Race and Dominicanness: A struggle for identity In following decades the need for manual labor increased, and the Europeans looked to Africa for the cheap labor that would bring wealth to their empires. As the African populations grew, and misogyny became the norm, so did a colonial model for the racial classification of these new “breeds” of people. Children born from mixed relations were classified according the percentage of their blood that was “pure,” i.e. European. Terms like criollo, metizo, trigueno, mulato, indio, havao, or cuarteron, amongst others, measured purity amongst mixed people, and created a value system amongst those with mixed ancestry. With the evolution of the classification systems, and justification for the slave practices that fueled colonial economies, Africans were deemed to be inferior, even considered as sub-human beings, therefore anything that had, or seemed African, was not acceptable. Accordingly, praise was given to those born of European descent, and this became the idealized concept towards which future generations would look to as an example for identity. It was the European model, not the prevalent African model of identity, which would eventually be desired, and this has come to be reflected in the Dominican Republic today. Even Taino heritage, which itself had been diluted over many decades, was elevated to a somewhat critical representation of identity, all in response to the continued ‘Africanization’ of the island, which was in stark contrast of the European standards of beauty. Even if one couldn’t “be” European, you could at least be indio, since as a last recourse it wasn’t black, it wasn’t African. According to popular author Michele Wucker it was in “Mourning his [Enriquillo’s] demise and celebrating his legacy, Dominicans resurrected the past, and constructed a Taino-influenced ancestry to explain their color. Today, mulatto and Black Dominicans call themselves Indio, and they say that their color is dark like that of Indians, but different in quality from African skins.

With these assertions we better understand how Dominicans view themselves. In Enriquillo Dominicans saw the image of a great man. He was, “a heroic Indian who put peace with Spain above alliance with black slaves.” In these statements we see the creation of the Dominican image being drawn out from the myth of Enriquillo, to describe themselves as anything but African. Through Enriquillo’s legend Dominicans interpreted a respect towards Spain, all the while, they reflected on his unwillingness to support the runaway Africans, which they too became unwilling to support, and reveled in his warrior status as a hero, which they too wanted to emulate. He was a strong Christian man, who above anything else wasn’t black; he was ‘Indio.’ Though the physical presence of the Indio died out almost immediately after the initial Spanish presence, replaced by the intermixing with Africans and Europeans, the presence of the Indio in the Dominican psyche, as a way to understand themselves, is still at the core of the Dominican identity today.

Adding to the ill-defined concepts of race and identity are the strides made by Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, and his campaign of Blanquismo. Trujillo, through violent action and political policy, shaped the Dominican landscape of racial identity, continuously championing Eurocentricity over Africanism, and by default supporting the Indio heritage. In his 30 years in power Trujillo was efficient in his policies of Blanquismo, making great strides to resolve the racial disparities of the island. In 1937 he ordered the systematic massacre of close to 20,000 Haitians, though some estimates place this figure higher. Trujillo’s reasons for this act were obvious, but his main justification was that it was in retaliation for the Haitian government’s support for Dominican exiles trying to overthrow him. Eventually Trujillo allowed entrance to the Dominican Republic of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe, and Republican exiles from the Spanish Civil war, as an attempt to “lighten the race.” Moreover, Trujillo declared Merengue the national music of the Dominican Republic, and had the music and dance subsequently modeled after the European Waltz, a cultural manifestation of his wish to make his country appear more European, at least on the surface.

Though the extension of the African Diasporas is clearly present in the Dominican Republic through culture, race, food, and other variants, it is important to note that semblances of Taino heritage are still present, which add to the difficulties of the conversation. Since so little is left of the Taino heritage, as opposed to the overwhelming African heritage, one can postulate that the claims towards being indio isn’t in neglect of the African heritage, but as a way of conserving what little of the Taino culture remains. It should be noted though, that in recent years there has been a change towards accepting, and having pride in the Afro-Dominican realities of the island. Increasingly Dominicans of darker complexions can be heard declaring pride for their skin color, in essence accepting their roots, and conversely, some Dominicans can be heard arguing that the idea of indio doesn’t in fact exist, and isn’t a valid classification for Dominicans. What should ultimately be held as true is that it is important to recognize this country’s African heritage, alongside its Taino roots, in order to create a synthesis within the cultural and racial landscapes, that will one day provide a conclusive understanding of identity in the Dominican Republic, something that up until now has been impossible to do.
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