Colouring the nation : race and ethnicity in the Dominican Republic
This thesis analyses the importance of race for the construction of nation and ethnicity in the Dominican Republic, a situation in which racial ancestry and spatial proximity to Haiti are paramount. Firstly, racial legacies are of primary importance among a Dominican population where cultural, linguistic and religious differences are limited. Racial differences are manipulated through the unequal standing and significance given to European, African and indigenous ancestries. European and indigenous heritages in the Dominican Republic have been celebrated at the expense of an African past. Secondly, Dominican identity is constructed vis-à-vis Haiti, most notably with respect to race and nation, and through the ancillary variables of religion and language. The importance of the Dominican Republic's shared insularity and shared history with Haiti is stressed throughout the study, though a racially-constructed fault-line has arisen from this territorial and historical association. In general terms, social geographers would describe the Dominican population as mulato/a. Dominicans, however, describe race with a plethora of colour-coded terms, ranging from coffee, chocolate, cinnamon and wheat, to the adoption of lo indio, a device which avoids using mulato/a or negro/a. The term indio/a is a key component of Dominican racial perception. It translates as 'indian', a much-used reference to the island's indigenous inhabitants before the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Negritud is associated in popular Dominican opinion with the Haitian population. Dominicanidad, on the other hand, represents a celebration of whiteness, Hispanic heritage and Catholicism. The analysis of secondary material is contextualised throughout the thesis by the results of field work undertaken during twelve months of research in the Dominican Republic, consisting of two visits between 1994 and 1995. Semi-informal interviewing of three hundred residents in three study sites focused on the issues of anti-Haitian sentiment and the bias towards a light aesthetic in Dominican society. Two survey sites were urban neighbourhoods of lower and upper-middle class status in the capital city of Santo Domingo, and the other was an area of rural settlement named Zambrana. Interviews were structured around a mixed fixed and open response survey. The first chapter introduces the outline of research and the location of survey sites. Chapter two analyses the historical basis of race in the Dominican Republic, examined in the context of relations with Haiti. The development of Dominican society from the colonial period is outlined, and the influence of anti-Haitian sentiment and the use of indio/a as an ambiguous racial term discussed with reference to contemporary opinion. The third chapter opens up the analysis of social differentiation in the Dominican Republic by considering the role of class stratification and its implication for racial identification. The development of social classes is described and the impact of race and class studied in the three survey sites. The fourth chapter addresses the role of race in popular culture, with a specific focus on the household. Racial terminology is frequently used in combination with the presuppositions inherent in a patriarchal culture. Women's roles are reviewed with particular reference to household structure, occupation and the gendered nature of race under patriarchal norms. The domestic or private sphere is a key site for the expression of patriarchy, but it is also the location for the practice of Afro-syncretic religious beliefs, which themselves are racialised and gendered. Aspects of race in everyday lives, thus, are inherently gendered, domesticated and sanctified. Chapter five expands the analysis of race to include the influence of international migration on Dominican racial identification. The Dominican Republic is a transnational society which relies on migrant remittances and commerce, in particular from the migration of Dominicans to the United States. International migration has dramatically shaped Dominican society over the last three decades. The chapter considers the effect of this two-way flow of people, capital and culture on Dominican perceptions of race. Despite the influence of transnationalism on most aspects of Dominican society, the impact of United States' race relations on migrant and non-migrant racial identity has been limited. The last two substantive chapters focus upon the specific aspects of race and nation as revealed through contemporary Dominican literature and politics. The sixth chapter reviews the importance of negritud in contemporary literature, and argues that many modern writers maintain idealised and misleading perceptions of the racial reality. Chapter seven concentrates on the impact of race during the Dominican elections in 1994 and 1996. Overt racial prejudice marked the campaigns of leading political parties, and the alleged Haitian 'threat' to Dominican sovereignty became a dominant item on the election agenda. Finally, the concluding chapter outlines existing theories of race and ethnicity, analysing their applicability to the Dominican situation and suggesting alternative viewpoints in the light of the current research. It is suggested that the promotion of a popular democratic ideology of multiculturalism could provide the basis for effective anti-racist policy in the Dominican Republic.