Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Color Struck: As in the United States, Race Is Still a Factor in Access to Education in the Latin American Diaspora

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Color Struck: As in the United States, Race Is Still a Factor in Access to Education in the Latin American Diaspora

Article excerpt

Recently, the Dominican Republic has made headlines over a controversial policy to deport Dominicans of Haitian descent to the other side of the island the two countries share. The policy has brought awareness to the complex legacy of race in the Dominican Republic--and other countries in the Latin American diaspora.

This recent headline draws concern for Dr. Silvio Torres-Saillant, who founded the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute at the City College of New York and is currently a professor of English at Syracuse University.

"The racial politics in the Dominican Republic today are made very complex by the other phenomenon, which is immigration politics, and its also connected with a labor-access problem. So there are many things going on at the same time," he says. "What's racial and what's not is not so easily determined."

But Torres-Saillant also says that the issue is not unique to the Dominican Republic, but is an issue with the colonized nations across the Western Hemisphere.

"We understand that the problem of immigrants is everywhere. Immigrants are disempowered in most places today," he continues. A supreme sense of nationalism propels some of the issues surrounding the policies on Haitian-descendant Dominicans and the idea that they are "invading the country."

Colonization spurs racism

But where the immigration issue diverges from an issue of race, Torres-Saillant says there is a sense of "Negrophobia and the social exclusions that stem from that is a pan-hemispheric issue, and it is still with us in the United States today. It's still in Colombia; it is still in Ecuador. The Black population of [many of these countries] is the most disempowered," he says.

"It's part of the European ideology," says Dr. Gregorio MoraTorres, a lecturer in the department of Mexican American studies at San Jose State University. "When they [came] to the New World, it doesn't really matter if [they] are Portuguese or if [they] are Spanish; [they] come to believe that [they] have been chosen by God to govern all of these dark-skinned people."

Torres-Saillant says that it is more than just a lofty ideal; public policy in the nations of the Western Hemisphere has been an accomplice to the attitudes that persist.

"The colony was based on maltreatment. It's not just that they were bad guys in the colonial period; it's that the colonial economy depended on the ongoing systematic diminishing of the humanity of major sectors of the population, by means of enslavement and by means of the kinds of occupations to which they were subjected," he says.

But a declaration of emancipation in each of the countries did not automatically bring with it the rights and privileges of full citizenship for those people who had been disenfranchised for centuries, says Torres-Saillant.

"Emancipation comes in and the paper is signed, and now you're saying, 'OK, go ahead and live together as a people.' But are you going to do anything about those centuries in which Whites... were socialized in contempt for those other populations so that they could use them economically?" he asks.

That burden, Torres-Saillant argues, should be a deliberate effort by government and the public education system.

"Public education should make it so that I feel less of a desire to enslave those people, or there has to be an education that teaches me to accept them as equal, and that never happened. It didn't happen in the United States, even after the Civil Rights Act," he says.

But instead of a concerted effort toward reconciliation, Torres-Saillant says "there was not one single nation in the hemisphere that said, 'OK, so we've abolished slavery, now we are going to learn how to treat each other as equals'"

For those who are present-day descendants of these European settlers, says Mora-Torres, "You feel like you are privileged and that you're special. …

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