Elites deny African roots of Dominican Republic culture
In the configuration of the Dominican identity, the dominant elites have always tried to exclude the Afro-descendant characteristics to highlight only the Hispanic heritage, which represents a discriminatory Eurocentrism and denial of important roots of the national culture, said anthropologist Tahira Vargas.
“There has been an eagerness to deny us, that is why we have no identity, because if they have not forged you an identity based on the Afro-descendant presence, but sell you only the Hispanic roots, then you cannot speak of identity.
“Then comes in the contempt towards the popular because it is barrial, chopo, wawawa, there is always a term to say that you are not part of that group because they are bullosos, beben….but the other group does it too, what happens is that they do not go to a colmadón or to a corner, they go to a bar.”
Interview with Ms. Tahira Vargas, Anthropologist.
Vargas explains that this prejudice towards blackness persists because political and economic power strata have strengthened it for decades.
“Our elites are of foreign origin, Europeans, Arabs, but they came to the country without a penny and irregularly. These elites did not arrive with money or documents, but they have always strived to sell a Hispanicized Dominicanity, as was done during the regime of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.”
In this sense, Vargas affirms that they have gone so far in constructing an identity without Afro-descendant traits that they have tried to extract from historical events that dismantle this purpose.
“We have been sold that our independence was from Haiti, but 17 years later, we were occupied or annexed to Spain, the real independence is in the Restoration, but we cannot present it that way because it was against Spain, and secondly, because the heroes of the Restoration were all black, starting with Gregorio Luperón, who was the son of a Haitian woman.”
Intellectuals and the Afro-descendant denial
The diffusion of identity criteria passes through the yardstick of intellectuals. From that perspective, Vargas considers that, specifically in the Trujillo era, they forged a national history loaded with distortions.
“Intellectuals affiliated with the Trujillo regime were the forgers of a history that was not, written full of distortions, absences and gaps, because even the Taino culture itself is taught very little. “There is no mention of what exploitation meant, the rape of women, the relationship between the Taino population and the African population that arrived, the children of that relationship….es a history full of fragmentations and ruptures.
“Then it is obvious that we cannot have a clear identity construction when we do not have a clear historical construction, but a confusing one full of ambiguities, contradictions, negations,” Vargas expressed.
A divorce with reality
Vargas considers that denying the African presence in the Dominican culture has caused a divorce between the dominant elites and the popular sectors.
That denial, she says, makes popular culture be seen as something negative, despicable, that should not be strengthened.
“Because popular culture is totally Afro-descendant in all its expressions, in food practices, in magic-religious beliefs, in music, and even in the way of speaking,” she said.
The role of the school
Vargas questions that, being the school the environment in which social and cultural cohesion should be fostered, it has turned its back on this process in the context of African roots.
In her opinion, the Dominican school has not dedicated itself to integrating this culture in the classroom, “how can you pretend to have a strong cultural identity if you do not work on strengthening your Afro-descendant roots.”
“The Dominican school does not accept a stick dance, the artisan of the community to teach the children how he makes crafts, you can not play drums, dance, or disclose what people do with home remedies.
“In the school there is no dialogue of knowledge, as there should be. If you have a country that has had dictatorial regimes and a vertical style of doing politics, and vertical schools, how do you recreate identity, from where are you going to spread it,” Vargas said.