Rayano consciousness and the weight of history: A critical discourse analysis of borderland Dominican and Haitian youths’ perceptions of each other and of binational relations
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This study examines Dominican-Haitian relations through a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). Through a survey and a number of focus-group interviews with Dominican and Haitian youths, conducted in four Dominican and four Haitian border towns, the main research question asks “how can the borderland youths’ perceptions of each other and of their binational relations be interpreted and analyzed in a historical and social context?” The main reason for this framing is that the traditional antagonistic portrayal of the Dominican Republic and Haiti provides an incomplete picture. This study aims to contribute to the existing and rich literature on transnational and rayano perspectives on Dominican-Haitian relations (such as Paulino, 2016; Mayes & Jayaram, 2018; Garcia-Pena, 2016; Martinez, 2003; Fumagalli, 2015; Torres-Saillant, 2004), by adding the perspectives of the Haitian and Dominican borderland youths. The surveyed youths and the focus-group youths were selected from an existing network of Dominican-Haitian borderland schools that collaborated between 2004 – 2009 in what was known as the Nobel Project, financed by the Norwegian International NGO Norwegian Church Aid. CDA places great importance on contextual framings of a research process and therefore significant emphasis is placed on understanding and explaining the historical and social context of the binational relations and the borderland in this study. Three sets of contexts and discourses have been identified for the thesis: 1) Discourses of the rayano youth (the borderland youth), 2) Discourses of transnationalism (the island as one dynamic territory), and 3) Discourses of conflict (the two nations are a living dichotomy). This study analyzes the rayano youths’ discourse in comparison with the transnational and conflict-based discourses on Dominican-Haitian relations to investigate if they represent something different. The rayano discourse includes a wide range of perceptions but brings us an additional and unusual reminder of a forgotten identity that is “hybrid, multiform and porous” (Torres Saillant, 2004). Important characteristics of the rayano discourse are: i. On the one hand, the schizophrenic understanding of Dominican-Haitian relations. The perceptions that the rayano youth have of each other and of the binational relations are simultaneously trujillista, transnational, and neutral. ii. On the other hand, there is a wide range of everyday peaceful binational interactions that the rayano youth include in their perceptions of binational relations. These perceptions are in and of themselves examples of everyday resistance against the discourses of conflict. iii. Thirdly, the asymmetric binational power relations in the borderland are reflected in the discourse. To exemplify, the Haitians are more fearful of Dominicans than the other way around, the Haitians see themselves as more exposed to violence. The rayano discourse may serve as an antidote to the discourse of anti-haitianism. Even though the conflict-based discourses are very much present when the rayano youth talk about each other, they still mainly view each other as equals who should do what they can to improve the binational relations, for their mutual benefit. Moreover, the rayano youth, particularly the focus groups, identify three conditions that must be met to improve the binational relations. These are conditions that implicitly demand a change away from the conflict-based discourses, and a shift to a transnational understanding of the island: • There is a need for relearning what they have been taught about each other in school and at home. This goes both ways. The Dominicans and the Haitians alike have been and are taught to dislike or distrust each other, according to their own perceptions. • There is a need for more frequent meetings between the young people from both sides. For example, through organized school activities and cultural activities. • The Dominicans need to stop feeling superior to Haitians. This was stated in different ways from the youths of both sides of the border and is related to the point about relearning what the island is and has been. The focus groups on both sides identified a need for particularly the Dominicans to see the Haitians as equals if the binational relations are to improve.