Next Steps in the Struggle for Citizenship in the Dominican Republic

On December 6th, at the Human Rights Day event honoring Sonia Pierre, we remembered a woman who amplified the voices of people who were the most marginalized and excluded in her country - women, people in poverty, and ethnic minorities. We celebrated the ambitious and relentless way she developed international coalitions to expose her government for systematically denying basic rights to 1.6 million people of Haitian descent. Through her daughters, Manuela and Leticia, we were reminded that in order for change to occur, we must reverse the model of waiting for one leader to emerge who will risk her life for others. We viewed the video Birthright Crisis, which Sonia commissioned in 2005 as a record of the cyclical government sanctioned violence toward both Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent. Professor Monisha Bajaj spoke about Sonia as a mentor for her work in human rights education, introducing her to the hand-on application of human rights theory to community organizing. Ninaj Raoul, founder of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, and a close friend of Sonia, discussed Sonia’s role in mobilizing not only international human rights groups, but also individuals in the Haitian and Dominican diaspora, to respond to humanitarian crises on the island. Manuela Pierre and her sister Leticia Pierre gave incredibly moving testimonies of learning from their mother’s courage as they work to build their own organization that supports young people of African descent in the Dominican Republic. Although it was painful to see the toll this struggle took on their mother’s health, they and other young people continue to find inspiration in her strength and determination to never give up. Manuela told the story of her mother’s request that although it would be challenging for her- as a young woman, a law student, and a mother of two, that she must try to help raise thousands more Sonia Pierre’s. (more…)