Category Archives: Haitians

Johnny Pollera

Words by Anna Gronewold
Photos by Andrew Dickinson

“Little Fockers” is playing on TV.

The voices are dubbed to Spanish and the black and white picture mixes with static. But Ghertha rearranges a couple handfuls of live wires – electricity borrowed from neighbors – and Ben Stiller joins the family all morning.

Gherta and Juan Roberto live in El Cercado in a cracked wooden house that sits a couple meters back from the street. “Johnny Pollera” is painted in peeling letters on the side. They’re not the only Haitian family in town, but they are Haitian, so they stick out.

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The kids lose interest in the movie. Ten-year-old Berlinda dances in and out the door, and 2-year-old Julia slides around the floor on empty charcoal sacks, screaming and giggling. Five-month-old Diefly naps and endures Berlinda’s pokes. He doesn’t cry.

Diefly was born in El Cercado in July. He has a birth certificate, labeled “extranjero,” or foreigner. I ask his mother if Diefly is Haitian or Dominican. She doesn’t know. He was born in the Dominican Republic, Ghertha says. That doesn’t answer the question.

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For the past decade the courts have shifted and blocked birthright citizenship laws for children of Haitian parents. A child born in the Dominican Republic is not automatically a citizen. Citizenship goes only to those who can prove they have one documented parent. Finally in September, the Dominican Republic’s high court legalized the policy that ruled citizenship can only be granted to children born to one Dominican parent since 1929.

Diefly is neither Haitian nor Dominican.

The infant’s father had been traveling back and forth between the two countries for years before he brought his family to live in El Cercado 18 months ago. Life is better here, he says.

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It’s a slow rhythm of shelling peas, greeting neighbors and making sure Berlinda’s games don’t injure other children. There are about two weeks of construction work for every two months of unemployment, and Juan Roberto fills the time with Dominoes and farming a few acres of rented land.

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But if you’re Haitian, and you’re poor, you are nothing, Juan Roberto says.

“Our only value is to work.”

I ask Ghertha what she wants. Not what she needs, but what she really wants. A house, she says, of my own. Johnny Pollera, translated “Johnny hencoop” or “Johnny chicken run” is rented for 600 pesos a month. Ghertha does not know Johnny or his pollera, and neither does Maricia, her neighbor. But I can’t stop staring at the foreign label, on a house they’ve worked to make a home, in a country that won’t really take them in.

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Keeping the peace

Words by Anna Gronewold
Photos by Andrew Dickinson

We met the mayor of Elias Pina by accident.

The town, about a mile from the Haitian border, hosts an open market every Monday and Friday. From 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. vendors, many from the Haitian border town Belladére, are free to cross into the Dominican Republic without papers.

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The market is a hot whirlwind of Kreyol and Spanish, old and new clothes, empanadas, plantains and knock-off purses. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder business transactions and two enormous speakers blasting Merengue music next to a string of just-killed chickens.

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But the mayor isn’t needed at the market, where Haitians and Dominicans have been trading across the border by necessity for more than 20 years.  If the mayor visits, he comes later in the afternoon, to the line of enormous trucks waiting to carry vendors back to the border before it closes.

On Friday, Andrew, Ben and I were watching 50 people, and their merchandise, cram onto the first truck when the crowd began to shift and squeeze. A dozen angry voices rose above the market noise.

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A Haitian woman was trying to board a truck with her sick 8-month-old baby. They had been visiting the baby’s father in Santo Domingo, she said, and she wanted her child to ride safely in the cab of the truck, rather than piled in the back with the others.

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Taking a later truck was out of the question. The later she arrived at the border, the more likely she would have to bribe a guard to let her cross.

But the driver had no room, passengers were angry at her attempts to violate the first-come-first-serve policy and her uncle wasn’t about to lose his niece’s argument. The shouting match lasted for more than an hour as police, military and complete strangers shoved Andrew’s camera further back from the conflict.

That’s when we met the mayor.

Luis Minier, who has been in office for seven years, strode in with arms raised and voice booming. Two minutes later, a decision was made. The baby would ride in the cab of the first truck for protection, he said. He’s not always called in to resolve conflicts, but the combination of market day, Christmas and a sick transportation supervisor meant chaos.

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And his job is to keep chaos at a minimum.  He all but scoffed at our question of whether Haitians and Dominicans can live in peace. They must, he said. At border towns like Elias Pina, Haitians and Dominicans need one another to survive.

“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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La Linea

Words by Anna Gronewold
Photos by Andrew Dickinson

Crossing into a new country is as easy as five steps and avoiding about eight casual checkpoints. For all the concern about illegal immigration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, the actual divide changes as quickly as the laws surrounding it.

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La Linea, or “The Line,” is a 60+ km stretch of road that divides the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The road itself, blotted with potholes, puddles and donkeys is nobody’s land. “Una linea no existe,” Lilian, one of our translators, told me.

“The actual line doesn’t exist.”

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The two countries, squeezed together on a single island, somehow sit apart. To the east of La Linea, mountains rise, lush and green; to the west the same dusty mountains shrink, barren from deforestation. To the east, the promise of a better life; to the west, slow and fruitless cultivation of land that is mostly rock.

We visited Fanilia Gerneus, a 54-year-old woman who lives in the Haitian border town Los Cacaos. Her husband and five sons slung mud on the sides of their 12-square-meter house while dozens of grandchildren and neighbors watched.

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Fanilia said life is better in in Los Cacaos than in the mountains where she used to live in isolation. But finding food is difficult. Rain is so rare.

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Even with two daughters in Santo Domingo and rumors of a better life just across La Linea, Fanilia won’t leave Haiti.

“I am proud to be Haitian,” she said, trying to avoid Andrew’s instruction to ignore the camera. “If you are from here, you are from here.”

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