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Sat, 11.03.1500

Afro Dominicans, a story

*Afro-Dominicans are celebrated on this date in 1500.  Also referred to as African Dominicans or Black Dominicans, they are Dominicans of predominant Black African ancestry. 

In the early 1500s, the Spanish Crown began fully participating in the Middle Passage.  The Santo Domingo colony, the only European possession yet in America, had already devastated the Taino, Lucayan (Arawaks), and Kalinga (Caribs) populations. A decade of intense exploitation and deadly waves of plagues had reduced the indigenous populations.  Christopher Columbus joined the slave trade on the western side of the Atlantic. Raids that cleared out from Santo Domingo under the disguise of pacification and evangelizing nearby islanders had brought other Amerindians to the colony.

There were many enslaved Lucayos from the Bahamas and Kalingas from the eastern islands. Now toiling alongside natives, these war captives became the first enslaved foreign workers on the island of Aytí, one of the indigenous names for the island that Columbus called Hispaniola. By the turn of the century, not even the captured neighbors could supply the labor demands of the mines and plantations. Basic mining techniques and the always backbreaking mass production of foodstuff required an ever-growing number of Black African workers. Expanding the colonization business to Puerto Rico and requesting the Crown's permission to purchase enslaved Africans were the only solutions colonists seemed capable of conceiving. Ferdinand, I of Aragon, widowed and freed from Isabel's more cautious hand, granted both wishes to the embattled colonists in the Indies.

It was never a liberal expansion nor an open trade, however. Though unrestrained by religious virtue, Ferdinand was wary in the extreme of potential Conquistador-owned kingdoms (medieval style) in his new possessions and of slave rebellions in the colonies. So, the first enslaved Africans to arrive at the Ozama River were not Piezas de Indias purchased from the Portuguese traders but a select group of seasoned Black Ladinos.  They formed their confraternities as early as 1502.  Along with the Palmares, they are considered one of the first communities of the African diaspora in the Americas.  The profit, too, was meant to stay within his kingdom. Indian resistances, flights, and diseases forced the crown to open the market to thousands of bozales, enslaved Africans directly from the continent.  The Asiento Slave System was its structural name.  

In 1522, the first major slave rebellion was led by 20 Senegalese Muslims of Wolof origin in a sugar factory east of the Santo Domingo colony.  Many insurgents fled to the mountains and established what would become one of the first autonomous African Maroon communities in the Americas.  With the success of this revolt, slave revolts continued, and leaders emerged among the African slaves, including people already baptized Christian by the Spanish, as was the case of Juan Vaquero, Diego de Guzmán, and Diego del Campo. The rebellions and subsequent escapes led to the establishment of African communities in the southwest, north, and east of the island, including the first communities of African ex-slaves in western Hispaniola, which was Spanish administered until 1697. Then it was sold to France and became Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti). This caused some concern among slaveholders and contributed to the Spanish emigration to other places.

Even as sugarcane increased profitability on the island, the number of escaped Africans continued to rise, mixing with the Taíno people of these regions. By 1530, Maroon bands were considered dangerous to the Spanish colonists, who traveled in large armed groups outside the plantations and left the mountainous regions to the Maroons (until 1654 with the conquest of Jamaica by the Corsairs of British Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables).  With the discovery of precious metals in South America, the Spanish abandoned their migration to the island of Hispaniola to emigrate to South America and Mexico to get rich, for they did not find much wealth there. Thus, they also abandoned the slave trade on the island, which led to the colony's collapse into poverty.  Still, during those years, slaves were used to building a cathedral that, in time, became one of the oldest in the Americas.  In the 1540s, Spanish authorities ordered the African slaves to build a wall to defend the city from attacks by pirates who ravaged the islands.  

After 1700, with the arrival of new Spanish colonists, the African slave trade resumed. However, as the industry moved from sugar to livestock, racial and caste divisions became less important, eventually blending cultures.  Spanish, African, and indigenous would form the basis of the national identity for Dominicans.  It is estimated that the colony's population in 1777 was 400,000, of which 100,000 were Europeans and Criollos, 60,000 African, 100.000 mestizos, 60,000 Zambo, and 100,000 mulattos

The first black people on the island came alongside European colonists as workers from Spain and Portugal, known as Ladinos.  Soon after the sugar industry's rise, enslaved West Africans and Central Africans were imported from the 16th to early 19th century due to labor demands. Many Africans intermixed with white Europeans, Mestizos, and Natives, creating a triracial Creole culture.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, Blacks from the French and Anglo-Caribbean islands and the United States came to the island and settled in coastal regions, increasing the Black population.  

In the 21st century, many Blacks, particularly from Haiti, can be included within the Afro-Dominican demographics if they are legal citizens and have Dominican naturalization.   As in most parts of Latin America, the idea of Black inferiority compared to the white race has been historically circulated due to the suppression of African slaves. In the Dominican Republic, "blackness" is often associated with Haitian migrants and a lower-class status. Those with more African-like phenotypic features are often victims of discrimination and are seen as illegal foreigners.  Between 1930 and 1961, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo tenaciously promoted an anti-Haitian sentiment and used racial persecution and nationalistic fervor against Haitian migrants. An envoy of the UN in October 2007 found that there was racism against Blacks, particularly against Haitians, which increased in every segment of Dominican society.  

According to census reports, the majority, 73%, identify as "Mestizo" or "Indio," Mestizo meaning mixed race of any mix, unlike in other Latin American countries where it denotes a European and Indigenous mix solely, and Indio slang for mulatto in the Dominican Republic. Most Dominicans acknowledge their obvious Mulatto racial mix, often with slight Taino admixture and the already heavy African and European. However, even though most Dominicans recognize their mixed-race background, many Dominicans think "less" of their African side compared to the European and much smaller Taino.

Many Dominicans (men and women) often prefer lighter romantic partners because of the more European features and to "Mejorar la Raza" (better the race) regarding starting a family.  Due to the influence of European colonization and the propagation of Africans or "darker people" as being of the lowest caste, having African ancestry is often not desired in the Dominican Republic, which can also be said of many other parts of Latin America and even the United States, where Black men often prefer "light-skinned" mixed Mulatto looking women, as well as Africa and the Caribbean, where Blacks often bleach their skin. Approximately 80% of Dominicans have some degree of both African and European mixture; however, few self-identify as Black.

In the Dominican Republic, racial categories differ significantly from North America. In the United States, the one-drop rule applies such that if a person has any degree of African blood they are considered Black. This is inaccurate by people in the Dominican Republic and many other Latin American countries, as Mulattos have just as much European ancestry as Africans.

Latin America has more flexibility in how people racially categorize themselves. In the Dominican Republic, a person with some degree of Black ancestry can identify as non-Black if one's appearance can pass off as being another racial category or is racially ambiguous.   Socioeconomic status also heavily influences race classification in the country and tends to be correlated with whiteness. In the Dominican Republic, those of higher social status tend to predominate a lighter color tone as they are often labeled as 'Blanco/a,' 'Trigueño/a,' or 'Indio/a.' In contrast, poorer people tend to be 'Moreno/a', 'negro/a, or 'Prieto/a,' the latter category heavily associated with Haitian migrants.  

Ramona Hernández, director of the Dominican Studies Institute at City College of New York, asserts that the terms were originally a defense against racism: "During the Trujillo regime, people with dark skin were rejected, so they created their mechanism to fight against the rejection." Black Dominicans make up a significant minority of the country's population. Still, there is a lack of recent official data because the National Office of Statistics (ONE) has not released racial data since 1960. However, the Central Electoral Board collected racial data until 2014.  The 1996 electoral roll put the figures of "black" at 4.13% and "mulatto" at 2.3% of the adult population.  The 1960 population census (the last one in which race was queried) placed it at 10.9%. 

According to a 2011 survey by Latinobarómetro, 26% of the Dominicans surveyed identified themselves as Black.  They represent 15.8% of the Dominican Republic's population, according to 2014 estimates.  The Afro-Dominican population is present in the country's entire geography, from the coastal areas such as San Cristobal and San Pedro de Macoris to deep inland areas such as Cotui and Monteplata. However, the southeast portion of the country and the border region have the highest concentrations of Blacks.  We chose this month and date because it is Independence Day in the Dominican Republic

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