SWM 2014: Using street theatre to tackle discrimination in the Dominican Republic
Case study by Livia Saccardi
‘They do not accept us. In Haiti we are not Haitians. In the Dominican Republic we are not Dominicans. So where are we from?’
‘She told me that my parents were foreigners, and she did not want to give me my papers. After one week I went back there and I told her that my parents are not foreigners and that if she is a Dominican, then so are my parents.’
This is what two young women in the Dominican Republic, both members of the country’s Haitian minority, said when interviewed for the documentary film Say My Name. Dominico-Haitians represent a substantial minority of up to a million people and form a distinct ethnic group. But although many Dominicans have Haitian ancestors and connections, anti-Haitian xenophobia is rife – and the state, despite their considerable contributions to the country, still considers them ‘in transit’. Yet only a few government officials acknowledge the existence of this prejudice: in general, authorities claim there is no discrimination.
In this challenging context, beginning in 2010, MRG partnered with a local organization, Movimiento De Mujeres Dominico Haitiana (MUDHA), to challenge commonly held racist attitudes and stereotypes through drama and theatre. This provided an opportunity to engage ordinary members of the majority community in debates about diversity, difference, discrimination, equality and justice. MUDHA, having recruited a theatre troupe with a mix of Dominico- Haitian and Dominican actors, then developed the focus of the play through research. This involved spending time with the minority community – talking with different community members, cleaning a local children’s playing area, organizing baseball games – to identify the main challenges for the Dominico-Haitian population. Through this approach, it became clear that the main obstacle confronting them was the absence of official recognition, citizenship and identity documentation.
Their situation was then dramatized in their play to allow the actors to express these issues vividly to a wider audience. ‘The programme defied racism. It allowed Haitian people to say in public “I am here. I am like this…”’, said one community member working with MUDHA. Through engaging storylines, mixing humour and tragedy, the performance communicated the discrimination that young minority members had experienced to a wider audience. Though the group faced some challenges, especially in engaging the majority population, the final results greatly exceeded the original targets. Street theatre enabled MUDHA to reach out to new audiences and draw them in emotionally with the story. Rosa Lidia Yan, one of the actors, says:
‘We are trying to raise awareness in our own community and the general public. In our play we are expressing our difficulties in getting identity papers and difficulties with discrimination.… The theatre is a help, it gives support to people supporting those that have problems with their documentation not to give up their fight, to continue defending their rights. Because if we do not defend our rights, nobody else will do it!’
This was echoed by Sirana Dolis, acting head of MUDHA, who said:
‘We know that the fight will be long and maybe I will not see it [the end] but my grandchildren and great-grandchildren here in the Dominican Republic, they can say their grandmother fought for this.’
This article appears in MRG’s annual flagship report State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014. View the full report.
Photo: Street Theatre rehearsals in the Dominican Republic. Copyright: MRG/Sofia Olins
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