The Neighboring Country

Geographically speaking, Haiti is my neighbor. The Dominican Republic is my hometown and where I lived until my early teen years. My family is from a small city called La Vega, which is located in North-Central DR, about 250 miles from the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. While studying in the Dominican Republic, I learned basic information about Haiti’s culture and history. The relationship between the two countries has always been tense, and a lot of it has to do with ignorance.

Brief History

In 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived in the island of Santo Domingo (now capital of the DR). He later claimed the whole island (now divided in two; the DR and Haiti) under the name of Espaniola. It remained a colony of Spain for many years. As French colonists began to arrive and settled on the northern and western coasts of the island, a massive amount of Haitian natives were being enslaved and killed. In 1664, France formally took control over the western side of the island (now Haiti), and later brought other thousands of African slaves to the island to work the plantations. After years and years of slavery and torture suffered under the hands of the French, Haiti claimed its independence in 1804.

Years later, in 1822, Haiti’s leader, Jean Pierre Boyer, and his troops invaded the Spanish side of the island (now Dominican Republic). Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic for approximately 20 years. The invasion is said to have terminated all slavery; nevertheless, Dominicans always wanted the Haitians off their soil. Dominicans did not have a large population at the time of invasion and had no military forces to fight back. It took years for them to declare independence from Haiti, on February 27, 1844. To this date, the tension between the Dominican Republic and Haiti continues.

My experience with Haitians

Everything I ever learned about Haitians when I was a little girl suggested that I should hate them. My earliest memory with this experience was in history class. My teacher said that Haitians had invaded our country by force back in the 1800’s and that they were “now trying to invade us again in a more passive way” — by ways of immigration. She lectured the class about La Guerra de La Independencia (the Independence War), which was fought between the DR and Haiti in 1844. I was quite young, and not knowing much about the subject, I had no reason to doubt my teacher. I also didn’t know anything about the Haitians, despite the fact that thousands of them were already living in our “backyards.”

In the 1990s, more Haitians had relocated to my town, La Vega, and that’s when I started to learn a little bit more about them. Usually, they would be out in the streets selling peanuts, women’s underwear, ice cream bars, etc. So my only contact with the Haitian community was the times that I approached them to buy an ice cream bar. They seemed friendly and always smiled. I never saw these people going to school or having fun anywhere, not even the kids, and I now wonder if they even had a place to go back to after long hours of work.

They did nothing but work hard all the time yet they were constantly discriminated against in the Dominican Republic. Ignorance, like anywhere else in the world, was the major cause of discrimination against Haitians. I realized that they are good happy people, whose history took an unfortunate turn that led to a number of terrible events, such as corrupt politicians and poverty. Some of them cross the Dominican border every day for the same reason that my family came to America: jobs and a better way of living.

I have come to understand the history and the tension between the DR and Haiti, but I don’t support this passive war that the two countries keep fighting. I don’t support the mistreatment of Haitians in the DR either. I think things have improved a little, but I remember reading a very gruesome story back in the 90’s about how some Dominicans murdered a few Haitians and got away with it. Simply disgusting. Racism is still alive and well in the DR—no matter how many times its president tries to hide it. I just wish the Dominican people gave Haitians a chance.

They’re hard-working people. I always remember one hot summer day when some Haitians were doing construction work in front of my house. Just like a lot of immigrants in the US, Haitians in the DR did cheap labor, and I’m sure they were abused and paid much less than they should’ve been paid. That day, I watched them work like animals with no water or food in such a hot day. I felt really bad, but didn’t know how to help. So my brother came up to me and asked if there was any food left from lunch to give to the workers.

Even though I sympathized with them, I was very ignorant and hesitated at first. But thanks to my big-hearted brother we did prepare some food and water and gave it to the workers. They had this incredible smile in their faces and thanked us sincerely. Whenever I think about that moment, I feel good about myself. I challenged what I had been taught, my beliefs. I saw the human in them. It should be a natural act; a human instinct. But when you know no better, it is a big deal.

Just like the old young me, a lot of young Dominicans are not aware of the truth and don’t invest time in learning about the Haitian people and culture, so this cycle of hatred and ignorance never stops. I don’t think we should take history books so seriously—the past is in the past. These are different times, and times when the poor country of Haiti could use some help. Besides, it is a neighboring country — be a good neighbor, DR! It is time to open minds and hearts (figuratively).

 

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That One Time Conan Went On Tour

Remember that time when Conan O’Brien was screwed over by Jay Leno? Messy story. Well, Conan resigned as a host and after some time, since NBC banned him from working on TV during that time, he came up with a brilliant idea: “The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.”

He basically toured the country with his staff, performing in front of live audiences in major US cities. For his fans —and I’m sure for his staff, as well — this was fantastic. I’m a big Conan fan and was happy to hear that he would keep connecting with fans, online and on tour.

I took this photo at his live show in Philadelphia, PA. Can’t believe it’s been four years already! The show was funny, of course. He was his typical self. He also played the guitar and sang songs like “I Will Survive” and “On the Road Again.” So funny.

Not only did I get to see Conan that night, but Tina Fey was also one of the guests to drop by! Two of my favorite people in the entertainment industry on the same stage… Yeah, it was a great night.

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Coke?

What you see here is a picture of, what seems to be, cocaine being flushed down the toilet…by me.  Here’s what happened. I was at a restaurant in Philadelphia one day during happy hour when I found this little package resting on the bathroom floor, right in the open.

Is that what I think it is? I thought.

What makes this a great story? Well, my genius self grabbed it after all and brought it to the table to show it to my boyfriend and friend who were sitting outside. I didn’t think they’d believe me otherwise. (There was no one around when I picked it up.)

“Are you crazy?” they said. “Go back and flush it down the toilet.”

Believe me; most times I do think before I act, but that day I clearly wasn’t.

Really. I guess I didn’t realize the risk of carrying illegal drugs — from one door to another — because I’ve never done drugs and when there’s nothing to hide, there’s nothing to fear. I even feel weird talking about coke (when not in Coca-Cola) because of its negative reputation in society. But trying to convince the authorities about what really happened, had I been caught, would’ve been really hard.

Anyhow, I was never able to confirm what this substance was. But pretty sure it was what it was, if that makes any sense. I wonder how many times people go to public restrooms to sniff cocaine? Ordinary young professionals was all I saw at the restaurant that day, so maybe this is more common than I thought.

I went back down to the restroom and flushed it, as instructed. But before I did, I had to at least take a picture of my big blunder! And to whoever dropped it: you’re welcome. 😛

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Overly Excited Baby

This is my nephew, Rony Jr. a.k.a. Pipito a.k.a. Pito. When he was about one year old (he’s three now), he was a little celebrity. Family would literally gather around him to see him put on a show. All through these years, I’ve taken a plethora of pics of Pito in which he’s doing nothing but being silly.

In this particular picture though, he was being genuinely excited to be posing with my (worn-out) sun glasses. I asked him to pose for a photo as I was leaving and he more than gladly agreed. Pito stood still by the door, holding his pose until the shutter of the camera went flick! But the glasses were loose on him and they were falling, so he raised his little hands as though to catch them, just as I snapped the pic.

He has grated cheese all over his mouth because his mom was feeding him when I disrupted the moment. So cute! 🙂 It is one of my favorite pictures of my nephew Pito. I think I’ve shared it enough times online by now, but I wanted to share it once more. He’s no longer the center of attention — his little sister runs the show now — but he’s still a little entertainer.

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