Black behind the ears – Review

Black behind the ears is an advanced historical and ethnographic examination of Dominican identity development in the Dominican Republic and the United States. For what seems like an eternity, the whole nationality of Dominican Republic defined themselves as “not black”. Ginette E. B. Candelario uses variety of historical writings as well as statistical data and ethnographic research to study the construction of Dominican identity. This book displays the ways in which Dominicans have negotiated their identity to break the social and symbolic orders.

Candelario derives wide range of sources, from the historical to the institutional and ethnographic. She concentrates her examination within four specific ranges of what she terms “identity displays”: travel narratives, the museum, the beauty shop, and the female body. Furthermore, she also focuses on the cities in the United States that have a high number of Dominicans. According to Candelario these geographic sites are uniquely related to the larger Dominican population, however also reflecting the boarder issues that are displayed by Dominican identity. The travel narratives from the Dominican Republic and Dominican travelers draw on uncertain displays of relationship to blackness to locate Dominicans in local establishments.

In addition theses travel writings have had ethnographic purposes historically similar to those of metropolitan museums. It was meant to offer a foreign perspective to other audience in cities. Candelario similarly uses hair texture as a way to describe racial perception in everyday life in Dominican Republic and argues that hair is the most important aspect that she focused on this book. Since hair was the emphasis on indigeneity as the basis for Dominican identity.

Black behind the ears relates to our course material because it displays diversity of Dominican ethnic and racial identities, particularly the struggle of their social along with national identification developed in response to pressure from the upper class privileged group. Candelario’s method of developing relationship with Dominican women and Dominican salon demonstrates a sense of community that everyone can count on each other. That there is still is strong dislike for “blackness” and Candelario’s focus on hair which is the most powerful symbol of individual and group identity. I enjoyed the book overall because it provided with excellent examples of people’s account and their stories. Especially the authors experience with assimilation into different part of the communities. The part that I did not enjoy as much would be just how dense the book was. The information could have been more short and concise so the reader would not get bored of reading so much material.

Analysis of 100 Years of Dominican Feminism

Thursday, April 26th author of Black behind the ears, Ginetta Candelario, lectured a presentation titled 100 Years of Dominican Feminism. Candelario’s main point was to elaborate on the specific cases of Dominican feminists. The talk was featured as a part of the University of Scranton’s week-long campaign to confront sexual violence on campus. In the spirit of the campaign designed to empower women, this presentation focused on historical women of the Dominican that were involved in social activism within their country.

Ginetta Candelario’s lecture consisted of an illustrated PowerPoint presentation in which she thoroughly elaborated on specific slides. Following the lecture, Candelario accepted questions from the audience. Beginning with a few positive remarks, I immediately noticed Candelario’s excellent public speaking skills. It was obvious that she knew her presentation well and merely used her PowerPoint to facilitate the lecture and not dominate it. Candelario also consistently made eye contact with the audience which I felt was important throughout her presentation. Finally, I enjoyed Candelario’s personal stories relating to her research into Dominican feminism. The story of thumbing through stacks of articles in the library searching for a specific letter and/or newspaper clipping clearly demonstrated the depth and concentration of her research. Her other story about the town square in the capital where women shaved their head in public as an activist demonstration was empowering.

There were a few things that I did not like about the lecture. I felt that Candelario spent too much time on the finer details. I understand that the who, what, where, and how are important questions to consider whenever addressing historical figures but for a short lecture I felt that Candelario weakened her presentation by including too much context information. For example, I did not think it was worth including extraneous personal information on character’s spouses or significant others just to arrive at the origin of the word feminism in the Dominican Republic. Another critique, as insignificant as it is, was the length of the lecture. As a presenter, you need to be aware of the time remaining and not run late. Although it was mostly due to the audience’s questions, Candelario’s lecture ran over the expected time. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Candelario’s presentation and look forward to finishing reading her book Black behind the ears.

Lastly, our most recent theme in Race in Latin America was race and nation in the Dominican Republic. First, Candelario’s book is an excellent parallel to the course unit because it addresses that race and nationality can be dynamic despite being grouped together. One can be both light and dark skinned and be Dominican but both reject African descent. Her lecture, on the other hand, offers examples of women who find Dominican nationality through feminism giving a different picture to the theme of race and nation.

Ginetta Calendario – Review

Ginetta Candelario is a Dominican-American sociologist who has studied the foundations of feminism in the Dominican Republic for the past seventeen years. The main point that she emphasized was the difference between North American and Dominican feminists. Dominican women were more concerned with autonomy; having rights to divorce, to own property, and to govern their own bodies. Women in the United States were chiefly concerned with suffrage, but this did not matter to the Dominican feministas whose government “elections” consisted of militia-led coup d’états where a vote would not be of much use. North American women would not reach this level of feminism, which is considered Second Wave feminism, until the 1950’s.

After her presentation, we had a question and answer session about both her presentation and her book, Black Behind the Ears (There is more to the name). This book followed transnational Dominican migrants at three key cities and studied their racial self-identification. Those in Washington D.C. more readily identified with their African ancestry, and accepted their blackness. Those in New York held on to anti-black ideologies, in an attempt to separate themselves from African-Americans and how they were treated in America. Those in Santo Domingo also held on to anti-black, but more specifically, anti-Haitian, ideologies due to years of schooling and customs that supported this philosophy. This relates to class in that we studied the roots of anti-blackness/anti-Haitian ideas. We found them to originally be a way to distance the Dominican Republic from the free and black country of Haiti so that international trade would not be deterred.

Concerning the presentation and dinner, Dr. Candelario was eloquent, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about her work. Her work has already begun to change my perspective and appreciation of my background and identity. However, during the presentation she seemed to be disorganized in how she would flip back-and-forth between slides. Also, she would provide exorbitant amounts of information to answer questions. Besides that, I identify strongly with Dr. Candelario as a Dominican-American woman who is white passing. As a child, I would fill out my race as black and my ethnicity as Hispanic/Latino on standardized tests. As I grew to understand race and ethnicity, I realized I could not identify as black simply because I did not identify as white. Her work has re-opened my own internal conversation of my identity, and I am grateful.

100 Years of Dominican Feminisms


100 Years of Dominican Feminisms was a lecture that Ginetta Candelario, a Dominican sociologist, gave that provides insight into the true origins of feminism and its development within the Dominican Republic. Her argument and research has led her to find that feminism in its earliest forms began with Mercedes Mota, She was chosen by her sisters to attend the International Council of Women in Buffalo and represent the Dominican Republic along with a few other women. This began the journey and process of women becoming empowered and defining themselves as women. She inspired other Dominican women to achieve equality in all facets of the word and in the process own the title feminist. This movement is less investigated and known and Candelario seeks to retrace the steps of feminist thought and history.

It was very moving to hear Professor Ginetta Candelario describe her 10 years of arduous and intense research methods to discover and unearth the truth about feminism. As a Dominican woman, her passion and interest was apparent as presented her findings throughout her lecture. I did not once question her knowledge on the subject because she was quite receptive to the audience’s questions and explained the ambiguities of the story of feminism well. Candelario provided a long and detailed account of the many instrumental figures that helped provide the foundation for future feminist. The only critique I had about the lecture was that it was longer than expected and Candelario over explained when giving an answer to a question. I wasn’t able to ask her my questions and it was a bit frustrating. Overall, I would say that this lecture was informative and well executed.

Dr. Candelario clearly relates to our readings and course very poignantly as we read her book Black Behind the Ears: Dominican Racial Identity from Museums to Beauty Shops. Her work attempts to assess and describe how a Beauty Shop can create community for Dominicans. It is because each member of the community are looking out for one another. In this section we are studying the Dominican Republic and their past and current race relations. We see that there was a dislike for “blackness” in the Dominican Republic and it continues today. The progress of the Dominican Republic are marred by the Rafael Trujillo’s rule in the 20th century and still influence racial relations for Dominicans even outside the country. Racial segregation continues to exist, but in different and obscure ways. Widespread segregation within beauty shops and other races goes unquestioned. Identity remains the main challenge for many Dominicans as it was changed during the Trujillate and now with the migration to the U.S., Dominicans are having to redefine themselves yet again.

It seems that barber shops are providing outlets for these challenges, while at the same time harboring anti-blackness sentiment in subtle and overt ways. In what ways does the evolving Dominican sense of identity bring about unity amongst other Dominicans, and in what ways does it divide and exclude others?

Ixcanul Film Analysis

This film is about a young, indigenous girl of Mayan descent in Guatemala who is named Maria. She was promised to an older man in marriage to secure the jobs and livelihoods of her parents. She wanted to run away to the United States with a boy named Pepe, who impregnated her before abandoning her. She attempts to ward off snakes, gets bitten, and is rushed to the hospital. The doctors claim that the baby died in the process, but we later come to find that the coffin was filled with a brick and not a corpse. The movie ends with Maria being prepped for another marriage.

This film relates to the unit where we covered indigenaity in Mexico. Due to the language barrier, impoverished state, and lack of formal education, indigenous peoples are taken advantage of. The way in which the hospital took it into its own hands to deliver and give away Maria’s child with no actual consent depicts the lack of rights given to indigenous persons. They are given no agency in their well-being and are wholly dependent upon adhering to systemic inequalities.

This film also shows different aspects of what one most people view as indigenous in practice such as superstitions. Maria and her family participated in offerings to the volcano, not killing the “sacred” snakes in the field, and attempting to ward the snakes off with the scent of Maria’s breast milk. Other stereotypes include alcoholism, manual labor, and hyper sexuality. The machismo attitude that is present in many Latin American countries is also displayed; women work all day farming, cleaning, cooking, and are not paid at all. The men work in the plantation and are paid, then arrive at the house to be waited on by the women in the household. It was interesting to see all these different ideas be portrayed seamlessly through the characters, without anything being explicitly stated.

Another cinematic element that was impactful was the identical opening and closing scenes, where Maria is getting prepped for her arranged marriage. This shows the vicious cycle of poverty experienced by the indigenous; without money, there’s no education. With no education, they do not learn Spanish. With this language barrier lodged in place, there is no way for these people to advocate for themselves. Without advocating and representation, they are stuck poverty. Thus the cycle continues.

As a critique, the movie felt longer than necessary, and probably could have been trimmed down from two hours to one and a half without losing any plot information. Otherwise, this movie was interesting and exciting in the way that unexpected plot twists kept happening.


Ixcanul translates to “volcano” in the native indigenous language called Kaqchikel in Guatemala. It is a film about a young Mayan girl Maria who lives and works with her parents on a coffee plantation set at the foot of the volcano. She is supposed to marry Ignacio, the overseer, a match that would secure her family and achieve a higher status. However, Maria is not interested in marrying him, instead she plans to escape with a plantation worker named Pepe. Through the turning of events Maria is faced with a choice to keep a life or give it up. In the end, Maria is still bound by her traditional life but feels the fire within.

The film consisted with a full indigenous cast, where the story focused fully on the lives and misfortunes of indigenous people. It explores the gender and indigenous issues to highlight the strength of Mayan women. That is shown with the day to day chores done by Maria and her mother. Those chores take a great amount of strength, for example carrying heavy things and walking for more than a mile everyday.  Also, the struggle of women not having the freedom to make decisions about their futures like the unconsented marriage of Maria. There is an overlying theme in the film of the strong preying upon the weak. The reason is because of the treatment of the indigenous people, especially the women. Therefore, Maria’s plan to escape symbolized the desire to break from the traditions by taking a step towards modernization and freedom.

Ixcanul relates to course material because, it shows the overall lifestyle and treatment of indigenous people living in a remote area. It displays how the concept of modernization was nonexistent in this small indigenous village. Everything was done manually with the help of family. There was this one example from the movie that showed a lady collecting information for the census. Due to the language difference and bias from the character Ignacio the information was not translated properly and fully. This made me think about the Perla survey and their methods of acquiring information, leading me to believe the authenticity of this technique. Additionally, the treatment of indigenous people in the modern cities was shown in the film. They were treated poorly at the hospital in the city and were deceived by them. This relates to the studies that showed people from small indigenous villages were treated poorly because the people from the cities thought they were dumb and uneducated. Overall, it was a great film with beautiful cinematography and would recommend to anyone interested in lives of indigenous society.

A Look into the Volcano

The director of Ixcanul Volcano, Jayro Bustamente, beautifully captures what life in the indigenous and rural Guatemalan region near Ixcanul Volcano is like. The plot follows Maria, a young indigenous woman, who is living a life of difficult manual labor as she prepares to be married off to Don Ignacio, the plantation owner who allows her family to live in the region. Although their lives are arduous, they live simply and humbly by surviving off their own lands. Ignacio initially appears to be an honest man with hopes of reaching the United States and improve his life. The story shifts direction when we learn of Maria’s interest in Pepe, a local farmboy, who changes Maria and her family’s life forever.

Jayro Bustamente uses camera techniques and colors to instill in the audience a sense of bleakness in the vast nature filled world in Guatemala. The scenes are shot for extended periods of time and we see just how nature plays an integral part in the lives of these indigenous Mayan peoples. One can see this especially in the family’s reliance on the land’s coffee and corn harvest. Time is oriented around specific harvests and moons, especially in relation to Maria’s pregnancy and it is the main antagonist of the film in a few regards. The scenes that are the most frequently shown are that of the landscape and the labor the indigenous population experience. The sounds that are emphasized are that of nature and it is refreshing to have a film that doesn’t utilize soundtracks to move the plot. As an audience, silence is a very powerful tool that Bustamente uses throughout the film to move the plot and focus on the actions of the characters in the film.

One of the main weaknesses of the film is that it does not seem to show just how Don Ignacio has come into the position he is in. This may be due to poor character development and to add more emphasis on Maria’s story and development, but I felt that it was missing. I feel that by having more interactions with other characters, I may have been able to get  sense of what other issues trouble other indigenous families. The end is however wonderfully executed and let’s us believe that the trials and challenges that Maria faces are more widespread and unfortunately commonplace within Guatemala and perhaps for other indigenous regions of Latin America.

Ixcanul relates to the first unit in a rather moving and troubling way. Indigeneity and identity are the main foci of the film as it is in the PERLA Survey. I believe that the PERLA Survey was intended to provide Mexico and other countries with information pertaining to self-identification and demographic information. There were a number of challenges with the survey that were also presented in the film. The woman who came along with Don Ignacio was tasked with collecting census data and it was clear that she was not well trained to engage with Maria or her family.

The hope is that those involved with the PERLA Survey were sensitive to these indigenous populations and trained their staff to be able to engage openly and comfortably with all groups of people within a region. The way in which it is presented in Ixcanul would leave us to believe that it was less than ideal and not run effectively. It demonstrates that cultural, educational, and linguistic barriers are just a few of the challenges that one may face and need to be overcome when conducting surveys.

Analysis of Ixcanul

The film Ixcanul, written and directed by Jayro Bustamante is a story about a poor indigenous family that lives on a coffee plantation in Central America. The story’s protagonist María is arranged to be married off to Ignacio, the plantation’s supervisor, when she decides to seduce Pepe, a farm-hand who also picks coffee. Pepe is secretly planning to flee to the United States in hopes of a better life and María is mesmerized by his dream of emigrating. After finding out she’s pregnant, María’s life takes a dramatic turn full of exploitation and mistreatment.

Ixcanul is beautiful. For one, the cinematography is incredible. Especially the shots that include the active volcano, Ixcanul in the film’s background emphasizing the volcano’s crucial role in the life of María and her family. For example, a scene early in the film shows María and her mother worshiping the volcano praying for safety and security. Another positive critique with the cinematography is the key moments where the camera angle shows both María and her mother walking through the coffee plantation trails and an asphalt road parallel to the plantation’s border. Angle’s such as this juxtapose modernism and barbarism or the civilized against the uncivilized. It’s obvious that María’s family is unfairly judged by the government agent and the medical staff in the hospital. The discrimination is entirely based on their ethnicity.

Interestingly, Marie’s lover, Pepe, who flees to the United State even sides against his own culture and ethnicity. In private Pepe says to María, “It’s people like you who keep us stuck here”. Pepe desires worldly pleasures, he dreams of a big house with a garden and a car and does not want to live a coffee farmer his entire life. The only negative critique I have of this film is the hypersexuality stereotype of the indigenous people. This portrayal may have been about a lack of education in the community but certain scenes such as the scene in which María humps a tree in the forest just before seducing Pepe came across in poor taste.

The film could be seen as a question about nationality and how race and ethnicity are tie people to specific identifies. Even though Pepe is from the same community as María he identifies as something beyond his ethnicity, almost as if he resents it. However, María and the modernized people [government workers, hospital staff, public claims office employees, etc.] are citizens of the same country, yet María and her family are exploited because of their indigenous ethnicity. The doctor refusing to communicate to María’s parents or accept the mother’s shawl as a token of gratitude in the hospital displays in-group and out-group mentality. The situation is similar to the treatment of Amabella by Senora Valencia in Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones. Amabella is constantly reminded of her Haitian ethnicity and blackness despite living with a Dominican family in the Dominican Republic and is treated differently.

The Farming of Bones: A Review

Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat is the author of a historical fiction novel, The Farming of Bones, that follows Amabelle Desir, a Haitian-born woman and main protagonist, through her intense transformation and struggle to survive through the Haitian Massacre. The story begins and symbolically ends in the fictional town Alegría, and the story moves between border towns near the Haitian and the Dominican border. This novel was published in 1998 by Soho Press and has received many rewards and recognition since its publication, namely the American Book Award in 1999.

The Farming of Bones relates well to the challenges that many living in Hispaniola (referring to the Dominican Republic and Haiti) faced in our current unit “Race & Nation in the Dominican Republic” during the height of the Haitian Massacre. Even with clear and distinct differences in the social hierarchy among characters, Danticat skillfully crafts a narrative that demonstrates the relationships that exist among the Dominicans, Haitians, and those of mixed race and backgrounds. The past few readings relate very well to the novel as they demonstrate that although there are clear class differences, race or nationality weren’t the main impetus for the slaughter. After the Generalissimo, Rafael Trujillo, begins a slaughter of Haitians, one might be tempted to assume or wonder if the tension was always there. Why all this hardship? Why all this dislike for the other? These are just a few of the questions that our unit seeks to address so that the memory of the lives lost, the farming of bones, may one day be remembered in hopes that these injustices come to an end.

While I personally would’ve loved to have discovered the fate of a few characters, I believe that the fact that we, as readers, do not know is in itself a literary tool. It allows us to immerse ourselves into the harsh reality that we probably would not have known the fate of many who were killed, captured and even survived the massacre. Many artistic liberties taken in Danticat’s development of this book. She clearly states this early in her prologue and is intentional about this in order to produce a moving book that includes a wide array of the realities that those who lived in border towns in the Dominican Republic and Haiti experienced. Danticat draws upon historical evidence and personal interviews and is ultimately able to create a presentation and narrative that is succinct and moving, while maintaining the essence of the Haitian Massacre.

In what ways do you believe that the narrative fails or falls short of telling the story of one who were involved and experienced the Haitian Massacre? Any appraisals it deserves?

How can novels like these help us move beyond the genocides and tragedies that seem all too common throughout history and even this day in age?


Danticat, E. (1998). The Farming of Bones. New York: Soho Press.

A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed

Image result for haitian machete

Richard Lee Turits is a professor of Latin American Studies at William and Mary College in Virginia. His research focuses on Caribbean history, specifically Hispanic history in the Dominican Republic and Haiti[1]. Turits’ article “A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed:  The 1937 Haitian Massacre in the Dominican Republic” (2002) is a historical essay arguing that the Haitian massacre is both genocide and an all-out assault on a bicultural and transnational community[2]. Although Turits’ essay includes testimonies of Haitians and Dominicans before and after the massacre, this article is a secondary source because Turits makes a thesis about a historical time and supports it throughout the article.

Our new unit in Race and Latin American History is Race and Nation in the Dominican Republic. Turits’ article, as well as the genocide itself heavily, relates to our current unit. As the essay explains, the distinction between Haitian and Dominican was incredibly vague. For one the two countries especially near the border intermarried and mixed for generations[3] discrediting the argument that skin color actually played a critical role in determining who and who was not Haitian during the massacre. What seemed to play more of a role in the massacre was cultural identity and stereotypes[4] and nationalist ideology stemming from the Trujillo Regime[5]. The genocide of 1937 allows us to question what nationality means and how race is involved in that type of identity.

Turits’ essay on the Haitian massacre is well written an informative. It doesn’t surprise me that the article won an award1 and was translated into Haitian Kreyòl[6]. Turits’ highlights background information such as the border region between Haiti and the Dominican prior to the massacre which gives the reader a strong understanding of the relationship between the two countries. The testimonies supplemented throughout the essay also provide firsthand accounts of the massacre which allows the reader to feel this tragedy. This essay flows well and is clearly divided into sub-topics breaking down the before and after of the massacre extremely well. My only complaint was that it was not longer.


  1. How did Trujillo come to power who influenced his nationalist campaign?
  2. According to Turits, how are native Haitians and native Dominicans determined? And what do the differences between Haitians and Dominicans say about race and nationality?

[1] William and Mary College, History Faculty. Richard Lee Turits. Web

[2] Richard Lee Turits. Hispanic American Historical Review: A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed, (2002)

[3] Richard Lee Turits. Hispanic American Historical Review: A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed, (2002) 596.

[4] Richard Lee Turits. Hispanic American Historical Review: A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed, (2002) 597-599.

[5] Richard Lee Turits. Hispanic American Historical Review: A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed, (2002) 630-633.

[6] The Conference of Latin American History. The James Alexander Robertson Memorial Prize. Web.