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Cradle Of Black Pride: Haiti, Dominican Republic And The Music In Between

Rita Indiana, from the Dominican Republic, is one of many artists who have vocalized concerns over the relationship between her country and Haiti.
Courtesy of the artist
Rita Indiana, from the Dominican Republic, is one of many artists who have vocalized concerns over the relationship between her country and Haiti.

Throughout Black History Month, Alt.Latino has been bringing you episodes that focus on different aspects of being black and Latino. This week's show is about one island and two countries: Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Race has played an enormous role in the island's history. Haiti is often described as a cradle of black pride in the Americas, so as we celebrate Black History Month, we want to take a minute to reflect on the country's importance. When it gained independence in 1804, Haiti was the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean. But beyond that, it became the only nation in the world established as the result of a successful slave revolt, as well as the second republic in the Americas. All the leaders of Haiti's first government were former slaves. Haiti has grappled with poverty, corruption, natural disasters and brutal dictatorship, but it's also important to sift through those issues and pay homage to a nation that did what others only dreamed of doing at the time.

On the other hand, as this week's guests point out, under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the 1930s, neighboring Dominican Republic adopted a much more Eurocentric revision of its history — despite also being a nation of descendants from Africa. Trujillo's brutality caused immense suffering to both Haitians and Dominicans, and affected the countries' relationship for many years to come.

The clashes between the countries have had to do with economics, immigration, politics and race. A few months ago, the island made the news when the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court issued a ruling that retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born there after 1929 who does not have at least one parent of Dominican blood. It was a decision that caused considerable outcry among Haitian and Dominican activists, who accused the court of racism. At a recent gathering of Caribbean nations in which the ruling was once again condemned, Dominican president Danilo Medina strongly denied that it was a racially motivated decision.

The history of the island is complicated, full of nuances and varying points of view. We don't intend to resolve fights that have been raging for decades, nor come up with solutions to issues that have baffled historians, activists and politicians since long before any of us were born. Today, we simply tell the story of two amazing countries that have coexisted side by side — at times peacefully, at times in blunt opposition.

Our guides today are NYU professor Millery Polyné and professor Edward Paulino, who teaches at John Jay College. They both specialize in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Afro-Caribbean culture.

Of course, it wouldn't be Alt.Latino if we didn't also listen to some amazing music. So we also welcome Benjamin De Menil; he runs iASO Records, which specializes in Caribbean music. He's also working on a fascinating project which traces the musical relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. So, besides joining us for an invigorating talk, we invite you to listen to music that reflects the countries' twin histories — from a Dominican merengue song about the plight of Haitian cane workers to a vintage Haitian protest song.

We know that this is a sensitive topic with many angles. We also know that a lot of our listeners hail from the Caribbean or are simply fascinated by its culture, politics and music. So, in addition to our guests, we're counting on listeners to keep enriching the conversation with comments, opinions and suggestions.

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Jasmine Garsd
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