Parsley is known to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of those who savor it. However, in one of the darkest eras of Haitian-Dominican relations, the popular herb left behind much more than that: blood.
Seven years into his three-decade-long dictatorship, Dominican president Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, a fan of Adolf Hitler, decided that his side of the island border needed to be cleansed of its Haitian inhabitants.
For about five days in October 1937, a projected 20,000 Haitians (and some Dominicans who “looked” like Haitians, or tried to save them) were slaughtered. Soldiers marched up to victims with sprigs of parsley in their hands and demanded to hear the leafy green’s name – in Spanish. It was almost impossible for a person whose primary language was the French-influenced Creole to perfectly roll the intimidating r in perejil.
In order to give the illusion of a citizen uprising, the soldiers were often equipped with machetes and bayonets. In the end though, a variety of weapons were used to kill those who couldn’t correctly pronounce the shibboleth.
Would you have survived Kouto-a?
Seventy six years after the Parsley Massacre, Haitians continue to be persecuted by the Dominican government. In September 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled that children born after 1929 of undocumented Haitians were officially removed of their citizenship. Author Edwidge Danicat said in a recent Huffington Post article that,
It was "appalling" that the Dominican court has "chosen to commemorate the upcoming 76th anniversary of the October 1937 massacre of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic by stripping Dominican-born men, women, and children of Haitian descent of their citizenship, rendering them not only stateless but unable to attend school or make a living while becoming even more vulnerable to all kinds of hostilities including, increasingly, physical violence."
The descendents of Haitian migrants, these people can easily say perejil, but a trill was never what this discrimination was about.
For most of history, the Parsley Massacre remained largely unrecognized or forgotten by the rest of the world and even many residents of Hispaniola. Still, there are a few works out there that have acknowledged this moment in history. If you want to learn more about this incident, take a look at the books listed below that offer a window into what life was like during the time of El Corte. Though some are fiction, readers are given a better perspective of how to understand what is happening now.
Here is a suggested reading list:
The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
Danticat’s novel introduces us to Amabelle Desir, a servant who grows up in the Dominican Republic after her parents drown. She and her peers hear rumblings of the government wanting to rid the country of Haitians. Losing her lover during their attempt to escape, Amabelle must make the trip to Haiti with a new group.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Though this book jumps around in time and is mostly about the life of Oscar de Leon, the entire story is shaped by this Dominican family’s relationship with Rafael Trujillo. Diaz uses footnotes to delve even deeper into characters, as well as to discuss race relations, and historical moments like the Massacre.
Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola by Michele Wucker
Through the study of cockfighting in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Wucker gives context to the strained relationship between the two countries. Wucker explores the popularity of cockfighting and uses it as a metaphor for Hispaniola’s historical tensions.
Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/27/dominican-republic-citize_n_4002844.html