Junot Díaz, the Pulitizer Prize-winning author, just returned from his native Dominican Republic this week.
“There's a state of terror,’’ in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, referring to the country’s humanitarian crisis, with the Dominican government threatening to deport hundreds of thousands of people — Dominicans of Haitian descent and undocumented immigrants from Haiti.
Díaz spoke Wednesday night at a panel discussion in Miami protesting the Dominican government’s actions, which called for a deadline last Wednesday for thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent to register to stay in the country.
Among those speaking out against the country’s actions at Wednesday’s panel: Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat.
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"If you're not concerned you should be," said Danticat, who has won numerous awards for her novels and memoir, Brother, I’m Dying. "Especially when we live in a town were most of us came from somewhere else."
“A lot of people are in hiding and are afraid to go out since the deadline passed," Danticat said.
The conversation also turned to events in the United States, most notably last week’s massacre of nine black men and women praying in a Bible study group in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and the national outcry for police reform. Police have charged, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man with their murders.
Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, who led the panel discussion, called it a “globalized anti-black expression."
The goal of the panel was to shed light on the century-long clash between Haitians and Dominicans on the island of Hispaniola.
Edilberto Roman, a professor of law at Florida International University, said last year’s tensions between the two countries escalated when the Dominican government “re-interpreted’’ its constitution and announced Haitians and Dominicans with Haitian blood that came and worked after 1929, would be denied citizenship.
"What the court in the Dominican Republic did in 2013, was that it said the [Haitian] people who there were 'in transit' since 1929," Roman said. "These are repeated efforts where the Dominican Republic has tried to alienate its people."
In previous decades, the Dominican Republic has resorted on several occasions to mass deportations of Haitians, who often work in low-paying jobs in the country.
Race, Roman said, was at the core – especially with reports of Dominican immigration officials deporting citizens black enough to pass as Haitian.
"In Santo Domingo, citizenship is a commodity," said Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the novel that won him the Pulitzer. Diaz wrote about the DR's Parsley Massacre — a 1937 extermination of anyone in the country who couldn't roll the R in perejil, the Spanish word for parsley.
“Even under the best circumstances, folks who are rural and poor would be incredibly hard-pressed to meet any of the criteria [for citizenship].’’
Maria Murriel of WLRN-Miami Herald News contributed to this report.
If you go
On Thursday, there will be a march to protest the Dominican government’s actions. Organized by FANM/Haitian Women of Miami and the Haitian League for Human Rights, among other groups, the march will take place from 2 to 5 p.m., and go from the Dominican Republic Consulate, 1038 Brickell Ave., to the Consulat Général d'Haiti, 259 SW 13th St.