Research Case Study

Breaking through cultural barriers in Hispaniola

Discovering cultural connections between Haiti and the Dominican Republic could lead to greater social harmony

  • Tagged under

    Global perspectives and challenges
    Economy, business, politics and society

  • Lead Academic

    Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli

Houses in Haiti

Can defending and celebrating cultural links help bridge the divide between Haiti and the Dominican Republic?

The two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola, are often portrayed as being in permanent struggle, but could there be hope in uncovering the cultural threads which actually bind the neighbouring populations together?

In the first book to explore the literary and cultural history of the two nations, Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli identifies strong links between the nations, which has led her to challenge the notion that hostilities are so deeply embedded, they can’t be overcome.

She argues claims that there are irreconcilable differences are based on outdated ideologically-motivated perspectives and in fact the countries share a literary and cultural history to be proud of.

“On the Edge offers an alternative account of border relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic which counters ideological attempts at separation and exclusion and draws attention to the existence of long-standing collaborative linkages.”
Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies

Finding connections in divided nations

Map showing the island of Hispaniola)
Map showing the island of Hispaniola

Her book, On the Edge: Writing the Border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Four years ago the Dominican Constitutional Court ordered a review of the nationality of all residents born after 1929 – the aim was to identify those who had ‘wrongly’ been registered as Dominican citizens.

As a result, tens of thousands of residents, many born in Dominica but of Haitian descent, have been deported to makeshift camps on the Haitian-side of the border. Countless others, without the necessary immigration papers, face a similar fate.

“Local civil society organisations continue to demonstrate against nationality stripping, plead their case in the media and use all the legal means at their disposal to restore the fundamental rights of those affected. But it has become evident that for the human rights activities to gain traction it is vital to challenge ideological perspectives on the Haitian-Dominican border, and border relations, from a cultural, not just legal, point of view.” 
Bridget Wooding Director, OMBICA

Breaking down prejudices

Professor Fumagalli launched her book in April 2015, and has since given public lectures in London, the Dominican Republic, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Cuba. The audiences, which included artists, writers, journalists and human rights organisations, recognised the potential to break down prejudices and replace conflict with collaboration.

Guy Regis, Artistic Director of the arts organisation, Association Quatre Chemin, said: “There is a deeply contentious debate currently underway on migration, racism and citizenship in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Professor Fumagalli’s contribution has brought our attention to the role that Haitian and Dominican writing and visual art can play in the current political climate.”

Research team
Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli. Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies