Suzanne Fields

PUERTO PLATA, Dominican Republic -- All politics are local, as every successful politician can tell you. Like life itself, all politics are universal, too. The farther you get from the local, the more universal everything seems.

The Latin immigration phenomenon, for example, is writ large in a small way here. Even as Haitians slip across the border to seek a better life in the Dominican Republic, many Dominicans are leaving to search for better times in the United States, legal or not.

Eliot Spitzer's adventures with $5,000-a-night call girls smack of corruption, abuse of power and perversity (as well as incredible stupidity), but as scandal it's small potatoes here in the Dominican Republic, where the police are busy cracking down on child prostitution rings. The fight like the one between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would be a luxury in a country where blacks and women can be employed for a pittance.

The color of skin, alas, is pervasive, with shades ranging from white through various shades of cinnamon, brown and black. Dominica was founded by the Spanish, but most Dominicans trace their ancestry to black slaves from Africa, a few native Indians and European settlers, and often call themselves "Indio" to hide their African heritage. The hardest hit by racial stigma are the darkest blacks.

Prejudice falls heaviest on the newest immigrants from Haiti, with which the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola. Most of the Haitians here were born here, but the border is wild and remote, and increasing numbers of Haitians, seeking low-paying work in sugar cane fields, slip in illegally. Backbreaking work at low pay is better than no work and no pay. Consequently, the citizenship issue is often blurred.

Until recently children born of Haitian parents were granted citizenship, just as children born of immigrants in the United States are American citizens. Children of diplomats were denied citizenship because their parents were considered "in transit," and recently the Dominican Supreme Court ruled that children born of Haitian workers are "in transit," too. Many perfectly legal citizens began to have "problems" with their Dominican birth certificates.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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