The Parsley Massacre of 1937

haitians

The Parsley Massacre of 1937

In September of 1937, the massacre of thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic commenced. Rafaél Trujillo ordered his military to exterminate the Haitian population in order to cleanse the Dominican population of “foreigners.”

Most of the massacre occurred next to the border at what is now known as Massacre River, and was most casualties occurred from October 7th-12th when the Dominican Republic and Haiti drafted a diplomatic agreement to work towards peaceful relations as well as an official investigation into the massacre. In the course of the month, it is estimated that 20,000 Haitians were killed although the exact number is not known.

Historical Background

The Parsley Massacre was the result of a tenuous relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti beginning at the birth of the nations. The tense relationship between Dominicans and Haitians has evolved from many different factors, some of the main ones are described below:

  • Haitians fight for independence: Dominicans did not support the Haitian fight for independence, as they thought it would sever connections with Europe.
  • Haitian occupation of DR:  from 1822 until 1844, the newly independent Haiti invaded Santo Domingo hoping to expand their control to the Dominican Republic. This time has been reported to be a brutal time when Dominican traditions, culture, and the use of Spanish were all suppressed. This reinforced the Dominicans belief that they were different than the Haitians, and created resentment against the Haitians. February 27th, 1844 is the Dominican Republic’s independence day, when they took back the city of Santo Domingo.
  • Collapse of sugar industry/reopening: Haiti was providing the vast amount of sugar for Europe. When they fought for independence, the sugar companies were all forced out and the sugar industry collapsed. The DR’s economy was more based in agriculture, but soon they took over the sugar industry. In the late 20th century, when the sugar industry began to boom again, the Dominican Republic was full of open jobs. No Dominican wanted the jobs because the wages were so low. In turn, Haitians were brought over for extremely cheap labor. The Dominicans began to resent the Haitian who they claimed were taking all the jobs. Trujillo’s justification was that they were hurting the Dominicans by taking jobs, and because of their inferior race.
  • Dominicans see themselves as European, Haitians as Africans: because the Dominicans saw themselves as part of the European domain, they believed that Africans were inferior due to the slave trade. Even though many Dominicans were of African decent, they lived in a society based on the European lifestyle.

To learn more about the tumultuous history between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, watch this documentary (source of information).

Classification of Genocide

While the Parsley Massacre was never declared to be a genocide, it fits the criteria that Raphael Lemkin stated in the Genocide Convention treaty:

Genocide is defined as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as:
  • (a) Killing members of the group;
  • (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Haitians were systematically persecuted for the nationality, with the intent of exterminating their nationality within the Dominican borders. Fitting perfectly in the parameters of this definition, I have decided to classify the Parsley Massacre as an act of genocide. It was never globally called a genocide because Lemkin’s definition was not formally adopted until 1948, therefore the term was yet to exist.

Memorial Process

Proposal

I chose to do my project on the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo. There was a massacre of thousands of Haitian laborers who were targeted because of their nationality. I chose this topic because I was in the Dominican Republic this past summer, volunteering in the sugar fields where Haitian workers are still used. I got to see the affects of Trujillo’s regime, and think that it would be a good project as most people don’t know it ever happened.

Dominican Republic Position Paper for Memorial

Bateye Margarita

Service with the children of Bateye Margarita, DR

I decided to make a memorial for the Parsley Massacre of 1937 because the vast majority of people do not know it ever happened. This summer, I was doing community service in the Dominican Republic. For two weeks we worked in the bateyes, small communities of sugar cane workers who have no way out. We learned about the prejudices against Haitians that many Dominicans have to this day. The relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti is still tense, with conflicts continuing to arise over immigration and land divisions. I think this memorial is important to bring the memory of the massacre to the light to show what could happen as a result of extreme tension.

I believe that a memorial is especially important considering there are no major monuments that commemorate this tragic period. Recently, there was a candle light vigil on the banks of ‘Massacre River’ in which both Dominicans and Haitians took part. It was important considering there is little conversation about what happened, especially within the Dominican Republic.

Bateye Margarita

Sugar cane worker who brought my group out to the sugar fields in Bateye Margarita, DR

One reason why there isn’t a memorial could be because of the continued tension between the two countries. Furthermore, the Dominican Republic has tried to “forget” about the Trujillo regime. There is still a lot of racism towards Haitians within the Dominican Republic, so some do not want to consider Trujillo’s order to be an act of genocide.

I think that this memorial will be most beneficial and have the largest impact on almost everyone who sees it. I believe that one of the most important parts in stopping and preventing genocide, is knowing when it has happened. Giving more details and showing people the terrible results of the Parsley Massacre will give them yet another genocide to consider. Furthermore, I would hope that it would be able to start a conversation between the Haitians and Dominicans to try and quell the tension that still exists.

Fieser, Ezra. “Haitians and Dominicans remember Parsley Massacre, 75 years laterRead more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/05/3036569/haitians-and-dominicans-remember.html#storylink=cpy.&#8221; Haitian Link. TheMiami Herald, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 7 May 2013. <http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/05/3036569/haitians-and-dominicans-remember.html&gt;.

Location

If my memorial were to be placed anywhere, I would want it to be put outside in a public park. One of the main injustices, in my opinion, faced by the victims of the Parsley Massacre is that there is almost no recognition of the suffering. With the vast majority of the population outside of the Dominican Republic and Haiti not knowing what happened, the main goal of my project is to raise awareness. Being in a very public place, such as a park, would allow for more traffic to cross the memorial and therefore, hopefully, inform more people. I hope that the more people that learn about how frequent acts of genocide occur, they will be mow likely to act in the fight for justice.

Process of Creation

Step 1: The Base

Step 1 
First I created the base by gluing two boards together.
photo
Next, I painted the boards blue and wrote an excerpt from Rita Dove’s poem “Parsley” and a quote from Rafael Trujillo on each. 
 
Step 2: The Map
photo 
I used clay to create a model of the island. 

1

Next I painted it: the white side is the Dominican Republic and the black side is Haiti. Then I painted “perejil” over both sides. 

Step 3: The Sugar Skulls

6

I found cardboard skulls at an art supply shop. 

8

First, I painted each skull white.

9

Then I put glue on them and poured sugar over each (note: the sugar is hard to see in these pictures).

Step 4: The Parsley

7

I picked parsley from my backyard. 

4

Then I stuffed each skull with parsley so that it was visible through each hole, and then surrounded each skull with a larger base of parsley.

Step 5: Putting Everything Together

2

I glued down the skulls and parsley next to the Rita Dove poem, “Parsley.”

3

And glued down the island model next to the Trujillo quote (note: the white line on the Haiti side of the island is glue that is still drying).

Final Product:

5

Curatorial Statement:

My memorial is based on the entirety of the Parsley Massacre because of the little publicity it has received. I thought it would be better to make a memorial to explain the whole event rather than focus on a specific aspect. Each part of my memorial represents a vital part of the Massacre, or was a factor that lead to it:

  • Base: I made the base so that it looked like the ocean. Being the only island that holds two countries (in the Caribbean), Hispaniola is one island with two different cultures and people.
  • “Parsley” by Rita Dove: I used part of Rita Dove’s poem because it helps create a mood for the memorial. It shows the gravity that ensued as well as a sense of desperation.
  • Trujillo quote: I thought this quote really shows the tension and conflict between the Haitians and Dominicans. Also, it lays out the main plan for the massacre and provides a glimpse at the attitude towards it.
  • Sugar skulls: The sugar skulls are meant to represent the Haitians that died during the massacre. Most Haitians were brought into the country as sugar cane workers, so I thought that it was suitable to make sugar skulls as a representation of the innocent lives that were ended.
  • Island model: The island model is meant to represent how Hispaniola is one island deeply divided by marginal differences. I painted the Dominican Republic white to represent how they think of themselves as Europeans, and painted Haiti black to represent their African roots. Finally, I wrote “perejil” over the whole island because it was the one word that could dictate someones fate. More precisely, the letter ‘r’ decided if someone would live; due to differences in language, Dominicans would roll the ‘r’ in their pronunciation, and Haitians would not. This is what lead to their deaths. The ‘r’ is in red to highlight this marginal difference.
  • Parsley: Being called the Parsley Massacre, I thought it was important to add parsley to the memorial considering the pronunciation was the difference between life and death.

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