Thursday, February 09, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 9

courtesy of
 Growing up, no one in my family ever talked about Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, aka El Generalissimo. I never even knew of him until I was much older and in college. I always thought it was odd that certain family members felt disdain towards our Haitian neighbors but never bothered to ask why. After all, back in my day, children were seen and not heard, and you never ever questioned adults about adult business.

Also, my family members didn't get run off the Island. No one was in immediate danger with El Generalissimo's regime (that I know of) and simply came to New York "for a better life." Us kids had nothing to suspect.

So color me stupid when I found out about this huge black cloud that still hangs over our piece of Hispaniola:

Using the Army as his enforcer, Trujillo wasted no time in setting up a repressive dictatorship and organized a vast network of spies to eliminate any potential opponents. His henchmen did not hesitate to use intimidation, torture, or assassination of political foes to terrify and oppress the population to ensure his rule and amass his fortune. Before long he consolidated his power to such a degree that he began to treat the Dominican Republic as his own personal kingdom. He was so arrogant and confident that, after just six years at the head of government, Trujillo changed the name of the capital city from Santo Domingo (which name had existed for over 400 years), to Cuidad Trujillo (Trujillo City).

When I dug deeper, trying to understand where this animosity with/toward Haiti came from I found out that (besides there being tense relations since colonial days) even though Trujillo was of Haitian ancestry, he:

...never [hid] his racist ideas about the "inferiority and unattractiveness" of the black-skinned Haitians, so in 1937, after first negotiating an internationally lauded border agreement with Haiti's president, he ordered his army to oversee the massacre of all Haitians on the Dominican side of the border.

And how was El Generalissimo just allowed to be all Hitler-like and not start a war? Well for one, no one ever gave (gives) a shit about the Brown Nations. Let's just be real about that shit. And secondly:

courtesy of
Trujillo received American support of his leadership because he offered generous and favorable conditions to American businessmen wanting to invest in the Dominican Republic. More importantly to the U.S., after World War II, Trujillo showed his political support of the U.S.A.'s stand against the evils of communism.

As the information began to unfold before me, I realized that Abuelo was former military police, and while I was always so proud of his importance and great standing in the community- I mean imagine being 10 and having a maid, chauffeur, cook and armed guards at your door! I felt like royalty- it occurred to me that he would have been employed with Trujillo's government. The evil Raquel in me was all HELL YEAH, BITCHES! We BAAAAADDDDD MotherFuckers! Then the empathetic Raquel felt bad for all the people that never made it out alive from under Trujillo's boots. Like the Mirabal sisters. And then paranoid Raquel realized OH MY GOD! Those guards were there because my very 10-year-old life was in danger just by being related to this man! It was a lot to process.

I still don't know much about my family's experience under Trujillo. I fully intend to get more from them while I work on the biography of the Penzo, Acosta and Ortiz clans from whence I came. But for now, just know that Trujillo plays a role in my family, in every Dominican's family, and even if they said it wasn't really was. Perhaps nothing is more telling of how terrible it truly was than the deliberate silence I grew up with.

Pick up a copy of Julia Alvarez's "In The Time of the Butterflies" to read a fictionalized-realistic account of what life may have been like for my ancestors in the Dominican Republic, and why they don't ever mention it even today, and it might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...uncovering new mysteries everyday*
shout out to for helping a sista out with facts (as they were) n shit.