Dominicans come originally from the Dominican Republic, a country that shares with the Republic of Haiti the island of La Española (Hispaniola, in English). Also known as Santo Domingo, La Española became the first European colony in the Americas and the first port of entry for the transatlantic slave trade. Besides serving as the initial site of the cultural syncretism that began in the Western Hemisphere in 1492, the colony was the home of the first Black-majority society in the Americas. Thus, people of African descent outnumber those of other ancestries in the Dominican Republic. This predominantly Black and mulatto population’s experience, struggles, and contributions have constantly failed to attract the attention of scholars around the world. Often described as a population that has embraced a Eurocentric vision tracing their ancestry to Spain and excluding non-white heritages, the US historiography about Dominicans for the most part had not included resources on Dominican blackness. Overall, many books published in the United States that mention the Dominican Republic do not mention Maroon societies, slave rebellions, folk culture, women’s contributions, and spiritual expressions traceable to the African heritage. Nevertheless, despite this constant omission and often denial, the omnipresence of Blacks in all aspects of Dominican life cannot be disputed. Although the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti share the same island and a collective history of colonialism and blackness, both countries have distinct histories. During the 19th century, Santo Domingo transitioned from a Spanish colony to an independent republic. In 1844, upon ending twenty-two years of Haitian rule, Dominicans declared their independence. The Haitian unification period and the triumph of the independence movement have persisted in official discourses on Dominican national and racial identity. This interaction between the two countries has also generated a literature that frames the African descent of most Dominicans in relation to Haitian blackness. Yet the Dominican Republic has a history of blackness of its own that began to be documented by Dominican scholars in the late 1960s. This new knowledge on the lives, works, and struggles of these early African ancestors of today’s Dominicans shed light on their demographic, economic, racial, and ethnic complexities. The complexity of Dominican racial identity reached a turning point under the Rafael Trujillo dictatorship (1930–1961) that promoted a whitened, Hispanicized image of Dominican identity disregarding blackness and Haitianness. The Trujillo regime executed the massacre of 1937 that ended in the deaths of thousands of Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent at the Haitian-Dominican border. On the other hand, the Dominican Republic’s many acknowledged shades of blackness contrast with the racial classifications prevalent in the United States, where the one-drop rule precluded a person with the slightest trace of African ancestry from claiming the privileges assigned to whiteness.
General Overviews and Foundational Scholarship
Often omitted in the historiography of the New World or mentioned in passing, the origins of Dominican blackness are not generally examined, either concomitantly or separately, when it comes to the Spanish Caribbean and its sociohistorical impact in the region as a whole. Most importantly, the study of the presence of Blacks in the Western Hemisphere serves as a call to the study of slavery in the Spanish Caribbean. The following texts provide scholarship and publications on early colonial African Black slavery in the Americas and general historical overviews of the African legacy in the Dominican Republic. A number of these works encompass the foundational studies on Dominican blackness, ethnic identity, and nation-building. Larrázabal Blanco 1967 and Franco 2015 are the first publications studying the African legacy in the Dominican Republic written by Dominican scholars, while Torres-Saillant 2012 provides the first brief comprehensive historical overview on Dominican blackness written in English by a Dominican scholar, stating that “Dominican society is the cradle of blackness in the Americas.” Other Dominican scholars have produced an impressive body of work from the late 1960s to the present to study the history and culture of the Afro-descendants of what is today the Dominican Republic, seeking to rectify the standard renditions of the national experience; see, in particular, Lizardo 1979, Deive 1980, Tejeda Ortiz 1998, Deive 1989, Albert Batista 1993, Tolentino Dipp 1992, and Andújar Persinal 2012.
Albert Batista, Celsa. Mujer y esclavitud en Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Ediciones CEDEE, 1993.
A pioneering study of Black slavery and women in the development of the Dominican nation, specifically on the role of African women in the formation of the Dominican people, their origin, ethnic relations, integration into slave labor, and their reaction to the slave system. The book also discusses the socio-racial stratification germinated in the framework of the marginality and color discrimination of Dominican women.
Andújar Persinal, Carlos. The African Presence in Santo Domingo. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2012.
Originally published in Spanish in 1997 as La presencia negra en Santo Domingo: Un enfoque etnohistórico, this book explores the Dominican Republic’s Black population from the 15th century to the present, highlighting West African cultural accomplishments and their influence in Dominican society.
Deive, Carlos Esteban. La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo (1492–1844). 2 vols. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Museo del Hombre Dominicano, 1980.
This two-volume ethno-historic work is one of the most cited groundbreaking studies by Deive, who has written extensively on the Black and the Indigenous enslaved populations, as well as Maroon communities from both groups. It is, thus far, the main and most comprehensive bibliographic source on the first years of the Black experience in La Española.
Deive, Carlos Esteban. Los guerrilleros negros: Esclavos fugitivos y cimarrones en Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Fundación Cultural Dominicana, 1989.
This book offers an elaborate and rigorous examination of marronage, its modalities, and the various forms of resistance by Maroons from their captivity in Africa, Spain or Portugal and upon their arrival in the Americas, specifically in La Española.
Franco, Franklin J. Blacks, Mulattos and the Dominican Nation. New York: Routledge, 2015.
Originally published in 1969 in Spanish as Los negros, los mulatos y la nación dominicana, this seminal work is one of the first formal analyses of the cultural, social, and political contributions of Afro-descendants to Dominican society. Unlike Larrazabal Blanco, who commits to an impartial description of the historical situation he evokes, Franco passes judgment on the injustice of the plantation economy and traces to that beginning the legacy of social inequality still prevalent in Dominican society. His study thus considers the evolution of slavery and its impact on Dominican society’s demographic makeup, cultural identity, socioeconomic development, and struggles for social justice.
Larrázabal Blanco, Carlos. Los negros y la esclavitud en Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Julio D. Postigo e hijos Editores, 1967.
This pioneering work documents the origin of Black slavery and of the Black legacy in Santo Domingo. It provides a historical overview of the various racial categories embraced by Dominican society, and of how the unions between different races, namely white men and enslaved Black women, resulted in the emergence of a Creole mixed-race population.
Lizardo, Fradique. Cultura africana en Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Taller, 1979.
Dominican folklorist Lizardo explores the complexity of identifying Dominicans by skin color in the 1800s and the classification of color divided into various subgroups depending on the diversity of racial mixtures (i.e., Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and Indigenous Taínos) in La Española. A racial classifications chart included in the book shows this complex system, highlighting the connection between African and Hispanic ancestries in the formation Dominican culture.
Tejeda Ortiz, Dagoberto. Cultura popular e identidad nacional. 2 vols. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Consejo Presidencial de Cultura, Instituto Dominicano de Folklore, 1998.
This two-volume compilation of articles and essays written by Dominican sociologist Tejeda Ortiz argues the African elements of Dominican culture. Tejeda Ortiz has dedicated his scholarly career to the production and dissemination of knowledge related to the rich cultural diversity of Dominican society.
Tolentino Dipp, Hugo. Raza e historia en Santo Domingo: Los orígenes del prejuicio racial en América. 2d. ed. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Fundación Cultural Dominicana, 1992.
Originally published in 1974, this book describes the economic mechanisms that gave rise to racial prejudice and discrimination implanted in La Española by the Spanish against the aborigines and Black slaves brought from Africa.
Torres-Saillant, Silvio. Introduction to Dominican Blackness. Dominican Studies Research Monographs. New York: CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, 2012.
Published originally in 1999, this seminal monograph reviews the overall African-Dominican legacy, from colonial times, to the Trujillo dictatorship that systematically silenced Dominican blackness, to the development of Latin American, Latinx, and Black studies in the United States. Available online.
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