Heureaux) was president for 17 years in the 19th century and another (José Francisco Peña Gómez, the son of Haitian emigrants who were forced to flee the country by Dictator Rafael Trujillo) was almost elected president in 1994 in an election marred by fraud (I personally believe that he won).
When his parents fled the country, Peña Gomez was adopted by a Dominican farmer who raised him as his son and gave him his name. This issue requires thoughtfulness and at the same time resistance to the urge to try to impose or see the aptitudes of other people through the prism of american culture and norms. I understand why Mr. Cabrera feels the way he does, as he was born and raised in the United States. I think that the same understanding should be extended to those that were born and raised outside of this country.