Monday, November 7, 2011

Dajabon - The Haitian/Dominican Border

Uncomfortable in my own skin
by Shelby Christian

I never thought I would want to wash the white off my skin and blend in with the people around me until today.
Lately we have been reading books about Haitian immigration and discussing them in depth for EDP class. Yesterday morning after discussing Haitian immigration in EDP class, we got on the bus and headed for Dajabon. Dajabon is one of the major points of immigration for Haitians; it is also a site of major extortion. Twice every week, Dominican guards open the gate at Dajabon early in the morning for Haitians to come across the border and trade their goods with Dominicans.
On our way to Dajabon, we stopped and talked with a National Government Organization called “Solidaridad Fronteriza” where we learned about their objectives to unify Haitian immigrants and Dominicans and help them get papers. It was great to hear about their organization and the Jesuit in charge was so passionate about his work.
Afterwards we went to a Jesuit boarding school where we dropped our things off and ate dinner down the street. We stayed the night in the Jesuit boarding school in one big room with a ton of beds. We had a lot of fun with our big sleepover.
We woke up early and ate breakfast down the street. After breakfast, we got on the gua gua and headed for the border.
The border consists of a river with a bridge over it, and on that bridge, there is a massive blue gate. This gate doesn’t keep the Haitians from coming over however, several Haitians just wade across the river with huge bags of goods to trade on top of their heads or on their shoulders. There was a chain link fence where a few guards stood on the side of the Dominican Republic; they were letting motos and a few trucks pass by and prodding back any Haitians that got too close. One man came by on a moto to cross the chain link fence and he was lighter skinned, but had a darker skinned man riding on the back. The guards yanked off the darker man and started pushing him back while the lighter man was allowed to cross the border.
At about 8:30 the Dominican Border Police opened the big blue gate, and like a herd of cattle, the Haitians came sprinting out in thousands carrying their goods on top of their heads, on a cart, on their backs, or on their shoulders. Once the amount of people crossing slowed down, our group moved in closer and we stood off to the side on the bridge. I felt like a terrible person just watching. I felt like by observing their lively hood, I was partaking in dehumanization. I honestly believe that if my skin color were darker I wouldn’t feel that way at all, it would be much more normal. But, to paint a picture so you can understand how uncomfortable this situation is: there are a ton of Haitians just buzzing back and forth and here is our American group just watching like they are animals. Of course, that was not our intention at all, but that is how it most likely seemed to them. If I imagine myself in their shoes, I would be so confused as to why we were there, I would be offended. But if I could only wash the white off my skin, it would not be near as uncomfortable. We wouldn’t get stares, we wouldn’t get yelled at in a different language, everything would be fine, and why? Just because of the color of our skin.
Our intentions at the border were to purely observe and be able to bare witness to the lively hood of these Haitians. Many people didn’t wear shoes, and if they did, their shoes were worn down and their feet were dirty. Their clothes were tattered and faded. The expressions on their faces were, for the most part, emotionless and hard. The people crossing ranged from very young to very old. There were even several pregnant women carrying huge bags of goods on top of their heads. They brought over shoes and clothes, some fruit, diapers, and other odds and ends. What they brought back was food. They get all of their goods to trade from donations made by organizations. It’s not clothes or shoes or diapers they need, its food. They came back with bags of rice, noodles, meat, baskets of chickens, fruit, and juices.
After observing, we got back on the guagua and headed for the international highway. This highway, or should I say mountain dirt road, is the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There are extremely poor Haitian communities on the Haitian side and nearly no Dominican communities on the other side. I have attached a video of the International Highway so you can see for yourself.

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