They might have stripped Pulitzer Prize–winning author Junot Díaz of his Dominican citizenship. Because, you know, they can do that now. Instead, Eduardo Selman, the Consul General of the Dominican Republic in New York, just took back his award.
In 2009, Díaz was granted the Order of Merit, given to notable Dominican “citizens.” At the ceremony, Selman said that the medal honors “the talent, creativity, and professional trajectory of our most accomplished Dominicans, who symbolize the most genuine values and principles of la dominicanidad”—Dominican-ness.
Now he takes it all back, because apparently la dominicanidad doesn’t include condemning the anti-Haitian pogrom that has been taking place in the Dominican Republic. Díaz has been an outspoken critic, trying to call international attention to the state of fear in which most Haitian residents in the Dominican Republic and Dominicans of Haitian descent now live. “The last time something like this happened was Nazi Germany, and yet people are like, shrugging about it,” Díaz said in June. “Think about how much fear you would have to feel for you to suddenly pick the fuck up and flee.” Most recently, Díaz, along with the Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat, were in Washington meeting with senators, representatives, and staffers to urge Congress to condemn the Dominican Republic’s actions. For such advocacy, Selman charges Díaz with being “anti-Dominican.”
Díaz is especially hated by the Dominican right because he insists that rising xenophobia isn’t innate or transhistorical but linked to a specific right-wing venture driven by elites. Selman is a leading member of the ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana, which has been whipping up the racism. In other words, when Díaz talks about these new citizenship laws being an “elite” project to push the country to the right, he is talking about men like Selman. Commentators, both in the DR and in the US, write about anti-Haitian racism as if it is bred in the Dominican bones, traced back at least to the early nineteenth century when Haiti occupied the DR. That, as the Yale historian Ann Eller argues, is a gross distortion of history. The xenophobia Díaz condemns is a modern monster, linked to the falling global price of sugar (which has rendered Haitian agricultural workers superfluous) and Washington-pushed “free trade” policies. A “third of the country’s total population lives in poverty, and almost 20 per cent are living in extreme poverty.” In the cities, the number of poor people has doubled since 2000, from 1.2 million to 2.4 million, according to the World Bank, as I’ve written about here.