Sports

Too Black to Be Dominican: The Olympic Medalist Derided as Too Foreign

When a dark skinned Dominican won an olympic medal last week he was immediately derided by countrymen as too foreign. Too Haitian. Too black. 

Last week, Luis “Luisito” Pie defeated Spain’s Jesús Tortosa in the 58 kg taekwondo bronze fight, and emerged with the first medal of the Rio Olympics for his country—the Dominican Republic. However, a feat that should have brought joy to sports fans throughout his homeland, reignited a national debate about nationality, race, and who qualifies as Dominican.


Despite being born and raised in Bayaguana, in the Dominican Republic, Pie was immediately questioned on Dominican media and social media about his Spanish, his last name, and the fact that his father’s family came from Haiti. Pie dedicated his bronze medal to “the ten million Dominicans,” and waved a Dominican flag proudly in celebration, but his Haitian heritage meant, for some, that his allegiance to the country could not be trusted.

Haiti and the DR both share an island in the Caribbean, known as La Hispaniola, and thus the two countries have been intimately connected since their inception. But tensions between both countries have also been commonplace. A growing anti-Haitian, nationalistic movement took over the Dominican part of the island recently and in 2013 the Dominican government enacted a ruling, retroactive for more than 80 years, that stripped citizenship from anyone who couldn’t prove “regular” residency for at least one parent. 

This disproportionately affected those Dominicans of Haitian descent, who (counting those with and without legal status) numbered around 700,000 in a country of 10 million. Those with Haitian descent who couldn’t prove they and their families were born in the Dominican Republic, even if they had lived there their whole lives, were given a deadline of June 17, 2015, to leave the country. Many did flee, fearing violent persecution.  Many more stayed, but became legally second-class citizens.

Luisito and his family, confident in their status as Dominicans, stayed, though they weren’t safe from harassment. According to his family, Pie was almost denied a passport to go compete at the Central American Games in Veracruz, Mexico, in 2014.  The family also said that the Taekwondo Federation interceded, and he was eventually allowed to receive his passport and go to Mexico, where he won a gold medal.

Back then, Pie’s Dominican-ness was also questioned, and many commented that Luisito, despite being Dominican-born and having Dominican citizenship, should be competing for Haiti. He, nonetheless, said then that he felt sure and proud of his Dominican roots, and that he paid no mind to negative comments.

After winning his first Olympic medal (the seventh ever for his country), Pie similarly spoke of the pride he feels for representing the Dominican Republic. But, unfortunately, as a black Dominican of humble background, he’s still victim of a prevalent kind of discrimination that targets both ethnicity and race.

Though the Dominican census has not asked about race or ethnicity since the 1960s, an OAS survey done in 2006 found that about 90 percent of the country considers itself as “dark skinned” (67.6 mulatto, and 13.6 percent black). Yet blackness in the national discourse is often associated with foreignness and, especially, with Haitians.

Gina Athena Ulysse explained this perception in a Latin America is a Country post about the anti-Haitian laws in the DR:

This cleansing, I would add, is a rejection of a certain kind of Black. Blackness that is too African. Despite our somatic plurality and the color gradations we encompass, Haiti and Haitians have always been portrayed and understood as that kind of Black. A Blackness of a particular kind that, truth be re-told, radically changed the world. It was an avant-garde Blackness that not only pulled off a successful slave revolution, which caused the disorder of all things colonial, but also brought the sanctity of whiteness into question. The Haitian Revolution disrupted the notion that Freedom (with a capital F) was the sole domain of whites or those close to whiteness. Indeed, the value ascribed to those Black Lives continue to deteriorate. Moreover, those among us who are visibly marked with that Blackness have had to continually dissuade folks that we are not genetically coded to be their property or the help.

But Pie, once again, is Dominican. These fears are not his own, but are encoded in those Dominicans who refuse to think that a person with any trace of Haitian heritage can share a nationality with them. It is perhaps telling that Luis Pie is also the name of a story published in 1942 by Dominican writer Juan Bosch, and of its protagonist: a Haitian man subject to violent persecution after being unfairly accused of starting a crop fire.

The Luis Pie of literature represents the hopelessness against xenophobia, the struggle of Haitians in the Dominican Republic and of their descendants to be treated as equals. There is still hope, however, that the Luis Pie of taekwondo might become synonymous with overcoming discrimination, and claiming your ground as an integral part of the country.

popular
Joseph Okpako/WireImage for Getty Images.

South African Artists are Against Burna Boy Performing at Upcoming 'Africans Unite' Concert

This reportedly comes after the 'African Giant' got into a heated Twitter exchange with rapper AKA during South Africa's xenophobic attacks.

Burna Boy is set to take the stage at the "Africans Unite" concert alongside Kwesta, Jidenna and Busiswa (among several others) in two weeks. Part of the proceeds of the concert will be donated to the victims of South Africa's recent xenophobic violence towards African foreign nationals in an effort to bring everyone together. However, South African artists are reportedly against Burna Boy being a part of the lineup following his heated Twitter exchange with rapper AKA.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

Burna Boy to Donate Proceeds from Upcoming Show In South Africa to Victims of Xenophobic Violence

The "Africans Unite" concert is slated for this November, and the bill also includes Jidenna, Kwesta and more.

Burna Boy will return to South Africa for the first time following the recent spate of xenophobic violence against Nigerians and other foreign African nationals.

In the height of the violence in September, Burna Boy vowed to never return to the country. Major Nigerian artists including Tiwa Savage cancelled appearances in the country, and echoed sentiments calling on the South African government to take adequate measures to protect foreign nationals. "I have not set foot in SA since 2017. And I will NOT EVER go to South Africa again for any reason until the SOUTH AFRICAN government wakes the f**k up and really performs A miracle because I don't know how they can even possibly fix this," he wrote on Twitter. A radio station in Zambia even banned music by South African artists from their airwaves following the violence.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

Watch Dave's Meditative 'Tiny Desk Concert'

The British-Nigerian rapper delivers stripped-down versions of some of his most personal tracks for NPR's Tiny Desk series.

Mercury Prize-winning rapper Dave is one of the latest artists to appear of NPR's Tiny Desk series.

The British-Nigerian hitmaker, opens his set with his hit Burna Boy-assisted track "Location," joined by vocalist Tashera Robertson. We see Dave showcasing his singing voice as well as he and Robertson step in for Burna Boy's parts.

Next he performs "Black," which he says is about the Black-British experience. "Everyone's experience with being black is different, but this Is my take," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Best of the Decade: The Greatest South African Hip-Hop Songs of the 2010s

"Caracara" is easily the South African hip-hop song of the decade.

We asked several South African hip-hop heads, artists, writers and DJs to share their top five SA hip-hop songs of the decade. A majority of them included K.O's 2014 smash hit "Caracara," which features KiD X and is produced by the extremely talented Lunatik.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.