Tuesday morning we got off to an early start and hopped into our van-taxi headed out to interviews in Consuelo, a Dominicans in a community a few hours away from the capital, about their issues receiving and using official documents because of their Haitian parents or grandparents.
The Dominican Republic changed their Constitution in 2010 to end Jus Solis (getting citizenship by being born in a place) and they have been retroactively taking the documents back of people who were born long before that law passed, and denying these Dominican citizens (with Haitian names or of Haitian descent) birth certificates, national IDs, passports, opportunity to attend high school and university, and many other benefits that come with an official state identity… even if they have long had documentation and have been in the Dominican Republic their entire lives.
Here’s a good place to read and learn more about this issue. Here is a podcast by Georgetown law on Dominican Statelessness. Think about how many things you need an ID to do. You can’t drive, go to college, use your credit card, get government documents or benefits, rent anything, start a bank account, work or do any of the hundreds of every day tasks that require having an official ID.
This is a photo of a birth certificate on woman I talked with showed me. The Registrar wrote on the back that her parents are undocumented Haitians. Why? No clue. There is no official procedure in place to do this. The Registrar just took it upon her/himself to add this. It gives some insight to the discriminatory nature of the registration process in the Dominican Republic. People of Haitian descent (or Dominicans with darker skin who may not even be Haitian) are singled out for poor treatment.
The people we met with are Dominican, and were born in the Dominican Republic, so they are also not able to get Haitian citizenship. To get Haitian citizenship, they would have to travel back to Haiti within 2 years of being born and apply for a birth certificate there. Aside from being undesirable, since they are Dominicans, it is impossible for many of these families to travel and they risk leaving family members behind.
This situation illustrates the definition of the unfortunate term “stateless.” These Dominicans of Haitians descent have no nationality. Officially speaking, they are neither Dominican nor Haitian. We are cooperating with a local NGO, Reconoci.do, to document some cases and abuses these “stateless” people have experienced.
Unfortunately this scene repeated itself about 7 times on the way to do our interviews:
The “taxi” was overheating because there was some kind of terrible leak and fluid was basically gushing out of the car. At several points along the journey the driver would pour fluid in and breathe into the car as if he was giving it mouth-to-mouth. However, the vehicular CPR was to no avail, and we had to call another taxi to come pick us up.
When we finally arrived in the neighborhood and to the church where we conducted the interviews, we were almost 2 hours late.
Many people had been waiting several hours for us to come. I was a bit frazzled from the harrowing taxi journey. There were about 25 people waiting to be interviewed. We tried to make a quick game-plan as a group. In what seemed to be a series of unfortunate events I was somehow left alone with another student who does not speak Spanish to interview this group while the rest of the law students took off for another town.
I busted out my laptop & gave a group interview the best shot I could. At certain points I was asking group questions like, “Raise your hand if you have one parent who is Dominican.” It was very loosely organized chaos, but they all wanted their stories to be heard and they had a lot of patience with me. I got the names and basic information of everyone and tried my best to get important data on them all. They were amazingly kind and forgiving of the slow process.
After we finished at the church, a few of the girls took me to their house for lunch. Their hospitality was so generous and I was grateful for the rest and a meal! Unfortunately I have the bladder of a two-year old child and have to pee about every 15 minutes. Their bathroom is a space in the back where squat and pee on the bare ground. Also quite unfortunate was my lack of cultural competency in this area. Despite my best efforts I ended up splashing my feet twice. They must have thought I was quite inept.
I was totally exhausted by the end of the day. This International Human Rights fieldwork is harder than you think! Or maybe you already think it’s hard. In which case you are right as (afternoon Dominican) rain.
Today we went back to the same community, but I recruited several more people to help with the interviews there and things went much more smoothly and was slightly less chaotic.
After finishing in Consuelo, we went out to a Batey, which is a small community for plantation workers. Here is a photoblog about the Bateys and some of the people affected by discriminatory application of the laws here.
There we were able to interview more people. We were able to talk to some people with very compelling stories. Traditionally, people of Haitian descent work on the plantations (as the Dominican government encourages them to come work the fields with temporary work cards), and these are some of the areas most directly hit by “statelessness.”
After we finished the interviews all of the kids wanted to play games on my laptop. Unfortunately I am the most boring laptop of user of all time & I don’t even know if there are any games on my laptop. If there are I don’t know how to access them. LUCKILY I found this children’s book I had downloaded to my computer that a friend of a friend wrote and illustrated. AshMae saved the day! They read it over & over and loved screaming out the names of each animal as it came up on the screen.
After we had several go-rounds with “A Bunch of Friendly Animals” I busted out Photobooth. This was a genius move, if I do say so myself, and they were entertained for a good solid 45 minutes. The universal appeal of ridiculous pictures was made manifest.