Weeks after news about a Dominican court’s decision to revoke citizenship from children of Haitian migrants, we learn of a group of artists, Wonderful Tree, who travel throughout the Caribbean island teaching children about their African ancestry.
Luz Bautista Matos and Clara Morel are thespians who backpack throughout Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and its countryside, visiting schools to disseminate the message among black children “that their features and heritage should be a source of pride.”
Through plays that raise a cultural awareness, the actresses –– along with their choreographer Awilda Polanco –– also aim to salvage Afro-Caribbean traditions.
In a country notorious for its racist bout against sister country Haiti, historically stemming from the Trujillo Era, an organization that teaches on darker complexions and varied hair textures is entirely paramount. While most of the island’s occupants are classified as “mulattos,” it is still offensive to be labeled as black. And the Dominican society has long “tried to disconnect itself from its African roots to the point where they’ve constituted a community that’s mostly mixed,” yet categorizes itself as “indios,” according to historian Frank Moya Ponsin (“Good Hair, Bad Hair”).
Morel reveals her dark brown kinky curls as a means to flaunt her natural looks in school presentations.
This should be a source of pride because your color, your skin, your hair is an inheritance. It’s the legacy of your parents, it’s the legacy of your grandparents.
Left brainwashed by Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (a mulatto himself), who administered the slaughtering of 17,000 Haitians in 1937, the Dominican Republic and its perspective on race and color will not change over night. The school system still bullies and attacks children for wearing hair as anything other than straight and women spend 12 percent of their household budgets on hair salon treatments. But it’s good to know that educators like Luz Bautista Matos and Clara Morel are out to spur change.