Samantha is a little girl who is about seven years old. Unlike many other little girls of her community in Batey Los Blocks De Mena in the Dominican Republic, she is constantly teased and left out because other kids her age consider her a “Congo”. Louis Saint-Ville, an immigrant from Haiti who came to the Dominican Republic in search of a better life, lives in an intentionally separated part of this Batey because he too is considered a “Congo” by the many from that community. What many fail to recognize is the only real and relevant point in common between Samantha and Louis: they are human. Similar to how everyone else should be treated fairly with justice and equality, they too should receive these same treatments. However, there is a silent animosity woven into the norms of their society towards anyone who is from Haiti, even more so to those who recently immigrated from Haiti. The “Congos”, the equivalent to the “N” word in the U.S., is how most Dominicans in the Bateys call new arrivals from Haiti.
As a Haitian who immigrated to the U.S. when I was just nine years old, I got acquainted at a very fast paste to the history of the United States with regard to slavery, segregation and inequality. Many Americans seemed to me somehow aware of their heartbreaking effects. At 18 years old, when I visited Batey Los Blocks De Mena during the summer of 2010 for an immersion experience of six weeks with Global Potential to do community service and have a cultural exchange experience, I found myself to be in complete awe and confusion. The intensity of discrimination towards Haitian immigrants in that community was shocking to me.
Within Batey Los Blocks, there is a vivid division between people who had recently immigrated from Haiti (mainly sugar cane workers) and those who were born in the Batey and who had Haitian heritage. As the Bateys’ natives consider themselves Dominicans, a lot of them seem to feel the need to “wipe out” their Haitians roots and heritage in order to succeed in the Dominican Republic.
As they negate their Haitian roots, they also pave a path to compile negative stereotypes and perspectives that eventually turn into mistreatments and injustice. Those negative labels towards Haitians are passed down from generation to generation to a point where kids at a very young age are building extremely biased, inhumane and racist perspectives about Haitian immigrants. They in turn seem to perpetuate those atrocious mistreatments. According to Louis Saint-Ville, calling someone a “Congo” is like calling a person an animal. It seems that on an unconscious level, many Batey natives use this term to give them a superior feeling in order not to be associated with people from Haiti, despite their skin color being the same.
During my stay in the Batey, I too was called a “Congo” countless times since I speak Creole and am from Haiti. I was determined to understand the true deceptive meaning behind the word and most importantly its effects. My film “The Congos” is not so much about pointing fingers and calling out who is wrong and who is right. Rather, it is about an outsider walking into the daily lives of those people, recognizing this important issue and bringing awareness about it locally and globally. The saddest part for me this summer of being faced with this issue of discrimination and inequality towards Haitians was the community members’ obliviousness to the terms and its distressing mental and social effects on a group of people who want a better life.
Finally, this film is about showing the different and differing perspectives in the Batey about this issue. My wish is to make people from the community of this Batey and other Bateys, as well as anywhere else in the world, to understand that this discriminatory treatment of Haitians is a problem that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. This is necessary in order to promote social change, tolerance, freedom and increased better living conditions and peace for communities that historically have been in conflict. We are all a part of the solution, the first step is to recognize the problem. Please contact me for further details about my film, TheCongoFilm@global-potential.org as well as if you want to be part of the movement for change in increased dialogue and awareness about this important issue.