“Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light
Don’t give in without a fight.” — Roger Waters
Sometimes it pays to pay attention to what is going on around the world. Many people that think of Haiti probably consider in the same category our ex-president considers them in. When we get wrapped up in our daily lives we often don’t give places like Haiti a second thought. This isn’t one of those “you should do better” kind of moments either. We are all guilty of this.
We probably remember the earthquake that rocked Haiti back in 2010. Twelve years later and I don’t give it a second thought. At least I can say that was true before watching a video in the World Geography class I support. Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic and those countries couldn’t be more different.
As you might imagine, the earthquake had quite the impact on the Dominican Republic as well. Of course, it wasn’t the impact that we might think. For being neighbors, life couldn’t be more different for people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. That would be true whether there was an earthquake or not.
The obvious result was droves of Haitians leaving Haiti searching for somewhere to go. A number of them came here and in the United States we are constantly wrapped up in our own stuff. So, few if any of us thought to consider the Dominican Republic. We probably just assumed they would do the neighborly thing. In some cases they did, but their reaction also showed the dark side of these events.
It’s hard to view their collective reaction as anything other than racism. Of course, we are only viewing it from the Haitian perspective. The Dominican Republic had been a relatively well run country and they didn’t want a human tragedy to take them down with them. Of course, the human tragedy could be seen as the earthquake, but it could also be seen as all of the horrible events that led up to that moment.
A bunch of 9th graders probably can’t appreciate all of the implications of such a video. They may think of Haiti as one of those places where you can sponsor a child like Sally Struthers used to do. Just 72 cents a day can feed and educate a Haitian child. However, the deeper you look, one cannot possibly avoid seeing parallels to our situation here.
America has forever been a place where people can come to get a better life and escape horrible conditions at home. Those huddled masses yearn to breath free. Haitians wanted a better life too. On an individual basis it wasn’t their fault that life was so brutally tough in their home country. Collectively things are never that simple.
The Dominican Republic’s collective response was to render some aid but ultimately to block as many people from coming as possible. That by itself has some justification. If we allow your crappy country to export all of its citizens to our country then our country becomes the crappy country. At least, that’s the thinking behind it.
The makers of South Park addressed this situation a number of times, but in one episode they dealt with the plight of the homeless. As absurd as the adults were in that show, the Dominican Republic has reacted in much the same way. It is not enough to just jettison folks that come directly from Haiti. They also tried to jettison folks that looked like they may have been Haitian at some point in generations past. Watch the episode and you can see the parallels immediately.
Xenophobia has rarely been so fully on display. The ties that bind is the notion of “not in my backyard.” That was a phrase coined by George Carlin years ago in his comedy act. The general idea is that we want what’s best for people and we don’t want anyone to suffer. We see the constant barrage on television of the plight of abused animals, polar bears without ice to stand on, or children with cancer. We see the plight of poor children on the other side of the world.
We will give anything to erase those images from our brains. 72 cents a day (or whatever it really is) doesn’t seem like a lot. Maybe if we all chip in we can really make a difference. That line of thinking stops when the problem comes closer to home. I’m really sorry you are going through so much, but if you could go through it somewhere else that would be great.
So, at the end of the day we really can’t shame the Dominican Republic. They did what we do. They just put an official stamp on it and called it a name. Sometimes, other people far away provide us with a window into our own soul. Looking at life through that window hopefully evokes at least some level of shame. If it doesn’t then we might be too far gone.