Note: I wrote this at the height of the massive deportations this past summer that activists like Junot Diaz and Edwidge Danticat have been opposing vocally.
My native country, the Dominican Republic, is in the process of expelling hundreds of thousands of people from the east side of the island it shares with Haiti to the west side. The government is herding them in buses and army trucks across what is commonly known as Massacre River, the same river where 10,000 Haitians were slaughtered with machetes on the orders of the "Benevolent Father of the Country" dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in 1937.
In the process, we Dominicans in the United States have become complicit to the government's large-scale human-rights crimes.
The targeted Haitians are those who were born in Haiti, their children, even those born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic. As many as 500,000 people could be expelled from the country.
The government uses empty rhetorical drivel that just translates to hate. When they say they want to safeguard the sovereignty of the nation, uphold the social integrity of the country, they really mean they want to cleanse an entire ethnicity.
"In the broadest of terms, Dominicans like me—living as immigrants in other nations—are complicit by association, because the blatant ethnic cleansing aims to separate "'real' Dominicans from the rest."
They are defending our ancestral birthplace, while we watch in horror. It's guilt by association if you were either born in the D.R. or to Dominican parents in the U.S. There are only about 10 million Dominicans in the whole world; guilt by association is essentially our original sin.
The Dominican government is making hypocrites of any Dominican in the U.S., who, like the Haitians living on our side of the island, left in search of prosperity and a life they could not build for themselves at home. So how can the very institution (government) that failed to provide opportunity, stability, and a means to progress for scores of us—leaving us no choice but to abandon our homeland—now scorn those who crossed over in search of the same?
It's a hateful distraction.
The current Dominican government is another in a series of dysfunctional kleptocracies over the last 30 years that have managed to sink the nation further into economic disrepair and social upheaval. Picking on Haitians is the quickest way to create an artificial "us versus them" pack mentality fueled by the deeply seeded racist and xenophobic tendencies of Dominican society.
Those of you ready to accuse me of self-hatred, rest assured that I love being Dominican and I love my family in the D.R. and I yearn for my home to have the leadership it deserves. But I cannot be silent when the government wages unprovoked war on people who have no means to defend themselves.
It's a con, one of the biggest in our history.
They want Dominicans on the island to forget about the hunger they experience, the lack of jobs for young people, the crumbling public infrastructure, the abyss that separates the haves and the have-nots. They want Dominicans to direct their anger and frustration at people who have demanded so little, taken so little, but endured so much.
Haitians who come to the D.R. walk across the border with their clothes on their back—often with their families in tow—find a shanty town to settle in, take backbreaking work in the sugarcane fields or other manual labor, and scrape together an undignified existence thanks in large part to their permanent status as social pariahs.
In the U.S., people of color complain of micro-aggressions they suffer based on the color of our skin. In the Dominican Republic, Haitians are openly reviled, humiliated, and shunned. Earlier this year, a young shoeshiner was found hung from a tree in a public square in one of the country's largest cities.
We are also guilty by our actions. We grease the country's economic gears.
The World Bank reports that annually we send about $3.6 billion in remittances—about 6 percent of the national gross domestic product. That's just cash, and does not include the millions in consumer goods sent in the form of school supplies, food, medicines, and other necessities.
This is support for our families, not the government. But in taking care of those we love, and in making sure they have their needs met, we enable the Dominican government to get away with failing those who put them in power. We allow them to hide away in their elaborate hoax and political pageantry.
In short, we become their accomplices.
I'm not suggesting we stop remittances or other forms of material support to our families. But I am suggesting we—those in the U.S. and those on the island—hold the government accountable, that we shed light everywhere they scheme and lie and obscure.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is managing editor of Next America.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.