WILLIAM RIVAS (CHRIS’S POPS): I’m logging in. Testing one one one one. Testing…
ABIGAIL KEEL: I don’t think the audio’s coming through.
CHRISTOPHER RIVAS: Yeah, we don’t hear you. This is gonna make my dad buy a new computer.
CHRIS: I’m in the studio with my producer Abigail. We’re trying to record a call with my pops.
CHRIS: What’s poppin.
WILLIAM: Look man, what’s it called, the application. It’s antiquated, man. Seems I’m gonna have to buy a new one. Bye.
CHRIS: Told you!! Told you.
[Bachata music enters.]
CHRIS: I love that man. He’s truly one of a kind, my pops is.
My dad was born and raised in the US, like me. Fun fact, we were actually born in the same hospital, NY Presbyterian Hospital for Women on the Upper East Side. My pops was born in New York, but both his parents are dominicano. He spent his childhood summers on the island. He even moved back to the DR for a couple years in his twenties.
All my childhood, my pops was proud of being Dominican. He taught me to identify that way. We’d get a Dominican breakfast at a joint in Queens once a week - some bomb ass mangú & salchichón - also known as mashed green plantains and fried salami. It’s bomb! We’d cut a rug to some Bachata or merengue in the living room. And that’s what being Dominican meant to me.
[Bachata music ends.]
CHRIS: But there’s a few things, kinda big things, that my pops didn’t teach me about being Dominican. And they bother me a little. The first one is: my parents didn’t teach me Spanish. Not a lick. Even though it's the only language both my grandmothers speak! And the second thing is, I have never set foot in the DR. Never visited the island once.
CHRIS: How come I never went to the Dominican Republic? Why, why do you think that didn't happen? Was it not important? You know, how come I never learned Spanish? Lauren went.
WILLIAM: You didn't find an interest in Spanish. And Lauren went because of her grandmother.
CHRIS: My grandmother as well. [both laugh]
WILLIAM: Yeah, yeah, but – Martha and I talk about it. But I would say that I don't know. I really don't know. And it hurts me now, why didn't we take a trip? Because we still have a little bit of family. But why we didn’t go and introduce you to this beautiful island.
CHRIS: As you can hear… my dad’s reasons for why these things haven’t happened are not that clear.
WILLIAM: What are we going to do? Decide we’re gonna go to DR, but we're not all in the same tune or on the same page? Let's say an example: Christmas, you're busy. I wanted to go to DR and spend a vacation, but we can't because you're busy filming.
CHRIS: And it's funny how it's always my fault. [both laugh] It’s interesting.
[Theme music enters.]
CHRIS: It occurs to me that I would never be having this conversation with my Dad if it wasn’t
for Porfirio Rubirosa. My fascination with Rubi’s life and Rubi’s identity was what led me to start learning more about the Dominican Republic. I could understand Rubi better if I understood where he came from. But where he came from is where my family came from. I want to know my heritage, our heritage. I want to know what lessons, what warnings, wisdoms and joys can be found in our people’s history. And maybe that’ll help unlock some things about Rubi, and about me, and about why I feel so dangerously close to him.
This is Episode 4: “What’s in my Blood.”
[Theme music plays at full volume, then fades down.]
CHRIS: Before this podcast, this is the extent of what I knew about the DR. We invented bachata music. I knew the group Aventura… and the legend you’re hearing right now, my pops’ favorite. Juan Luis Guerra.
[“Bachata Rosa” by Juan Luis Guerra plays.]
CHRIS: And we’ve got baseball heroes… from Manny Ramirez to David “Big Papi” Ortiz.
ANNOUNCER: Manny Ramirez with an absolute rocket…
CHRIS: And who could forget Cardi B?
CARDI B: Okurr!
CHRIS: Don’t get me wrong, I love the baseball and the music, but I know there must be more! What’s this island Rubi waved a flag for his whole life? This island I represent but have never actually been to.
About 10 years ago I started researching on my own, learning as many details about the history of the island as I could. And now I’m trying to find out about how my family fits into that history.
CHRIS: Pops, tell me about your childhood in the DR.
WILLIAM: I wasn't raised in Dominican Republic, I'm a New Yorker born and raised there. And my mother – every time, most people that come from another country, their goal is to go back to their country, and they work hard and then they spend like three weeks there. I mean, it's long ones. So my vacations were spent in Dominican Republic. My grandfather was the guy that I admired so much, he built towns, and when they bought the land, he would do the surveys and cut the lands and do the roads. He had his own construction company. And also, if you look at him in Wikipedia, his name is Juan Alba and one town that he built was La Caleta.
CHRIS: One of my ancestors built a whole town y’all. I have the same question here as I have about Rubi: Yo, why am I just finding this out? Shouldn’t this be a big deal? What else don’t I know?
[Pensive music enters.]
WILLIAM: Like I said, wow. I – to me he was everything. My mom divorced when I was three, so he was actually every time he’d see me in the summer, raised me and it progressed. Every summer I would have to go to schools there to learn Spanish. And it was most enjoyable times for me, I mean, I would ride horses that he had, I would go with him in his jeep, he had that safari look. He always carried me in his lap. It was just moments I will never forget. Best times.
[Pensive music fades down.]
CHRIS: Memories like these are what make me upset that I never got a chance to visit the island. I want to see this place where my dad had such fond memories of riding horses. Even my dad hasn’t been back to see his family in almost 20 years.
WILLIAM: I'm going to tell you why. I have really nobody there. Most of my family came for the American dream, and I don't think it is a dream when you come here and you’re just trying to make ends meet and even try to get your citizenship. The United States is very hard. People come here and they have a dream. It might be better for those who are very poor. My family wasn't poor….They just didn't do anything. They were just living off dad's money. And when they were kids, they were spoiled. So they came here thinking that they would get the American dream. And the American dream is just work your ass off.
CHRIS: Before this podcast, I hadn’t heard the detail about how my great-grandfather Juan Alba built a dang town. But this stuff here? I’ve heard this before. Basically, my pops’s mother and her siblings–the children of Juan Alba–were a huge disappointment. They squandered the family’s fortune. They let the business die. And like any good telenovela narrator, Juan Alba himself predicted the downfall.
WILLIAM: I mean, one thing he did say as I got older: That his children, three girls and two boys, will destroy this dynasty, and you'll see what's going to happen. Exactly what he said. All the guys took advantage of his wealth. You know, it just started to fall slowly and dissipated.
[Cymbals, bass guitar, questioning piano chords enter.]
CHRIS: My dad did tell me one other thing about my great grandfather. Turns out, Juan Alba was a cousin-in-law to Rafael Trujillo.
WILLIAM: I know my grandfather was really associated with him.
CHRIS: Trujillo as in, that guy I mentioned in an earlier episode. The president of the DR, known as one of the bloodiest dictators in history. The guy who was also Rubi’s father in law.
Trujillo was married to María de los Ángeles Martínez Alba. She was his third and final wife. And she was my Great grandfather 's cousin.
CHRIS: Trujillo, what did you know about him as a kid?
WILLIAM: He was a dictator, killed people, was really a bad person from what I've heard. I think there's a cousin of his that was involved with the politics. I'm not 100 percent sure because I heard of an Alba who used to be his sicario. So I'm not sure if he's the guy.
CHRIS: A sicario. As in, an old-school hitman. As in, a real assassin that is potentially in my family tree. Gonna have to look into that.
[Music fades down.]
CHRIS: So it never got mentioned that María de los Angeles Martínez Alba was married to Trujillo, who's your grandfather's cousin?
WILLIAM: No, it wasn't mentioned at all and..you don't really want to bring that up, if you I heard there was a point that if they knew you were involved – it's the same thing as Hitler, if you were part of Hitler, they would come and kill you. So I heard the same thing was that if you were involved with Trujillo, there are people that would actually go look for you and freakin’ chop your head off and hurt you because of all the crimes that were done through this guy.
CHRIS: The DR is a small island. It’s kind of a joke that everybody is related… like y’know, you’re always running into your cousins. But hearing that we are related to Trujillo… even just by marriage… well then all of a sudden, the joke’s not so funny anymore.
WILLIAM: The truth is, I have photos of my father with Trujillo. My grandfather was really involved with Trujilo and I would say that I don't think he was in the dictatorship. I think it was more of if you're not part of this group, you wouldn't get what you need to get. So you had to be smart.
CHRIS: OK, so my family was close enough to be protected by Trujillo, maybe get some business opportunities, but they weren’t close enough to him to be blamed for anything bad he did? This feels like a bit of magical thinking on my pops’s part. But I can’t really blame him. And once I started looking into the history of the DR, it was obvious that Trujillo is a subject you cannot avoid. But also a subject that no one really wants to talk about. It feels like that’s some essential part of being Dominican, for Rubi, for my dad — doing this dance around Trujillo.
But at this point, I’m tired of dancing around the truth. I’m tired of wondering why I don’t know more about the history of where I come from. I’m ready to know it all. Starting with Trujillo.
DR. MILAGROS RICOURT: Trujillo? All Dominicans, they want to be Trujillo.
CHRIS: This is Milagros Ricourt, professor of Latin American history at Lehman College in New York. We met her in a previous episode. She agrees that the DR has a weird relationship with Trujillo. He is simultaneously a stain on the country’s legacy, but he’s also idolized for his masculinity.
DR. MILAGROS: Trujillo still has, you know, a very – is in the mind of many Dominicans still. Many, many, Dominicans, because the idea of Trujillo, you know, dominating everybody, controlling everybody, having all the women I want, having all the money I want to have, killing here and there, killing my enemies. You know, that’s fascinating, that idea of control, domination, tigueraje.
CHRIS: Tíguere, you heard Milagros say. If you don’t already know what a tíguere is, it’s a special brand of Dominican machismo. For Trujillo, being a tíguere meant being a pretty typical dictator.
BILL LEONARD (ARCHIVAL): I'm Bill Leonard, standing in front of one of the countless statues of Rafael Trujillo that dot the landscape of the Dominican Republic. [FADE DOWN]
CHRIS: This is an old TV special made by CBS in 1960. Journalist Bill Leonard travels around the DR to report on Trujillo. And this next moment I think tells you a lot about the generalissimo.
BILL LEONARD (ARCHIVAL): Generalissimo, do you resent the word dictator?
TRUJILLO (ARCHIVAL): Oh, no, no, no…
TRANSLATOR (ARCHIVAL): He says that he doesn’t resent that word.
This is Trujillo’s translator.
TRANSLATOR: Because what he is, he’s a hardworking man and the people, and our country, our citizenry knows he is a hardworking man. …
TRUJILLO: Ese “dictator” es una especulación de enemigas.
TRANSLATOR: This word “dictator” is a speculation word created by his enemies.
CHRIS: Trujillo may have laughed off the suggestion that he was a dictator but he was a dictator through and through.
DR. MILAGROS: He exploited the Dominican Republic not for Dominicans but for himself. Trujillo has so much money that he actually paid in full the Dominican debt. And he created the Dominican peso, and he created the Bank of Reservas, the National Bank. Some people believe that was an act of nationalism, but that was a personal act to preserve what was his. He wasn't thinking about the nation, he was thinking about himself.
CHRIS: Of course, like most dictators, Trujillo thrived on taking control, silencing and disappearing his enemies, and killing and jailing anyone who opposed him. And on top of that, women across the country lived in fear of him.
DR. MILAGROS: He was also called the great rapist. Because he used to rape women, you know, everywhere. He went to a place, and he liked a woman – the women have to be white with straight hair. So there are many stories of rape.
CHRIS: The women have to be white — and ideally from elite families. This is part of Trujillo’s long-standing obsession with status and whiteness. We talked a little bit about this in a previous episode. Trujillo was desperate to be white, closely linked with the European elite.
In my research into Dominican history, I came across a PBS documentary special called “Black in Latin America,” hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He did a whole episode about Haiti and the DR. It’s really awesome — one of the best things I’ve seen about recent history on the island. Here’s Gates on the show with a guide, looking at photos of Trujillo from the 1930s.
HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. (ARCHIVAL): Look at that. You would think it was Europe.
GUIDE 1: Yeah, and in his I.D. he put white.
HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.: On his I.D? But he was a mulatto.
GUIDE 1: Yeah. Like me.
HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.: Like you.
GUIDE 1: Uh huh. You can see, the rose cheeks in the pics. In his photos, he has makeup. The pictures and the photos.
HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.: He would powder his face? Lighten?
GUIDE 1: Powder, yeah. Yes, white powder.
HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.: Ah.
CHRIS: Damn. Trujillo marked white on his ID, just like my pops does. Obviously they are doing it in different times and places, and y’know, on different scales. But still, it makes you think.
Trujillo’s obsession went further than just his own appearance. He was on a mission to make the entire nation whiter by any means necessary. That mission was, unfortunately, kind of a tradition for the DR by the time Trujillo was in power.
HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. (ARCHIVAL): OK, so they are white guys.
GUIDE 2 (ARCHIVAL): He is a mulatto.
HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. Oh, he doesn't look very mulatto in that statue.
CHRIS: Henry Louis Gates Jr again for PBS. This time he’s with a different guide looking at a statue of one of the DR’s founding fathers — a guy named Juan Pablo Duarte.
GUIDE 2: No, he doesn't. And that reflects a tendency in the imaginary of the Dominican ruling elites who have this tendency to want to white-ify their heroes if their heroes are too Black.
HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.: So they whitened the brother.
GUIDE 2: Yes.
CHRIS: So let’s talk a bit about where this Dominican urge to whiten history comes from, shall we?
[Music enters with no drums.]
CHRIS: The DR is one half Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the other half is Haiti. It’s surrounded by Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Originally, beautiful indigenous Taino people lived on the island. The DR was actually one of the first places in the Americas that Christopher Columbus landed. He and other colonizers decimated the indigenous population, unfortunately, as they do.
There’s still people with Taino blood living in the DR, but the culture as a whole was basically wiped out.
The colonizers responsible were French and Spanish. The French settled on the western side, in what is now Haiti. And the Spanish settled on the east. All the colonizers brought boats filled with enslaved people from West Africa. Hispaniola was the first place that Black people — African people — touched down in the Americas. The French and Spanish put them to work farming sugar cane. Slavery on the island started in the 1500s and lasted for nearly 300 years.
CHRIS: Then, this is where it gets cool. After years of Rebellion, the enslaved people on the French side of the island actually won their independence in 1804. Haiti was the first free Black country of the Americas! In 1821, inspired by Haiti, the Black people on the Spanish side of the island rebelled as well. They pushed out the Spanish governor. And then Haiti stepped in and took control over the whole island of Hispaniola.
This could have been the end of one history and the start of an incredible other. One big, beautiful Black nation successfully kicking out the colonists and ruling themselves.
CHRIS: But the folks in charge of the formerly-Spanish side of the island weren’t happy with the new Haitian government. They didn’t want to speak French, and they didn’t want to give up Catholicism. They wanted to be white and Spanish. So, they pushed the Haitians out, forming the Dominican Republic. And with that came an ever present hate against everything it means to be Haitian, including being proud of their Black roots.
Today, Dominicans celebrate their independence not from Spain — the nation that colonized them, exploited them, enslaved and killed their native population — but from their neighbor… from their Black brothers and sisters on the same island… Haiti. The DR Celebrates its independence from Haiti.
CHRIS: What does that tell you about Dominican Haitian relationships?
DR. MILAGROS: It's not all Dominicans, but the officiality of the Dominican Republic has instilled in the minds of Dominicans that we are indo-Hispanic. So the motherland is Spain. The enemy is the Black guy next door. So it's like Haiti is the enemy of the Dominican Republic. Not Spain. So we have all these narratives that have been in the head of people. So we don't see Spain as somebody that colonized. We don't know the meaning of colonization.
CHRIS: If you can, like, sum it up in a sentence, the D.R. celebrates its independence from Haiti, not from Spain. Why do you think that is?
FRANCE FRANCOIS: Anti-Blackness. [laughs]
CHRIS: OK, yeah.
CHRIS: This is France Francois, an activist and educator. She teaches a workshop called “De-colonizing Hispaniola.”
FRANCE: I mean, to celebrate your independence from Spain, you'd have to recognize that you were once enslaved by Spain, right? And to recognize you were once enslaved by Spain means you would have to look around and see who's still currently in power in the Dominican Republic and how much of the colonial system remains.
CHRIS: When France says "who's still currently in power," she means white Dominicans. The ruling and the upper-middle classes are whiter than the country's population at large. And that group in power, continues to promote the global idea that “white is right.”
FRANCE: So I've heard a lot of Dominicans say that they were taught that they were actually enslaved by Haiti. And I always ask them, then why don't you speak Creole? Like, what language do you speak? Let's just put the dots together. But the Dominican state, Dominican education system, the Dominican church, all function as state propaganda that will not allow Dominicans to see Haitians as as their brothers or see that they have much more in common with Haitians across the river than the Dominican elite, because then they will question the current power structure and that that can’t happen. So Dominican independence is celebrated from Haiti because the Dominican government needs white supremacy to exist.
CHRIS: There is one historical event that is like a distillation of hundreds of years of history between the DR and Haiti. An event I had no idea about until researching Rubi and Trujillo. France is gonna tell us about it, and its lasting impact, when we come back.
[Music fades down, ends.]
[Brief keyboard interlude.]
CHRIS: When Trujillo took power in the early 1930s, the DR and Haiti had a much different relationship than they would after he was gone. France says, in the early days, the border between the two countries was actually porous — Haitians and Dominicans would cross it daily.
FRANCE: Santo Domingo is a lot closer to Cap-Haitien, or Cap-Haitien is a lot closer for Dominicans on the border than Santo Domingo. So if they needed to go to the movie theater or something, they would just cross into Haiti, go to the movie theater, do their shopping and go back. You know, Haitians would go to school on the Dominican side and then in the afternoon walk home. And that's how people existed for a long time.
CHRIS: But when Trujillo took power, he decided this coexistence was a problem. The country was struggling financially. When looking for someone to blame… Trujillo looked right across that same border. Haiti was the problem. Haitians crossing the border was the problem. Haitians taking jobs on Dominican farms was the problem.
Here’s an actor, reading an excerpt from a speech Trujillo gave in 1937.
ACTOR AS TRUJILLO: I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, 'I will fix this.' And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Bánica. This remedy will continue.
[Dark, droning synthesizers enter.]
CHRIS: What Trujillo called a remedy … the rest of the world calls a genocide:
FRANCE: In English it's called the “Parsley Massacre,” in Spanish “El Corte,” and in Creole it's “kout kouto.” It was a one week period in 1937 in which the Dominican military, with the support of just average Dominicans, massacred anyone perceived to be Haitian.
CHRIS: Over the course of 7 days, Dominican soldiers–at Trujillo’s order–carried out a widespread massacre. Using machetes and knives, they killed anyone they suspected was a Haitian.
FRANCISCO PIERRE: [speaking in Creole]
TRANSLATOR AS FRANCISCO PIERRE: We saw an Haitian man pass by, and he yelled out to my uncle “Go across to Haiti right now, they are killing people in the village.”
CHRIS: This is Francisco Pierre, a Haitian man, being translated by a voice actor. When he was just ten years old, Francisco witnessed this genocide firsthand. He was interviewed by a reporter named Marlon Bishop for an episode of LatinoUSA called “A Border Drawn in Blood.”
[Music fades out.]
TRANSLATOR AS FRANCISCO: We went further up to here, and sure enough, the village was boiling with noise. They were killing every last Haitian in the village. So we grabbed the donkey, filled our gunny sacks, and darted to him. I had a little gourd, filled with rice, and put it on my shoulder. And we were off.
FRANCISCO: [speaking in Creole]
CHRIS: When he gave this interview in 2017, Francisco Pierre was 90 years old. But what he saw, he says he'll never forget.
TRANSLATOR AS FRANCISCO: We ran and ran and ran and ran. And when we arrived far, we started to cheer. And they yelled from afar to keep going, because if we let other Dominicans find us, we’d be in trouble.
FRANCISCO: [speaking in Creole]
[Dark, droning synthesizers re-enter.]
TRANSLATOR AS FRANCISCO: We went down and we approached a body of water which was the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. When we arrived, we saw a bunch of dead bodies.
FRANCISCO: [speaking in Creole]
TRANSLATOR AS FRANCISCO: There were a bunch of Haitians on the Haitian side yelling, “Come, come. The guards are coming, and if they catch you they will kill you.” But we stood there immobile. Before we knew it, the Haitians crossed over and grabbed our donkeys and grabbed hold of our hands and pulled us across. No sooner than we made it across, the Dominicans that were killing people showed up.
[Music fades out.]
CHRIS: It’s impossible to know exactly how many people were killed in the Parsley Massacre. The official figure reported at the time was around 12,000 people. But France said the real number might be closer to 30,000.
FRANCE: The bodies were burned or thrown into the river, so a lot of the remains weren't weren't ever found. So the number is based on firsthand accounts of people who live near these towns and saw the destruction. I would also say that because the number is hard to pin down, it's been a way that the Dominican state and Dominican nationalists have tried to deny that it actually happened.
CHRIS: But there’s no denying it happened. There’s no denying that this was a genocide.
CHRIS: Do you know why it was called the Parsley Massacre?
FRANCE: So it's called the Parsley Massacre, because the legend has it that because they couldn't tell who was Dominican and who was Haitian, the military would ask people to say "perejil."
CHRIS: In the same way that the Nazis would target people based on their last name, or the shape of their nose, legend has it that the Dominican army targeted some people based on how they pronounced the word “perejil” – the Spanish word for parsley.
FRANCE: Because Haitians in Creole, we use a guttural R and Latinos roll their R. So depending on how someone would pronounce that word, they'd be able to tell if someone was, you know, traditionally a French or Creole speaker or traditionally a Spanish speaker.
CHRIS: The reason why they supposedly used this test? Because for all of the talk of the DR being this white, Hispanic nation, Dominicans are often just as dark-skinned as their Haitian neighbors. It is pretty tricky to tell who’s who based on appearances alone.
FRANCE: That's what they say. Some historians say that that's not true. But that's the legend that survived on both sides of the island.
CHRIS: The Parsley Massacre. El Corte. Kout kouto. This massacre is a fact. But it's one that very few Dominicans learn much about. My dad said he’d never heard about it growing up. I didn’t either. In the same way Dominicans distance themselves from talking about Trujillo, they distance themselves from talking about the massacre.
And France says the people of Haiti don’t like to talk about the massacre either. At least not directly.
FRANCE: So my mom is from a town that's fairly close to the border and in her family and a lot of families, people taught their children to roll their R’s because of the fear that the Dominicans would come again one day. Before, you know, she could go out to market or do anything on her own, her mom wanted to make sure that she could roll her R’s, and it wasn't until she was much older that she recognized why that was.
[Dark music enters.]
CHRIS: The Parsley Massacre was one of the most brutal events in world history. Trujillo was eventually forced to pay reparations to the Haitians: what amounted to a pathetic $30 per Haitian citizen. But he never really apologized. And all of this is made somehow more sad, disturbing, fucked up when you learn about Trujillo’s own roots.
Trujillo himself had Haitian family. His maternal grandma was of Haitian descent.
FRANCE: He is also a descendent of a member of the Haitian elite, the Chévalier family, who still lives in southern Haiti today. I think Trujillo is very much an embodiment of the complexity of Dominican identity. And at the end of the day, he wants to maintain his position of power. And he knows, just like the current president of the Dominican Republic knows and every president since then, that the best way to violate the rights of people in the DR is to tell them that there's a Haitian threat, to use the Haitian threat to consolidate your power.
CHRIS: I’ll be honest. When I asked France about Trujillo… I thought it was going to be plain and simple, “he’s a horrible, terrible man,” And France does think Trujillo is a horrible man. But she also said this:
FRANCE: I think Trujillo is very much an embodiment of the complexity of Dominican identity.
CHRIS: In other words. Trujillo is not some violent anomaly. No. He represents something about the DR as a whole. And I think she’s right. Trujillo is horrible. He’s the embodiment of white supremacy. But that horribleness is maybe inside every Dominican, even if we wish it wasn’t. It’s festering there. It’s anti-Blackness. And it’s everywhere. Not just in the DR. Everywhere.
And even today, decades after Trujillo, anti-Blackness rears its head in the DR. The current president of the DR just started construction on a border wall. Haitians face discrimination daily simply for their accents, their culture, and the color of their skin. This discrimination is exactly what France is trying to shed light on. She says when she was working in northern Haiti, she'd regularly hear stories of Haitians being tortured or killed with no repercussions from the Dominican government. And her colleagues on the border were witnessing a crisis.
FRANCE: They essentially said, "France, we are seeing thousands and thousands of Haitians fleeing the D.R. with whatever they can carry on their back. And we need your help making sure that people know about this, because we're afraid this is going to be 1937 all over again."
CHRIS: The day I spoke with France in November 2021, the Dominican government was actively rounding up Haitians – including Haitians with Dominican citizenship – and deporting them.
FRANCE: One of the laws that they passed this week was banning, quote unquote illegal immigrants from giving birth in Dominican hospitals. That is a violation of every law, like it's a violation of human rights law. It's a violation of Dominican law, I mean, it's a violation of morals, of ethics. And so there's this viral video on social media of Dominican immigration agents actually going to the maternity ward at hospitals and rounding up women who they perceive as Haitian.
CHRIS: Oh shit.
[Commotion from the sound of the video is heard in the background.]
FRANCE: Yeah. And in one video, the woman is clearly distressed. She’s in labor. The immigration agent is trying to shove her on the bus. And he’s taking her small child out of her hand. You don't really need to know anything about Haiti and D.R. to see this video and know it's messed up. Never mind that it is also unlawful.
[Dark music reenters.]
CHRIS: France doesn’t want to see “1937 all over again.” I don’t either.
[Music plays, fades down.]
CHRIS: OK… so as I’m discovering all this history and figuring out what is in my blood, I come back to you. Rubi. The REASON I started looking for this history in the first place. And now that I know more about the Trujillo era and El Corte, I have one big question for you, Rubi. Where the hell were you? Whose side were you on?
Here’s what I know: In 1937, you were married to Flor de Oro, Trujillo’s eldest daughter. You’re living in Paris, where you’re serving as a diplomat. And Flor spends her time waiting for you to come home. But you are partying with the elite. Driving fast cars, wearing fancy clothes. And of course, meeting women — white, European women.
It’s here, in 1937, that you learn about Trujillo’s massacre of the Haitians. 25 years later, You write in your memoir that you didn’t know racism existed in the DR. You say you’re shocked.
ACTOR AS RUBI: When I learned of the massacre I was sickened beyond belief, but I was helpless to exact any change at home. … What a great burden of guilt men have. We gather our arms around it, while at the same time, we go on as if nothing were happening. What other choice did I have? It is easier to look the other way, when you are removed from reality by thousands of miles of ocean and the frivolity of the atmosphere in Paris.
CHRIS: Alright, Rubi. So maybe you feel guilty about all this 25 years after the fact. But in 1937...you didn't say shit. Not a damn thing. There's not a single account of you confronting Trujillo, not even once. Or condemning the massacre in the press. Why did you keep quiet? Because you were scared of the consequences of disagreeing with Trujillo? Scared you’d lose your job, your money, your freedom to parade around Europe–your way of life? Maybe scared you’d actually lose your life?
It’s like my pops said about my great-grandfather and Trujillo: “if you're not a part of this group, you wouldn't get what you need to get. So you had to be smart.”
At the end of the day, keeping quiet and “being smart” feels cowardly to me. That is the opposite of what a hero would do. The opposite of what my hero would do. But I don’t know, maybe you weren’t a hero. Maybe you were just a person trying to survive a messed up situation, and that’s why you kept your mouth shut. But, what about us, today? Why isn’t this history something we talk about?
CHRIS: Why do you think this never came up in conversation, why don't you teach me any of this history?
WILLIAM: I don't know. I started to live the American dream. There was no interest. I’m American man, born and raised. To me, Dominican Republic was where my family was from and my mother was always here working, and all she did was go every summer and for vacations.
WILLIAM: Chris, let me ask you a question. I do have a question for you. What gives you this urge to know more about this culture? Is it because of what's happening with society now? Is it that you want to know your Latin culture and you want to know where basically we come from and where your roots are? Is that your interest, or is it that it bothers you that you're not being as much recognized, or the Latin culture’s not being as much recognized, in the United States of America?
CHRIS: No, I mean, I mean, yeah, sure. That's like, that's - I think, yes, all of the above, D, all of the above. It's that it's not recognized, but it's more about the fact that I just, I don't know. And I think it's important to know where we come from. I think it's great to embrace where we are and to be present, but I think it's really important to know what else are we carrying in our bloodline and our history? I think family matters, you talk about it all the time, and no offense, but our family is not the four of us. It's not, you know, you mom and Lauren. There's so much more to us in there knowing them and having relationships with these things, I think, deepen our lives. So that's why I care.
[Somber synthesizer music reenters.]
CHRIS: Rubi, you didn’t fight for your Brownness or your Blackness. Maybe that wasn't your job. But in seeing that, I’m starting to think it’s mine.
Next time, we’re gonna take a look at how whiteness has dominated the place where I live and work now — Hollywood.
MARTY WALL: Think of the guy we're talking about. Think everything that he does, boxing, shoots, rides, horses, races, cars, it's like, you know, he's an action hero.
CHRIS: Why haven’t we gotten a Rubi movie? We’ll talk about it!
[Music fades down.]