Cracking open my copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was an unforgettable experience, especially as a young Dominican writer. Seeing my friends, their parents,my professors, and people on the subway crack open their copies was equally delightful. The power of having an experience validated through beautiful works of art is hard to elucidate succinctly. Suffice it to say that I saw a lot of myself in Junot Diaz and his works. This gave me a sense of confidence and belonging that is rare for underrepresented writers. Junot Diaz quickly became my literary hero, one of the most visceral connections I have to the Dominican Republic.
When Diaz went to the media to express outspoken and pointed criticism of the Dominican government, specifically it’s policies dealing with the citizenship of Dominican born Haitians, I could see the community which he had once so effortlessly represented break down the middle. Staunch supporters became critics and lashed out at his lack of patriotism, questioning his loyalty, and referring to his criticisms as uninformed. All the while others in the community praised his bravery and lauded his taking on the responsibility as the foremost Dominican author to call out his own nation’s thinly veiled racism. In response to critics, Diaz had the following to say:
“All these attacks are bullshit attempts to distract from the real crime — the sentencia itself which has been condemned widely. All of us who are believers need to keep fighting against the sentencia and what it represents and we need to keep organizing and we need to show those clowns in power in the DR that there is another Dominican tradition —based on social justice and human dignity and a true respect for the awesome contributions that our immigrants make everywhere.”
The history of racism in the Dominican Republic, especially in regards to Haitians, is a well documented phenomena that dates back to the founding of the country. Huge strides were made in the two countries relations in the wake of the devastating earthquake what with the DR jumping to aid its neighbor, although a recent ruling by the Dominican constitutional court will invalidate all that progress by making racism a legal reality once more.
People who are unable to prove any Dominican ancestry and whose families immigrated to the Dominican Republic anytime after 1929 will be stripped of citizenship and deported. The vast majority of those affected by the law are of Haitian descent. Socio-economic justifications presented by Dominican politicians and intellectuals draw from the education and economic crisis facing the island nation.They fail, however, to address the racism inherent in the policy and the disastrous ramifications this would have on Haiti and the hundreds of thousands of Haitian-Dominicans left stateless.
The Dominican Republic is hurting very badly, and it’s struggling to support its citizens. That is no way a justification for the policies enacted in response to this, but lack of sensitivity for this fact is what many are criticizing Junot Diaz for. They claim that his concern for his home-nation is insincere and his criticisms do not at all address the real issues the Dominican Government is facing in its efforts to stabilize itself.
Xenophobia in the face of political and economical turmoil is becoming increasingly prevalent in the world, and it’s my belief that any inkling of this needs to be condemned and rooted out at the source. I do, however, understand the disappointment of many Dominicans for their prized author, who is able to so aggressively criticize from the comfort of his Boston home, far removed from the reality of the day to day on the island. I, for one, believe that Junot Diaz is doing right by his country by using his influence to enact positive change, international pressure which he spearheaded has already resulted in alterations to the court ruling. The criticism needs to hurt.
Feature image courtesy of http://bit.ly/2bBPmhT