All posts by Shelby Wolfe

Shelby Wolfe is a photojournalism student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is originally from Owatonna, Minn., a small town south of the Twin Cities. Shelby has traveled to Ethiopia (2013), the Dominican Republic (2014), and Indonesia (2014) as part of a three-week fellowship funded by the Buffet endowment to document stories through multimedia. She began as a staff photographer for The Daily Nebraskan, her college newspaper, where she is now the Photo Editor. Last summer she interned at Hear Nebraska, a non-profit music journalism website, and will be an intern at the Lincoln Journal Star this spring.

Living in limbo

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Photos and words by Shelby Wolfe

The first thing that strikes you about Bernadette Pierre is the way she bundles her long skirt together when she walks, tiptoeing around her own family members to avoid drawing attention. She glances at her husband and kids, smiles sweetly and looks away. She spends most of her day in her small, crowded kitchen mashing plantains and cooking rice. She serves her family first and takes whatever is left for herself, sometimes only a fourth of the first three portions.

Even though she hasn’t felt accepted since she decided to come to the Dominican Republic, taking care of her family and members of the community comes first.

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This is a story about a family that is both Dominican and Haitian in a country that says, officially, you can’t be both. They live on a bateye, a community where generations of Haitians were housed to provide cheap labor in the sugar cane plantations. The family members own their land now but they are still poor subsistence farmers. Both parents want a better life for the children but the new law denying Haitians citizenship threatens their ability to break the cycle of rural poverty by denying the children access to higher education. However, the family still has faith that somehow their lives can change for the better.

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David is the youngest son and was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Most days he walks 14 kilometers from home to help his father harvest plantains, yucca and potatoes as a source of income. His dream is to become a lawyer so he can help people achieve justice and peace, but the law won’t allow it. When he returned home one day after work, he laid down in the middle of the concrete floor next to the worn and feeble dining set. He stayed like that, staring at nothing, for a long time as if he was stuck, knowing he’s destined to follow his father’s footsteps in the plantation fields.

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“Home is here”

I spent the day yesterday at Hato Nuevo Bateye, a rural slum in the northeast part of the island, interviewing generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent who have lost their citizenship. The people welcomed me, and approached me, anxious to tell me their story. These people are all facing the same issue, but it affects them in many different ways.

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Alicia Bili is a 50-year-old Haitian woman who has lived and raised a family in the Dominican Republic for 25 years, and according to the new law, she and her children don’t belong in this country. “Not having papers is like a disease for me.”

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Yesenia Camilo, a 28-year-old mother of five, was denied a birth certificate for her newborn son, even though she has never lived anywhere else. “We have no family in Haiti, so we have no place to go.”

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Bernadette Pierre, a 50-year-old woman from Haiti, came to the DR to work in 1994. Here, she met her husband, Deriuse Augustine, 48, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. The couple has three children ages 17, 16, and 13. Because the children are half Dominican and half Haitian, they have also lost their citizenship. Without papers, they cannot get IDs, or receive an education. “We have been living here our whole life together and now we have nothing.”

 After hearing these people’s reactions to the new law, I asked them what they loved about this country. They answered, in general, that they love the people here because they treat each other with kindness, and they all have faith in God. When I asked each of them where their home is, they all answered, “home is here.”

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"Not having papers is like a disease for me."

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20131229_Wolfe_Bateye_177– Shelby

A Time For Reflection

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Words by Joseph Moore
Photos by Shelby Wolfe

When we arrived, we were led down a long concrete corridor. Crude doors fashioned from planks of old wood lined both sides of the hallway, barely concealing the small, squalid one-room apartments within. At the end of the corridor an opening brought us into a rectangular courtyard enclosed by tall concrete walls adorned with rusted razor wire. The space was empty save for a few plastic chairs and a washbasin fixed to the wall.

On the other side of the wall, brightly colored parakeets fluttered and chirped inside a makeshift cage. A blue, low-slung tarp shielded a portion of the courtyard from the hot, mid-morning Dominican sun. We arranged the chairs underneath the tarp and fixed the camera to the tripod. Shelby miked-up Isa while I gathered my notes and instructed the onlookers to remain quiet while the camera was recording. Hanoi translated my words into rapid Spanish. I began the interview.

“My name is Isa. I’m 29 years old. I work at Johene and I manufacture bags.”

After the second question I could tell that this was going to be a difficult interview. Isa was soft-spoken, unsure. She frequently glanced at the ground. Her answers were succinct and emotionless. I struggled to extract details from her. She had experienced verbal abuse by managers at the Johene factory – once a manager called her a “cocksucker” – but had never seen or experienced sexual harassment or sexual abuse. I was surprised. My research and conversations with female garment workers at Altagracia informed me that sexual abuse is a frequent occurrence in Dominican Free Trade Zone factories. And Johene, they say, is apparently one of the worst.

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Isa touched on the difficulties of living on less than $1 an hour in a country where a gallon of gas costs $6 and a loaf of bread $3, but it was challenging to get her to describe her situation in detail, with anecdotes to illustrate. When I learned she was not part of the union organizing efforts at Johene, I wondered to myself why we were even interviewing her. I could barely conceal my disappointment. I asked her a few more questions, prodding her to expound on what it’s like being a single mother with two children working 50 hours a week in a Dominican garment factory, but she would not deliver.

I wrapped up the interview after 20 minutes, frustrated that we’d wasted battery life and memory space for very little material.

The rest of the day followed a similar pattern. Stories of verbal abuse and the occasional slap or arm-grab, but nothing extreme and nothing sexual. No sexual harassment? Even Nangely, the Secretary of Women’s Affairs for the union at TOS Dominicana, a factory the makes garments for Haines and Fruit of the Loom, reported no sexual harassment. Had I been misled? Were my previous sources inaccurate or exaggerated?

Our bus weaved in and out of cars on the highway, the lush mountain landscape zipping by in a sun-washed blur. The ride home from Bonao was a time for reflection. I expressed my frustration to Hanoi. “You know,” he said, “I don’t think those women know what ‘sexual harassment’ is.”

He explained that the sexual mistreatment of women is so prevalent in machismo-driven Dominican society that it often goes unnoticed and unremarked, even by the victims. I asked him what these women interpret “sexual harassment” to mean.

“Rape.”

Sitting back in my seat, I felt the full weight of Hanoi’s revelation. I would have to change my approach to these interviews.

Children of Bateye Palave

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Photos and words by Shelby Wolfe

When I arrived yesterday at Bateye Palave, a slum dominantly inhabited by Haitian migrants just east of the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, children begged me to take their photo. They posed for pictures and laughed when they saw themselves on the small LCD screen of my camera.

One little girl took my hand and guided me to where they play. I watched as the children played on the slide, swing set, and some old tires and I couldn’t help but think of the uncertainty of their futures. These children are just some of the stateless faces that have been affected by the nation’s ruling that put the lives of Dominicans of Haitian descent into limbo.

On Sept. 23, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s court passed a law declaring that children of undocumented Haitian migrants – even those who were born and raised in the Dominican – have been stripped of their citizenship. For decades, Haitians were brought over to the Dominican Republic to cut cane for unlivable wages. Even though sugar cane is not harvested as often today, most of these plantations are still occupied by Haitians, but have become shantytowns known as bateyes (buh-TAYZ).

With this law in place, these people have been denied many basic human rights, as well as a sense of belonging. I hope to learn more throughout our stay about the issue of citizenship and how it affects individuals and their families.

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