Haitian Dominican relations
Addressing the complex situation of Haitian immigrants and refugees in the Dominican Republic requires an analysis of the societal stigma that this migrant population faces and an understanding of the racial and national identities at play. Despite that the Dominican Republic is itself a majority-black country, those of Haitian descent are constructed as more black, a representation which carries pejorative associations. In fact, the development of an idea of a ‘Haitian terror’ is involved in the creation of a stronger Dominican national identity by means of excluding those of Haitian descent.
The current bill allowing re-nationalization for the children of immigrants to the Dominican Republic is a substantial and positive turn for the future of Haitian-Dominican relations. There is a clear need to balance internal, Dominican population interests versus those of a present, dispossessed population—except, residents of Haitian descent are also Dominicans themselves, working, studying, and participating in Dominican civil society. This conflict around identity and national origin points to a deeper divide in conceptions of belonging, foreignness, and race—and ultimately to an instability in Dominican national identity itself. Defining a Dominican identity all too often means a negative assertion, to be not Haitian.
In turn, this instability impacts the health of Haitian-descent communities and public health as a whole. In my experience working with a Dominican clinic serving low-income women and children in an urban neighborhood, Haitian communities are disproportionately susceptible to diseases and health issues associated with low socioeconomic status, and they are less likely to have access to the resources to address such problems. The stigma around HIV status is worsened by the association of Haitians with HIV/AIDS and the reality that HIV-positivity rates in Haiti are more than 2.5 times higher than the neighboring Dominican Republic.