Arts, On Campus

‘Stateless’ Shows Haitian Crisis in Dominican Republic

Tuesday afternoon’s virtual discussion and screening of director Michèle Stephenson’s Stateless, sponsored by Boston College’s Center for Human Rights & International Justice, depicted the ongoing, but historical, tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 

BC professor Brinton Lykes and BC law professor Daniel Kanstroom introduced the event’s speaker, Franciscka Lucien, the executive director at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Although not involved with the film, Lucien provided context to the documentary’s importance, which dives into the history of Haitian citizenship in the Dominican Republic, and how it connects to her work with immigration justice and policy.

The film focuses on the impacts of the 2013 denaturalization policy, which was enacted by the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court. As a nation with a large number of Haitian migrants and people of Haitian descent, this policy left thousands of people suddenly without citizenship.  The 2013 policy was reminiscent of a movement by the Dominican Army in 1937 that forced tens of thousands of Haitians from the country. 

“They estimate that the policy left over 200,000 individuals stateless, but that number continues to grow today, and the very drivers that led individuals out of Haiti to the Dominican Republic are also continuing today,” Lucien said. 

Stateless begins with brief statements summarizing key points between the history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Throughout the film, these historical points are woven together with the telling of a legend of a young girl named Moraime and her struggle to flee dictator Rafael Trujillo’s slaughtering of Haitians in the 1930s. 

But, much of Stateless’ premise surrounds the story of Rosa Iris Diendomi-Álvarez, an attorney actively fighting for the citizenship of Haitian-Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. 

Like many people in the Dominican Republic, Diendomi-Álvarez has Haitian ancestry as well. At one point during the documentary, she describes the Dominican Republic’s policy toward Haitians as “they’re here, but they don’t exist.”

During the film, she decides to embark on an uphill campaign, running for Congress amid social media threats, bribery, and corruption. 

Stateless is a moving story of Diendomi-Álvarez’s contribution to the fight against the discrimination of both Haitians and Dominicans. The documentary serves as a record of the continuous struggle of colorism, Dominican nationalism, and a long, complicated history between the two neighboring countries. 

After the screening concluded, Kanstroom, Lykes, and Lucien engaged in discussion and reflection of the film, while answering questions written by some Zoom participants. Lucien was also able to present the current state of Dominican Republic policy and the Haitian migration crisis, having worked closely with many of the adjacent issues that Stateless touched on.

“[This crisis] isn’t limited to a moment in time,” Lucien said. “This is a living and growing problem that’s happening along Haiti and the DR’s borders … we are talking about people who have been in the DR for decades, who have families there, who, by all definitions, should be considered citizens of the Dominican Republic.”

Lucien also briefly touched on the recent assassination of Haiti’s president and its effects on Haiti and the Dominican Republic’s relations. 

“I think the unfortunate reality is that even before the assasssination, there’s been a strengthening of immigration control by the DR towards Haitian citizens … in fact the DR has come out publicly to call for greater intervention citing the instability in Haiti as a concern for the Dominican Republic and further migration into the country,” Lucien said.

Although Kanstroom and Lykes said they were unable to bring Diendomi-Álvarez to speak at Boston College, Lykes said that having Lucien discuss her work helps students better understand the conflict in the Dominican Republic.

“The media in the United States is so limited in terms of what we have access to and what we can learn about these issues,” Lykes said. “So opportunities to hear from someone like [Lucien] and opportunities to see a film like this are really important.”

Screenshot by Paterson Tran

October 20, 2021