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Standing Up for the Stateless

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Through the Tisch Scholars program, Tufts senior Verónica Rosario is helping to fight for the human rights of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

Tisch Scholar Verónica Rosario

Tisch College is deeply committed to Tufts University’s host communities. Through programs like the Tisch Scholars, students engage meaningfully with organizations in Medford, Somerville, and Boston’s Chinatown, undertaking service, research, and advocacy projects that address pressing local needs.

While this focus on our immediate surroundings is essential to Tisch College’s mission, we also encourage students to see themselves as global active citizens, and to engage in civic work across borders and boundaries. This year, Tisch Scholar Verónica Rosario, A14, has been doing just that by working with an organization that is fighting the denationalization of Dominicans of Haitian ancestry in the Dominican Republic.

At issue is a controversial judicial decision in 2013 which effectively stripped and denied citizenship from all individuals born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented migrants of Haitian descent since 1929. While subsequent legislation created a difficult path to naturalization, the situation remains dire for more than 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian ancestry in the Caribbean nation.

Getting Involved

“I first read an article in the New York Times about it and was really moved,” says Rosario. “I felt like I needed to take responsibility for my knowledge of the situation and what was going on, being a child of Dominican immigrants and sharing that migrant experience.”

Last summer, Rosario traveled to the Dominican Republic and worked at OBMICA, an immigrant and human rights think tank that has done extensive research on the Haitian immigrant population and intra-Caribbean migration, more broadly. Rosario, an International Relations and Spanish major, contributed to the organization’s research and was able to see first-hand the impact of denationalization on this already vulnerable population.

“They were essentially recounting to me their experience of being stateless in the Dominican Republic and what implications that has had on their life,” says Rosario. “They can’t go to school, can’t open a bank account, can’t vote … essentially, all of the civil rights that they would have in the Dominican state, and the ways in which they would participate meaningfully in Dominican society, are taken away from them.”

Upon returning to campus last Fall, Rosario continued working on this issue as part of her Tisch Scholar project. She served as a communications intern for Dominicanos por Derecho (Dominicans for Rights), an advocacy organization that has been at the forefront of this legal and political battle.

“They have launched major awareness campaigns, holding meetings with members of the Dominican government and other international advocacy organizations that work on the Island on this issue,” she says. “It also worked with other civil society organizations on the Island to present a case to the Inter-American Human Rights Court.”

Rosario worked on the organization’s website, translating content and providing some of her own.

“I wrote an article talking about my experience and my positionality as a child of Dominican immigrants to the United States and how I became part of the movement, how I became impassioned,” she says. “I also wanted to provide the perspective that this is us—this is an issue that affects us as Dominicans because we are in the same position in other contexts, like in the United States, in Spain, and throughout the Dominican diaspora.”

Scholarly Work

Now, in the Spring term, Rosario has been working to finish her senior thesis on the subject.

“My thesis is on the denationalization of Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, and how that could and does affect governability in the Dominican Republic, and the potential implications that could have for the Dominican state,” she says. “I’m arguing that, by continually marginalizing Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, it’s actually presenting a major threat to the stability of the Dominican Republic.”

By adding a vital academic dimension to her earlier service and advocacy work on this issue, Rosario hopes to continue having an impact from afar, something which she has constructively grappled with for the past year.

“A question that I’ve had to evaluate is: ‘what is my role and how do I contribute meaningfully to the organization … what are the organization’s needs and how can I meet them, even considering the distance?’ she says. “And I have just tried really being attentive to those needs, and accountable for what I do and how I meet those needs.”

That attentiveness and accountability, Rosario believes, she honed through her experiences in the Tisch Scholars program, which previously included working with the Welcome Project’s  Liaison Interpreters Program of Somerville (LIPS), and with Tufts’ Massachusetts Healthy Families Evaluation.

“I think that it’s definitely prepared me for this challenge,” she says. “I’ve been able to build the set of skills that I can offer to an organization, and also learn and understand the importance of that accountability, of the responsibility and the commitment that you make to the communities that you’re engaging in.”