Beyond Race: The Politics Behind The Current Dominican Crisis

10 Aug

It’s surprising to see how many people are paying attention to the current crisis in the Dominican Republic concerning, among other things, the status of Dominicans of Haitian descent who are accused of being illegal immigrants in their own country and now are threatened with deportation. We usually make the news only after a catastrophe has struck our island.  But here we are now on the world stage as a result of a 2013 court ruling, which, if implemented by the Dominican government, strips hundreds of thousands of people of their citizenship and threatens them with deportation.  Internationally and in the media, the situation that Dominico-Haitians and Haitian immigrants find themselves in is mostly attributed to Dominicans’ purportedly racist attitudes.  Yes, but race is only one factor.   Here is another perspective.

While many issues are being lumped together, people either forget or ignore that the current crisis is also the result of how power gets exercised in Dominican society.  The daily display of power and influence is instrumental to the functions of Dominican politicians and the socioeconomic elites they cater to.

Representing constituents, modernizing and organizing their society,  and ensuring equal access to the resources of the state often take a back seat to amassing and showing off personal wealth, measured in terms of the number of lavish houses, cars, and bank accounts owned.  Another measure of this power is the number of people that many of these show-offs get to order around or humiliate with their tongue-lashings.   Many of us who grew there are well acquainted with these dictatorial personalities and their antics.  Sadly, these practices get validated in popular culture when instead of questioning the corrupt means of personal enrichment and abuses of power, people celebrate it and reproduce it in their daily lives.

But also, politicians’ fortunes hinge on their ability to fan the flames of confusion, blind hatred, and nationalism.  Playing the Haitian card is always politically profitable.

One of the best examples of this particular use of power practice goes back to the days of the dictator Rafael L. Trujillo (of Haitian descent).  The dictator had personally profited from the cheap labor Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic.  Despite the collaboration of his Haitian counterpart in these migratory-economic arrangements, Dominican opposition leaders and conspirators had found refuge in Haiti.  One day, after a night of debauchery and under the pretext of putting a stop to livestock theft by Haitians along the border, Trujillo decided it was time to brutally cleanse Dominican society of Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent.  This was his way of crushing dissent and displaying the unquestionable power of his regime.

The current regime has been in power for most of the last twenty years, controlling the executive branch, the legislature, the courts, and the media.  It owes its initial hold on power to a 1996 pact between the two former political enemies.  Joaquín Balaguer and Juan Bosch (both now deceased) put their bitter differences aside and anointed former president Leonel Fernández as their heir, under the mantle of neoliberal reforms and a movement called Frente Patriótico Nacional/The National Patriotic Front.  For a while, it seemed that the popular opposition leader, the dark-skinned José Francisco Peña Gómez (of Haitian descent) might win.  But Fernández’s coalition of supporters stirred nationalistic fervor in a racially-charged campaign, questioning Gómez’s national loyalty and origins.  In the second round of elections, Peña Gómez was defeated.  Anti-Haitianism (blaming all the country’s problems on Haitian migration) was effectively utilized in that coalition’s quest for power and control.

The same thing is happening again under the current president Danilo Medina’s watch, but now with the added fear that a potentially new electorate (of Dominico-Haitians with full rights as citizens) may interrupt business as usual.  Indeed, over the last five years, Dominican citizens and ethnic minorities have been demanding more and more rights and accountability from their government.  They have also calling for an end to long-established forms of institutional corruption.  Some politicians have been taken to court.  Yet at each major turn, the government places the “Haitian problem” front and center in its public agenda.

The more Dominicans of all backgrounds express concerns with abuses of power, the human rights of Haitian immigrants, and the inclusion of Dominico-Haitians, the political elites become more grudging about yielding to the masses in the decision-making process.  The issues of Haitian immigrants continues to be strategically employed by those in power to mediate internal political crises, draw attention away from socioeconomic problems, and force citizens to forget institutional failings and misplace their anxieties.

Persuading Dominicans of the fact that the current situation is not a test of their national sovereignty will be difficult.  In a small island, nationalism is a daily practice that easily erases our connections to the international communities.  But we must insist that the current crisis concerns a critical political problem of grave humanitarian consequences.  In dialogue, we must continue to explore ways of voicing our dissent and helping to create a more inclusive Dominican society where citizens and human rights are not easily trampled on by the rich and powerful.

Published in the Haitian Times on  August 4, 2015


5 Jan

HAITI: So many things jump up at you on a trip to Haiti, ranging from the miseries of destruction and the results of bondage to the amazing life skills, will to freedom, and creativity of people on the ground. These pictures are from my recent trip there to participate in the Haitian Studies Association Conference where I spoke about the linguistic and racial representations of Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans in the Dominican Republic.  On my day off, I joined a fascinating tour of the arts in Port-au-Prince during which I had the opportunity to visit different parts of the city and meet people. I will not look for words to describe all the sensations evoked by the sights. These are some of the images I captured, or rather, images that captured me.

DSC04117DSC04122DSC04138DSC04151DSC04158DSC04160DSC04184 DSC04192DSC04202DSC04211 DSC04190


26 Sep

Professional Conferences

▪    “Drawing the borders: Representations of Haitian-Dominicans in Dominican Discourses of language and race” at the Haitian Studies Association (HSA) Conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, November 7-10, 2013 [Refereed

▪    “One island, two nations: redrawing the boundaries of language and race in Hispaniola” at the Borders and Identities Conference (BIC) Conference in the University of Rijeka, Croatia, March 29-31, 2013 [Refereed]

▪     111th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, San Francisco, CA, Nov. 14-18, 2012: “Policing Bilingualism: the Case of the Haitian-Dominican Border” [Refereed]

▪     Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, New Orleans, LA, Nov. 17-21, 2010: “‘Castilian flavored’ or ‘black Spanish’? Discourses on the sociolinguistic landscape in the Dominican Republic” [Refereed]

▪     2nd International Conference on Caribbean Studies, Cartagena, Colombia, Mar. 15-19, 2010: “Samaná, baluarte del criollismo caribeño” [Refereed]

▪     The International Conference on Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography, Bristol, England, Apr. 2-4, 2009: “Coloring Language: Pedro Henríquez Ureña’s representations of Spanish and Dominican identity” [Refereed]

▪     The XV International Conference of La Asociación de Lingüística y Filología de América Latina (ALFAL), Montevideo, Uruguay, Aug. 18-21, 2008: “Lengua, raza e historia en la obra lingüística de Pedro Henríquez Ureña” [Refereed]

▪     The Hispanic Linguistic Symposium of 2007, The University of Texas at San Antonio, Nov. 1-4, 2007: “Oui, Compai: multilingual matters in Samaná” [Refereed]

Invited Lectures

▪     Colloquium at the Faculty of Romance Studies at The Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, December 4, 2013, “El discurso metalingüístico de Pedro Henríquez Ureña.

▪    Taller Internacional Española-Isla de Encuentros at The Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, November 23, 2013: “Silenciar al otro: contactos y barreras etnolingüísticas en Hispaniola” [Keynote address].

▪     The Graduate Center, New York, April 12, 2013: “Speak up, negro!: articulating language and race in Hispaniola.”

▪     The Interdisziplinaire Arbeitsgruppe Latein Amerika  (IAGLA) Conference in Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, Germany, Feb 14-16, 2013: “‘El que Sea Prieto que Hable Claro:’ la Articulación de la Lengua y la Raza en la Frontera Domínico-Haitiana.”

▪     Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, Dept. of Romance Linguistics, May 15, 2012: “‘El problema del idioma’ y otras inquietudes sociohistóricas en Hispaniola.”

▪     Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (Berlin), May 10, 2012: “‘Creole versus español: la imagen lingüística de Haití en la República Dominicana”

▪     San Francisco State University, Dept. of Foreign Languages and Literatures, March 15, 2012: “El contexto social en ‘La lengua’ de Horacio Quiroga.”

▪     Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, 18 de noviembre 2011: “‘Lo menos trópico posible:’ los nacionalismos lingüísticos de Pedro Henríquez Ureña.”

▪     Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, 17 de noviembre 2011: “Mantener a raya: voces, retóricas y conflictos glotopolíticos en la frontera dominico-haitiana.”

▪     Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educación, 16 de noviembre 2011: “Un Caribe en La Plata: reflexiones en torno a las ideas lingüísticas de Pedro Henríquez Ureña.”

▪     Colorado State University, Dept. of Foreign Languages and Literatures, April, 21, 2011: “Disorderly lexicon: The politics of language and identity in the Dominican Republic.”

▪     Hamilton College, The Office of Diversity & Dept. of Anthropology, April. 7, 2011: “Feeling Spanish: The linguistic self-image of Dominicans.”

▪     University of Michigan, Dept. of Romance Languages, Mar. 3, 2009: “El reggaetón y la censura: la higiene verbal en el Caribe.”

▪     Stanford University, Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese, May 22, 2007: “Convergence and divergence in Caribbean dialects of Spanish.”

Graduate Student Conferences

▪     The Twelfth Annual Graduate Student Conference of the Ph.D. Program in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages, CUNY Graduate Center, Mar. 23, 2007: “Language variation in a multilingual community: The Dominican Republic’s Samaná Peninsula”

▪     The Graduate Colloquium on Hispanic and Lusophone Literatures, Linguistics and Cultures, University of California at Berkeley, Apr. 14-15, 2006: “Discursive strategies and Hispanism in the Dominican Republic”

▪     The Sixteenth Annual Symposium on Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literature, Language and Culture of the University of Arizona, Feb. 16-18, 2006: “Iconicity and erasure: instruments of symbolic domination in the promotion of Hispanism in the Dominican Republic”


26 Sep

MY TEACHING PHILOSOPHY is the result of diverse formative experiences in the classroom, my commitment to intellectual inquiry, and the influences of my most admired teachers. I come from a tradition in which teaching and learning are closely associated with an effort to know and a labor of love. I strive to create an environment in which students will engage in speaking, listening, questioning, writing, and thinking about socially significant problems and make every effort to meet high standards. 


Queens College, New York, NY, Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education and Educational Linguistics, Department of Elementary & Early Childhood Education, Aug. 2012-present

Stanford University, Stanford, CA, Visiting Scholar, The Department of Iberian & Latin American Cultures, Aug. 2011- Aug. 2012

University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Classical & Modern Languages Dept., Aug. 2009-Aug. 2011

Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, Visiting Assistant Professor of Hispanic Linguistics, Spanish & Portuguese Dept., Aug.2008-Aug. 2009

Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, Spanish Lecturer, Language Center, Sept. 2005-Jun. 2006

New York University, New York, NY, Adjunct Instructor, Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures, Sept. 2004-Jun. 2005

The New School, New York, NY, Instructor, Dept. of Modern Languages, Sept. 2004-Dec. 2004

The City College, The City University of New York, New York, NY, Adjunct Lecturer, Childhood Education Dept., Jan. 2003-Jun. 2004

LaGuardia Community College, The City University of New York, Long Island City, NY, Adjunct Lecturer, Humanities Dept., Sept. 2003-Dec. 2003; Jun. 2005-Aug. 2005

New York City Public Schools, New York and Bronx, NY, Early Childhood Education Bilingual Teacher, Sept. 1995-Jun. 2001


26 Sep

In my current project, I analyze the linguistic construction of borders (political and social) of the two nation-states that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The border zone is of special interest because it is a vibrant and fluid site of ethnic and linguistic mixing but it is also where the state’s most systematic attempts at ethnic cleansing and linguistic homogenization have occurred. Straddling disciplines such as linguistic anthropology, history, and the sociology of language, I apply the analytical tools from research on metalinguistic discourse and language ideologies and insights from border studies. The overarching goal of the project is a profound study of the nature and the effects of discursive violence in a postcolonial world. My work has received financial support from:

Queens College’s Immigration Studies Research Group (2013)

The PSC-CUNY Grant (2013)

The National Endowment for the Humanities (2012)

The Berlin Institute of Ibero-American Studies (2012)


The Masacre river brings together the transnational cities of Dajabón and Ouanaminthe in the Northern Haitian-Dominican border. It has also been the site of colonial and postcolonial genocides.

University of Wyoming Social Justice Network Grant (2010)

Valdez’s Recent Publications

10 Sep
  • (Forthcoming). “Representing and regimenting languages in a transnational setting: The case of the Haitian-Dominican border.” In The transnational politics of language in Hispaniola, Special Issue of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language (IJSL), Juan R.Valdez, guest editor. (Article)
  • (Forthcoming). “Introduction to the transnational politics of language in Hispaniola/Yspayola.” In Special issue of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language (IJSL), Juan R.Valdez, guest editor. (Article)
  • (Forthcoming). “‘Lo menos trópico posible:’ reflexiones glotopolíticas en torno a Pedro Henríquez Ureña.” Zama: Revista del Instituto de Literatura Hispanoamericana. (Article)
  • (In Press). “La regimentación lingüística en un escenario transnacional: La República Dominicana/Haití.” In Language Problems and Language Planning 30.2. (Article)
  • 2013. “Language in the Dominican Republic: between Hispanism and Panamericanism.” In Spanish in history: tracing the politics of language representation. Ed. José del Valle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Book chapter)
  • 2012. “Lengua-frontera: la imagen lingüística de Haití en la República Dominicana.” Katatay: Revista Crítica de Literatura Latinoamericana VIII (10): 120-131. (Article)
  • 2012 “República Dominicana/Haití: Fronteras lingüísticas y políticas en el territorio de la Hispaniola.” Entrevista conducida por Maite Celada y Xoán Lagares para Revista da Associação Brasileira de Hispanistas (abehache). (Interview), available at
  • 2012. “‘Lo menos trópico posible:’ reflexiones glotopolíticas sobre la obra de Pedro Henríquez Ureña.” Revista del Instituto de Literatura Hispanoamericana. (Article)
  • 2012. “Colouring language: Pedro Henríquez Ureña’s representations of Spanish and Dominican identity.” In Language and history, linguistics and historiography. Eds. Nils Langer, Steffan Davies & Wim Vandenbussche. Oxford & New York: Peter Lang. (Book chapter)
  • 2011. Tracing Dominican identity: the writings of Pedro Henríquez Ureña. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. (Book)
  • 2010. “Samaná (República Dominicana): ¿Baluarte del criollismo caribeño o campo de contacto lingüístico-cultural?” Estudios 18: 35 (enero-julio 2010). (Article), available at
  • 2009. “The iconization of Dominican Spanish in Pedro Henríquez Ureña’s linguistic texts.” Spanish in Context 6.2:176-198. (Article)

Imagea political history of Spanish