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Haitians, Dominicans try to move beyond Parsley Massacre's long shadow

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“It's important to reflect on both sides of the border what this history means in terms of our dealings from now on,” Ms. Danticat says, “how we see each other as island neighbors, consumers and producers, and in some cases as binational family members and generally as human beings.”

‘Institutionalized’ anti-Haiti sentiment

Prior to the massacre, Haiti and the Dominican Republic enjoyed years of good relations. Removed from the power centers of Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince, the border was peaceful and fluid.

That changed, however, over five days in early October 1937 when, acting on President Trujillo’s orders, soldiers killed thousands with machetes, bayonets, and rifles. Trujillo's exact reason remains unknown, although historians have speculated it was part of his effort to control the border and "whiten" the country.

It earned the moniker Parsley Massacre because some soldiers carried a parsley sprig and asked suspected Haitians to pronounce the Spanish word for it, perejil. Mispronunciation of the “R” in the word – difficult for native creole speakers – was enough to get you killed.

After the massacre, Trujillo commissioned papers that sought to justify the killings by highlighting the 22-year Haitian occupation of the Dominican Republic – which had ended more than a century earlier – and stirred up fears that Haitians were trying to overrun its neighbor.

The historical tensions between the countries are still apparent. Each year, Dominicans celebrate independence from Haiti as well as Spain, despite winning independence from the European colonists most recently.

“The legacy [of the massacre] was to reverse the long period of peaceful relations between the countries that had existed in the years before the massacre,” says Michele Wucker, whose 1999 book “Why the Cocks Fight” examines Haitian-Dominican relations.

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