Monday, November 27, 2006

A Dominican friend of mine shared her experience with me today about an interaction that had to do with Erzulie's Skirt. She was reading the book on the subway, when a Haitian man asked her what she knows about Erzulie. She showed him the book. He got very angry when he found out the author was Dominican, and stated something to the affect that Dominicans cannot write about Erzulie. She attempted a conversation with him about people who are attempting to confront anti-Haitian racism in the Dominican Republic, but she didn't have time. She had to get off the train.

I can't imagine how this experience was for both of them. I do know, however, how poignant it is for me. And I feel that I have to write about this incident, because it involved someone reading a book I wrote and put out in the world. I hope to generate dialogue and present an alternate truth to what we believe about nationality, race and survival on the island of Sto Dgo/Ste Domingue. A young woman at LaGuardia Community College asked me to state what the message of this book is. And on the spot, I had to condense many years of work and craft into a tiny statement. This is what I told her: Erzulie's Skirt is about our ability to love in the most desperate of circumstances. And the power of that love to transform us and each other.

Bottom line, I believe that the Dominican and U.S. governments must recognize the human rights of all peoples living within national boundaries. This includes Haitian migrant workers, the children of Haitian peoples, lesbians, gays and transgenders, poor people, dark people, indigenous people and women. And, that we as the people, must fight for what the nation state does not wish to provide.

I also believe in artists' rights to creative freedom. We must create with clear intentions, deep vulnerability and honoring our craft - and we must do so without falling into the trappings of society's violence and limitations.

And lastly, if we do things out of love for our lives and each other, we will have already changed our chances of survival.

As parting words, at the same time that I received this news from my friend, my mother sent me this article, pasted below. Yet another profound moment of synchronicity.


Dominican-Haitian Activist Hopes Award Will Help Fight Against Discrimination

Sonia Pierre was just 13 when she was arrested and threatened with deportation for leading her fellow residents of Haitian descent in a march for sugar cane-cutters' rights. In the three decades since, that lanky teenager has grown into the 6-foot tall champion of a beleaguered minority in this Caribbean nation. Her tireless work securing citizenship and education for Dominican-born ethnic Haitians has made her the target of threats here, but has earned her recognition from overseas as a fierce defender of human rights. On Friday, November 17, Pierre was to receive the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award at a ceremony in Washington. An estimated 500,000 to 1 million ethnic Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, many in isolated village slums that dot the countryside. Most born here are descendants of Haitians who crossed the border fleeing violence or seeking economic opportunity. In 1976 when Pierre led her fellow Haitian-Dominican neighbors in a march to demand rights for those who cut sugar cane, police arrested her. She was jailed for a day and threatened with deportation to Haiti, where her mother was born. At 43, the towering Pierre's high cheekbones and weary eyes have become a public face of her people. As head of the Dominican-Haitian Women's Movement, she has garnered acclaim from abroad, including a previous award from Amnesty International in 2003. In Pierre's mountain-ringed hometown of Batey Lecheria, an hour's drive north of the capital, her efforts have helped secure government aid, including the installation of running water and electricity. Citrus trees have replaced the state-owned sugar fields where she mobilized residents to demand better pay and housing. Last year, Pierre helped shepherd a landmark case through the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ruled that all those born in the Caribbean country must be granted citizenship and receive schooling. But as the court does not have authority to alter laws or enforce its decisions in the Dominican Republic, changes have not been implemented and even the plaintiffs are yet to receive their full court-ordered compensation.

SOURCE: International Herald Tribune

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