Between Hate, Hope, and Help: Haitians in the Dominican Republic | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

9:12 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

Women and men press against the barbed-wire gate, waiting for the guards to let them in. Twice a week, the border crossing opens so that Haitians can get access without a visa to a market located on Dominican land in the northern city of Dajabón, just a short walk from the crossing point.

Behind the crowd at the gate, a loud procession is making its way along the Massacre River (so named for the 1728 killing of a group of French buccaneers by Spanish settlers) that separates Haiti and the Dominican Republic before crossing a short bridge that connects the two countries. Many of those making this trek have come from Ouanaminthe, the nearby Haitian town, while others’ journeys started much deeper inside Haiti. Some are carrying heavy loads and most are commuting by foot, though there are some on motorcycles and a few, privileged ones ride cars or small trucks.

It’s 8 AM on a hot and sultry Friday. The guards, holding their weapons tightly, finally open the gate, letting the travelers—mostly buyers—onto Dominican soil. Under the watchful eyes of border agents, the sellers rush to the space allocated to them, carrying food, clothes, and other goods. The two-story cement building that houses the market cannot hold all the merchants, so many settle outside, as buyers find their way through the crowded arena, undeterred by the suffocating heat. A woman carrying a large bucket containing shampoo, deodorant, and socks walks around the market yelling out prices. Two other women lay a sheet on the floor, selling shoes that they purchased in Cap Haitien. The vendors generally aren’t picky about currencies; they will take anything—Haitian gourdes, Dominican pesos, or US dollars.

The two towns, Dajabón and Ouanaminthe, only a bridge away, nevertheless exist worlds apart, with vast differences in language, culture, religion—and most of all, development. Dirt roads and poverty stand on the Haitian side to the west, while supermarkets, shops, and visible prosperity occupy the Dominican side on the east.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, the largest in the Caribbean after Cuba, but the peoples on either side of the island rarely mix thanks to decades of political tensions and mutual fears fed by a history of wars, massacres, and other atrocities. Some are hopeful that the Dajabón market is a testament to these neighbors’ capacity to get along. But as politicians have manipulated racialized anxieties and fears that defy economic logic and business interests, the strain between the two countries has only intensified.

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