What does a long-ago massacre in the remote mountains of a Caribbean island, ordered by a dictator with racial obsessions inspired by Hitler’s demonic theories, have to do with a white American who grew up in the suburbs of Midwest and Texas?
When I learned of the Parsley Massacre, I had come to the Dominican Republic and Haiti as a student in search of answers to questions from my own family history. The summer I was 16 years old, I had traveled to the country where my mother was born: Belgium, where my grandfather, an American soldier, had met my grandmother in World War II. My French-speaking family lived in a Flemish region that is still wracked by conflicts over language and culture that were not entirely unlike those between the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic and Kreyol- and French-speaking Haiti. That summer compelled me to ask how different places dealt with such tensions –and whether language and culture were obstacles that we can overcome.
In the Dominican Republic and Haiti, I learned that the real problems were poverty, greed, and megalomania, all nurtured by the indifference of a world that condemned people to suffer in silence. Language and culture took the blame unfairly, especially since there were many cultural and historical, similarities between the two countries: the rhythms of the konpa and merengue, the mix of African and European religions and cuisines, the strongman rulers, the relationship with European colonial powers and later with occupiers from the United States, and the stream of migrants away from the island to find a better life.
In the Balkans, in Rwanda, in the Holocaust and in civil wars and tragedies around the world, the details are different but the story is much the same. Brutal rulers distract from economic depression, environmental devastation, corruption, and political turmoil by using cultural differences to turn neighbors into an Other, demonizing them, often with vile consequences. The Parsley Massacre and the war in Europe were rooted in the same base human instincts. Adolf Hitler’s racial theories, in fact, openly inspired the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo and catalyzed the massacre of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians on the Dominican border in 1937.
The same war that had brought my grandparents together and was never far from my Belgian grandmother’s mind was also intertwined with the Parsley Massacre and its impact on Dominicans and Haitians in the decades to come. The answers to the questions raised for me in Belgium came in the stories of the individual Dominicans and Haitians living the legacy of the massacre: grinding poverty and repression, forced migration, and the attempted silencing of history.
In helping to give voice to stories that had been ignored - the merchants and hotel owners of Santo Domingo’s Little Haiti, the immigrants in New York and Miami, the cane cutters and peasants and artists and citizens of both countries- I was learning to find my own voice as a writer.
In re-telling the story of the Parsley Massacre today, we are speaking out to be sure that the voices of those long silenced are heard, and to remind ourselves that failing to do so leaves future generations around the world vulnerable to tragedies not yet conceived.
--Michele Wucker, author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola