Academic journal article Ibero-americana

Dominican and Haitian Neighbors: Making Moral Attitudes and Working Relationships in the Banana Bateyes

Academic journal article Ibero-americana

Dominican and Haitian Neighbors: Making Moral Attitudes and Working Relationships in the Banana Bateyes

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

"Esto No Tiene Madre" (This has no mother) said the billboard that towered above us as we hurtled down the highway towards the small border town of Montecristi. I smiled at Hipólito Mejia's latest campaign slogan. The billboard displayed two gas gauges side by side: the one on the left was full and the one on the right was almost empty. The full tank was labeled "2004" and "RD $1,000" whereas the nearly empty tank read "2011" and again "RD $1,000."1 Beneath these gauges it said: "Esto no tiene madre. Llegó Papá (Dad has arrived)." Hipólito Mejía, popularly known as 'Papá,' had been fiercely campaigning against Danilo Medina for the 2012 presidential election. His popular merengue song with the catchy chorus "Llegó Papá!" had been blasting from his campaign's fleet of trucks for months. Hipólito Mejía, who had been president from 2000 to 2004, seemed to be capitalizing on what many Dominicans viewed as a paternalistic style of leadership. The full and empty gas tanks were showing us what RD$ 1.000 could get you then versus now, an indication of an economy in need of fixing by none other than Papá. Having been overly bombarded with political advertising, I had stopped being a captive audience. Still, the slogan "esto no tiene madre," something I had heard Dominicans say when someone does something poorly, caught my attention.2

When I heard the saying again a few days later, it made me realize how strongly my Dominican informants felt about the changes occurring in their community. Vanessa and I were chatting outside of her mother's colmado and her childhood home in a community nestled in banana farms.3 I first met Vanessa in 2011 while conducting ethnographic research among Dominican and Haitian residents of small bananagrowing communities, known as bateyes, near the town of Montecristi in northwestern Dominican Republic.4 Vanessa and I were discussing potential titles for a film we were working on together and knowing her obsession with telenovelas (soap operas), I jokingly tossed out a few titles that were soap opera worthy such as "The Secret in the Batey." I was surprised by Vanessa's reaction. She turned uncharacteristically somber and said: "No Kimberly, it has to be something that really relates to what the movie is about. Like, 'La Vida de un Campo Desamparado' (The Life of a Forsaken Land)." I asked her what she meant by forsaken and she said: "It is a place like this that does not have its mother, that does not have family...like a batey that does not have water, does not have electricity, is not maintained, that does not have Dominicans. Only has Haitians and garbage." She motioned with her arm to the buildings in front of us and continued: "The Haitians here cannot say that this is their place, they are not from here. Look, you can say that a person is forsaken too. Someone who does not have family, does not have anything. It is the same as 'no tiene madre.'" I asked her if a nearby batey was also forsaken and she shook her head and said: "No, because everyone is Dominican, there is electricity, there is water. It is not forsaken."

When she had finished speaking, I looked around the batey and examined what had become a familiar sight to me: the worn out buildings, the ground strewn with garbage, the smelly pools of waste water. Vanessa was right. It wasn't pretty. I sympathized with Vanessa's use of the term "no tiene madre" regarding the grim conditions one finds in the community. Yet, she was referring to more than the battered state of the batey. Her distinction between two kinds of bateyes revealed not only local moral dispositions about respectable modes of living, but what she believed to be a transgression of these. From Vanessa's perspective, the batey was a fallen place. As she describes, it was not only in a state of disrepair, but it was inhabited by Haitians who could not stake a claim to the community which made it a place without anybody or anything. This description was in stark contrast to the "lindo" (pretty) community she remembered from her childhood when the community was inhabited by Dominicans. …

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