Haiti lies on the Latin American island of Hispaniola with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. Naturally, when two countries border each other, migration occurs.
Though there is an assumption that Haitian immigration to the Dominican Republic is a new development resulting from the country’s recent economic issues, it is not. Immigration in large numbers from Haiti to the Dominican Republic began in the 1930s, when many Haitians were transported to sugar cane plantations in the Dominican Republic to work low-wage jobs to boost the economy. The type of back-breaking work Haitian migrants did was often undesirable to Dominicans, as the sugar cane industry was slow and difficult. This influx of Haitian migrants led to several generations of Haitians being born on Dominican land before separation at the border started after the inhumane Parsley Massacre of 1937 — a genocide led by dictator Rafael Trujillo that claimed the lives of up to 20,000 Haitians — and for decades afterward.
According to the 1929 Dominican Republic Constitution, people born in the Dominican Republic were automatically citizens, except those with parents considered “in transit,” such as diplomats and passing travelers. For decades, this definition of citizenship did include those with Haitian ancestry born in the Dominican Republic. However, in 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court retroactively defined 20th-century Haitian immigrant workers as being “in transit,” therefore invalidating the citizenship of approximately 252,000 of their Haitian Dominican descendants.
The term “in transit” cannot describe a dense group of people who established roots in a country over 70 years ago. It is unacceptable. The idea that Haitian workers would provide the labor to boost other economies for years, then pack up and “return” to a country they are culturally, economically, and socially removed from is ridiculous.
Haitian workers should not expect to have their labor exploited and then be cast away after the hard work is over. These Haitian Dominicans were forced into statelessness by the Dominican government and faced deportation from the only home they had ever known. They were born in the Dominican Republic. They worked in the Dominican Republic. They paid taxes in the Dominican Republic. They got married and had children and grandchildren in the Dominican Republic. They are Dominican.
And they are Hispanic.
All Haitians are Latino by definition because the term Latino “refers to those who are from or have a background in a Latin American country.” Haitian Dominicans are also Hispanic because the term Hispanic “refers to individuals who are Spanish-speaking or have a background in a Spanish-speaking country.” Being first-generation, second-generation, or even third-generation Haitian Dominican counts as having a background in a Spanish-speaking country. Many of them only communicate in Spanish and have no knowledge of Haitian Creole. Their lives were conducted in Spanish from birth.
Haitian ancestry cannot disqualify these Dominicans from their Hispanic identity. It cannot eradicate their native tongue, Spanish, from their mouths. Likewise, it cannot remove decades of Hispanic culture and influence that many of them have experienced from the womb. Hispanic Heritage Month is for Haitian Dominicans. They cannot be forgotten when we celebrate Hispanic peoples. They are a part of the Hispanic diaspora, just like any other Dominican.
How ludicrous would it be if I, a first-generation Haitian American, or any descendant of immigrants within the last centennial were told we are not American? It is our country of birth and where we call home. It would be completely insane to deny my claim to be American because my ancestors were not born here. It is no different for generational Haitian Dominicans.
Where you are born and grow up heavily impacts who you are, what you believe, what you value, and more — in essence, your culture and nationality. To say that Haitian Dominicans have no right to claim their nationality is equivalent to stripping them of the right to claim their culture.
The erasure of Black Hispanics in Hispanic culture is a trend that is far too common and should not persist. It is incredibly harmful to someone’s sense of self if their identity is invalidated for any reason, including having a darker skin color. Colonization has forced us to believe that the more African ancestry one has, the more disposable they are. But Haitian Dominicans are not disposable. They are not erasable. They are not exiles in their country of origin. They are Dominican. And they are Hispanic.
Christina N. Chaperon ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House.
This piece is part of a focus on Hispanic authors and experiences for Hispanic Heritage Month.