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LA ÑAPA

In Dominican Spanish la ñapa refers to "the little extra" added on at the end. Just when you thought you'd gotten all that you would get, along comes your ñapa, like a baker's dozen, with one more kiss, one more pastelito, one more mango at the mercado.

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Many Left Out

In my previous ñapa, titled "No One Left Out," I wrote about how disheartened I felt at the carnival-type atmosphere that prevailed after the capture of the surviving Boston marathon bomber. The muscle-flexing and go-get-em attitude seemed of a piece with the culture of violence that had bred such a hateful, destructive act in the first place. As if any situation involving human beings could be played out like a video game by maneuvering the right levers and obliterating your opponents.
That mentality of eliminating a whole group of human beings propelled a little known massacre in 1937 in the Dominican Republic. In the space of nine days in October, Trujillo's military murdered thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent living on the Dominican side of the border. Many of these Haitians looked so similar to Dominicans that a litmus test had to be devised to distinguish between them. The would-be victim was asked identify a sprig of parsley. The Haitian, whose Kreyòl tongue doesn't trill the "r," would pronounce the word, pelejil, instead of perejil. For days, the Massacre River, which separates the two countries, flowed with their blood.
Border of Lights
Seventy-five years later, in October 2012, that river was turned into a Border of Lights -- as we dubbed ourselves. A group of us from the Dominican diaspora, along with supporters, kept a vigil as well as worked on collaborative service projects with Haitians and Dominicans on both sides of the border. Many challenged our bringing up an event so long past. But as the old wisdom goes, those who don't know their history are bound to repeat it. That xenophobic racism, which allowed this atrocity to happen, and never be fully addressed or redressed, is still with us to this day.
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Take the ruling on September 23rd of this year by the Constitutional Tribunal, a body created to fine tune the thorny points of the new constitution of 2010. The TC ruled that Juliana Deguis Pierre, who had been born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents, was not entitled to Dominican citizenship because her parents were "in transit," an odd phrase to describe a stay of forty-one years. Although Deguis Pierre was born in 1984, before the new constitution was in place, the TC swept her and over two-hundred thousand Dominicans of Haitian descent into statelessness by making this ruling retroactive to 1929. They, their children, and in some cases their grandchildren were stripped of their civil rights, including the right to an education, health care, even the right to legally leave the country that rejects them, because as noncitizens they can't apply for a passport.
[More about this in NYTIMES and MIAMI HERALD.]
Julia Alvarez with fellow lights at the border during Border of Lights, October 2013
Border Lights
This ruling happened days before our second annual gathering of Border of Lights, this October 4-6, 2013. Because of the tension on the ground, we were advised not to lead a procession to the border barricades as we did last year. Instead a small group kept vigil at the border. The next night, the tech-savvy among the BOL team manned an online vigil from their hotel -- a classic case of turning a roadblock into a much more effective detour, allowing people around the world to join us in commemorating the dead as well as in protesting this new incarnation of the massacre mentality: the TC's ruling.
BOL team monitoring the online vigil at the Hub during Border of Lights, October 2013
BOL team monitoring the online vigil at the Hub



Many of you who visit this website joined us, posting pictures, leaving messages. Among the virtual BOLers who lit up our Facebook page were my kind, big-hearted editor, Shannon Ravenel, and my luminous webmistress, Sienna.
Virtual BOLer: my luminous webmistress, Sienna during Border of Lights, October 2013
Sienna joins us
Virtual BOLer: my kind, big-hearted editor, Shannon Ravenel during Border of Lights, October 2013
Shannon Ravenel joins us
Now we've returned Stateside, to our own absorbing lives, with deadlines to meet, details to attend to, promises to keep, commitments left and right. But just below this busy surface is the haunting question a friend once asked after returning from a trip to Brazil where she saw poverty as she had never imagined it before, "When we have seen a thing what then is the obligation?" This question doesn't just apply to a few activist outliers. In this new age of accessibility, we are all constantly barraged with information about any number of tragedies beyond the ability of our minds to process and our hearts to reflect upon and our wills to act on. What if anything is our obligation?
It's a question I keep asking myself, so as not to give myself the luxury of inaction. No one of us can turn the tide of events around -- what hubris to think we could! -- but we can humbly add one fiber to the rope that might eventually pull others out of a hole. I'm reminded of Mother Teresa's remark, "In this life we cannot do great things, but we can do little things with great love."
What little things might we do? If we think little it might be do-able. A candle lit on a website. A letter petitioning our senators and representatives to educate themselves on where aid money goes and how it can be leveraged to ensure human rights protection. We should each exercise the imagination and the will to come up with our solutions, otherwise we won't be fully engaged in the bigger change that has to happen, a change of paradigm, a change of mentality.
And those little deeds do add up. That great love builds a vast foundational change, under the radar for a long while, but from which all else issues. "Individual hearts and minds change," Jonathan Schell explains in The Unconquerable World; "those who have changed become aware of one another; still others are emboldened, in a contagion of boldness; the 'impossible' becomes possible; immediately it is done, surprising the actors almost as much as their opponents; and suddenly, almost with the swiftness of thought -- whose transformation has in fact set the whole process in motion -- the old regime, a moment ago, so impressive, vanishes like a mirage."
Hope is believing this is happening. Activism is acting on that hope. The more we light up borders, which supposedly separate us, we will see that we are many -- as how can we not be when no one is left out?

[31 October 2013: NYT: Two Versions of a Dominican Tale, a letter from myself, Mark Kurlansky, Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz, regarding the Tribunal ruling denationalizing Dominicans of Haitian descent.]

Julia Alvarez
October 2013
Copyright © Julia Alvarez 2013-2017.
All rights reserved. No further duplication, downloading or
distribution permitted without written agreement of the author
(please contact my agent, Stuart Bernstein).
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