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.
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.
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.
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.
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.