The Mulatto Republic: Class, Race, and Dominican National Identity

The Mulatto Republic: Class, Race, and Dominican National Identity

The Mulatto Republic: Class, Race, and Dominican National Identity

The Mulatto Republic: Class, Race, and Dominican National Identity


"Impels the reader to not lean solely on the crutch of Dominican anti-Haitianism in order to understand Dominican identity and state formation. Mayes proves that there was a multitude of factors that sharpen our knowledge of the development of race and nation in the Dominican Republic."--Millery Polyné, author of From Douglass to Duvalier

"A fascinating book. Mayes discusses the roots of anti-Haitianism, the Dominican elite, and the ways in which race and nation have been intertwined in the history of the Dominican Republic. What emerges is a very interesting and engaging social history."--Kimberly Eison Simmons, author of Reconstructing Racial Identity and the African Past in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic was once celebrated as a mulatto racial paradise. Now the island nation is idealized as a white, Hispanic nation, having abandoned its many Haitian and black influences. The possible causes of this shift in ideologies between popular expressions of Dominican identity and official nationalism has long been debated by historians, political scientists, and journalists.

In The Mulatto Republic, April Mayes looks at the many ways Dominicans define themselves through race, skin color, and culture. She explores significant historical factors and events that have led the nation, for much of the twentieth century, to favor privileged European ancestry and Hispanic cultural norms such as the Spanish language and Catholicism.

Mayes seeks to discern whether contemporary Dominican identity is a product of the Trujillo regime--and, therefore, only a legacy of authoritarian rule--or is representative of a nationalism unique to an island divided into two countries long engaged with each other in ways that are sometimes cooperative and at other times conflicted. Her answers enrich and enliven an ongoing debate.


In November 2009 Sammy Sosa, the Dominican-born Chicago Cub who competed with Mark McGwire, of the St. Louis Cardinals, in the home run race of 1998, once again made national and international headlines. Sosa was born in Consuelo, a sugar estate located on the outskirts of San Pedro de Macorís, a town famous for producing a critical mass of Dominicans who play Major League Baseball in the United States. During his baseball career, Sosa achieved a level of success, fame, and socioeconomic mobility that many young men from Consuelo and other sugar-mill towns grow up dreaming about. Now retired, Sosa made an appearance at the 2009 Latin Grammys that shocked reporters and baseball fans alike: Sosa, formerly a dark-skinned man (what some Dominicans may refer to as “indio-oscuro”), had a white face and white hands as a result of using bleaching creams. By using light-colored contact lenses, Sosa had transformed socioeconomic whitening (blanqueamiento) into a physical fact.

Sammy Sosa admitted to using a “rejuvenating” skin cream: “I apply [it] before going to bed and [it] whitens my skin.” For Dominicans of a certain age, Sosa’s ritual probably resonated with the personal habits of General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the dictator who controlled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961. Although a much lighter-skinned man than Sosa, he faithfully applied powder to his face to whiten his appearance.

In the United States Sosa’s admission appeared to confirm representations of Dominicans as a racist people who deny their African ancestry. An article published in the Miami Herald claimed that Dominicans of African descent, long told that they were white Hispanics, suffered from a psychosis rooted in antiblack racism, anti-Haitian xenophobia, and the desire to whiten and distance themselves from their African past. How was it possible, some asked, for millions of similarly hued Sammy Sosas to think of themselves as white and Hispanic?

It is true that for much of the twentieth century, official state nationalism in the Dominican Republic privileged European ancestry and Hispanic cultural . . .

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