Category Archives: Bateyes

Living in limbo


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.




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.




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.










“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.


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.”


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.”


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.”







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


20131229_Wolfe_Bateye_177– Shelby

Children of Bateye Palave


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.