This past weekend a good friend asked me on twitter to comment on a post by The Nation columnist Greg Grandin about Dominican writer Junot Díaz ("Junot Díaz Just Lost an Award for Speaking Out Against the Dominican Republic’s Anti-Haitian Pogrom"). I did my best to offer my opinion, but twitter is not the best platform for what I wanted to say and so here I am again getting my blog out from hibernation and writing a little bit more about this issue.
Even if the audience is just one individual, I'm happy to discuss anything that is even marginally related to my country of origin and try to give my personal perspective as a Dominican. Before I discuss Junot Díaz I want to address Mr. Grandin, who teaches history at New York University and who you would expect will be a little more careful with the "facts" that he writes about.
He happens to be the author of another column last June in which he implied that the Dominican Republic was building "concentration camps" to house "Dominicans suspected of being of Haitian descent". This column by Mr. Grandin was the "source" quoted by FIU Professor Edilberto Román a few days later in which he repeated the accusation against the country in a forum attended by among others Junot Díaz.
The video of this activity ("Dominican-Haitian Crisis: Beyond the Surface") is available here, but the key part (at least for us Dominicans) happened near the 40 minutes mark when a Dominican journalist asked Mr. Román if he could provide the location of these "concentration camps". Mr. Román quoted Mr. Grandin's column at The Nation as his source, but when the journalist insisted in asking the location she was told that the matter has been addressed and not more questions would be allowed about that particular topic.
She was then escorted out of the proceedings, while Mr. Díaz decided to mock her telling her that he knew that Mongolia existed even though he has never been there "because he can Google it in the Internet". As you can imagine, Dominicans were not really happy about this and other statements about the country in which he compared the actions of the Dominican government to those of nazi Germany.
The local press and social media lighted up about this incident, but the best response was provided by Dominican writer and poet Pedro Cabiya in an open letter addressed to Mr. Díaz and Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, who also participated in Mr. Román's forum. With the title "On The Myopic Self-Righteousness Of Firstworlders And Firstworlder Wannabes: Open Letter To Junot Díaz And Edwige Danticat" the letter is a must read for anyone who really wants to understand the disgust that Dominican feel about people like Mr. Díaz.
Mr. Cabiya's post is long, but I offer the following quote:
"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.
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."
Like I said, read the whole thing. I want to say out front that Mr. Cabiya and I sit on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, and I certainly would have disagreements with his opinions about what he refers to as "repatriation nightmare" and police enforcement in the U.S. but the fact is that his characterization of Junot Díaz as a "firstworlder wannabe" is spot on and the "ganging up on the DR" had the effect of calling all Dominicans from all ideologies and backgrounds to get into the trenches to defend ourselves from a campaign of lies and abuse against our people.
So back to the original request from my friend to comment on the latest piece on The Nation about Junot Díaz and his losing of an award? I honestly think it was a mistake to do this to him, but not as big as awarding it to him in the first place. I have nothing against giving medals for Dominicans who makes us proud, but...can't we wait a little bit before we award something as prestigious as the Dominican order of merit? Mr. Díaz won a Pulitzer prize in 2008 and the Dominican government decided to give him the order of merit the next year. It was a mistake, but now the government compound it by stripping the award from Díaz...which only makes them look foolish and petty.
It also gave Mr. Díaz a shot of the publicity that he craves and made him a martyr...and for what? For saying nonsense like this [emphasis added]:
Díaz has been an outspoken critic, trying to call international attention to the state of fear in which most Haitian residents in the Dominican Republic and Dominicans of Haitian descent now live. “The last time something like this happened was Nazi Germany, and yet people are like, shrugging about it,” Díaz said in June. “Think about how much fear you would have to feel for you to suddenly pick the fuck up and flee.”
Does Mr. Díaz knows what actually happened in nazi Germany? I supposed he's talking about the fate of German Jews... does he knows what happened to them and other "non-aryans" [emphasis added]?
"Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the seizure of power; following a month-long series of attacks by members of the SA on Jewish businesses, synagogues, and members of the legal profession, on 1 April 1933 Hitler declared a national boycott of Jewish businesses. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed on 7 April, forced all non-Aryan civil servants to retire from the legal profession and civil service. Similar legislation soon deprived Jewish members of other professions of their right to practice. On 11 April a decree was promulgated that stated anyone who had even one Jewish parent or grandparent was considered non-Aryan. As part of the drive to remove Jewish influence from cultural life, members of the National Socialist Student League removed from libraries any books considered un-German, and a nationwide book burning was held on 10 May.
Violence and economic pressure were used by the regime to encourage Jews to voluntarily leave the country. Jewish businesses were denied access to markets, forbidden to advertise in newspapers, and deprived of access to government contracts. Citizens were harassed and subjected to violent attacks. Many towns posted signs forbidding entry to Jews."So I would ask Mr. Díaz or anyone else the following questions:
- Do you know of any paramilitary group similar to the nazi's SA attacking Haitians in the Dominican Republic?
- Has anybody declared a boycott against Haitian businesses in the Dominican Republic?
- Is there a law that prohibits Haitians to work in the Dominican Republic?
- Are people burning "anti-Dominicans' books?
- About 70,000 Haitians have left the country voluntarily (according to the Dominican government); were they fleeing "violence and economic pressure"? If so, where's the evidence? I've read allegations from NGOs that this is happening, but it's interesting that in the era in which we can get videos of war atrocities in Syria and Iraq none have surfaced from a Caribbean country visited by millions of tourists every year.
- Are Haitians banned from entry into Dominican towns?