Footsteps to Unity
I am often reminded of why the word Encuentro is important to me and to this journey. It is defined as, meeting and encounter yet, when the name of the organization came to me it meant more.
The meaning of the word as we see it becomes, the gathering, meeting, seeing, acknowledging, accepting and knowing of the African Diaspora. Our collaborative event, Healing from the Roots: Africa in Hispaniola, with the Dominican student association, M.A.N.G.U. and the Haitian student association, Haitian American Society at UMASS Boston allowed all in the space to move with our expanded definition.
We spend a lot of time wanting others to see us, to understand our complexities as people of African descent. Today our focus needs to be how we see each other and accept each other while building towards a better understanding of the complexities of our individual regions.
Looking deeper into understanding that what is happening in Haiti has an impact on Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo has an impact on Puerto Rico. Nicaragua impacts Costa Rica. Colombia impacts Panama. Venezuela impacts Ecuador. Adding to this understanding, our experience in this country and our relationship with Africa Americans, we should see the advantage to building a unified message.
In preparing my opening for the dialogue, I kept saying, Afro descendents of Latin America and the Caribbean need to rename and reclaim history that would speak to our truth.
I shared in my opening a quote by Audre Lorde, “divide and conquer in our world, must become define and empower.”
It is time to redefine Latin America and the Caribbean by placing our African ancestry at the root.
By empowering ourselves to move past all the misunderstanding, address the racism and some might even say the hate, we can then take footsteps to unity.
I commend the students for taking this brave step to engage in this difficult dialogue moving from pain to hope.
Posing the following questions helped us move in that direction. Who has benefited from the struggle of the working class and the poor? Do you think you have African roots? How do we deal with the presence in each country?
Zenaida Mendez was our Dominican speaker. Folks remember that name!! She is a true feminist leader. Zenaida spoke of the similarities between Haitians and Dominicans. She shared the fluid exchange of Dominicans and Haitians in her upbringing, highlighting food, music and spirituality. It was also necessary and important to speak of the painful history which many would say, feeds the existing tension between these communities that share an island.
Other points to highlight: Dominicans helped their neighbors during the earthquake crisis. The other many would say, speak to the internal struggle in Santo Domingo. Dominicans do not have “Black” as an option on their passport. What does it mean that you do not have the option to self identify? She then, in Zenaida fluid style, shared a famous phrase, “todos tenemos negro, detras de las orejas.”
Alix Cantave was our Haitian speaker. Prof. Cantave also began by sharing a personal perspective of the connection of Haiti and Santo Domingo. His tone was of hope and development. He shared that something to recognize is that our legacy is rooted in a hierarchy of class and race.
Visuals can always take your thought process to another level, especially when numbers are presented. Prof. Cantave shared a power point that highlighted the disparities that exist such as economic inequality, poverty and education. Of the 10 million Dominicans, 1 million are of Haitian origin. The poverty level in Santo Domingo is 40% while in Haiti it is 80%.
When I travel to Santo Domingo I see Haiti and vice versa. One of the many blessings of this journey is that I see myself in the faces of all people of African descent. There is something wonderful and special when they also see you.
Haiti and Santo Domingo are two nations trapped by historical circumstances. It is time to dismiss the anti-propaganda, this ideology that has benefited the dominant class.
It is time to open our hearts and minds, to listen, to really see our neighbor.
Zenaida and Prof. Cantave shared a profound willingness to support the students by using the momentum of the event to create a project that will continue the exchange.
Prof. Cantave pointed out some specifics to keep in mind.
-Understanding the disparities
-Inter-Country planning and strategies
The Dominican and Haitian students at UMASS Boston have begun taking their footsteps to unity. The Professors present pledged their support. The Encuentro family will walk closely with them as they seek truth and wellness for their communities.
We should all move with the students as a Region and as a people who continue to be invisible and excluded from the larger dialogue in our perspective countries.
Success for one is success for all!!!
Join us by putting on your best shoes and begin taking your Footsteps to Unity.