Haitian and Dominican Republic legislators in Brooklyn last Friday sought to bridge what they described as “the cultural divide” with the inaugural hosting of “Quisqueya: A Celebration of Haitian and Dominican Republic Heritage” at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
The event – which was hosted by Brooklyn Council Members Rafael L. Espinal, Jr., Farah N. Louis and Antonio Reynoso – highlighted the similarities in the cultural Diasporas, and honored their legacies and global contributions, while encouraging the preservation of diplomatic relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic “in order to unify both communities,” according to Louis, the Haitian-American newly-elected representative for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.
She said that before colonialism, revolutions and declarations of independence, there was Quisqueya, the native Taino (Arawak) name for Hispaniola, the island that comprises Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
“As compatriots and descendants of this land, we are forever bound together by our history,” Louis said. “No border should ever divide what was once united. We are one people, one island, ‘One Brooklyn’.
“This joint celebration alongside my colleagues, Council Members Rafael L. Espinal, Jr. and Antonio Reynoso, is a historic step forward to reunite the eastern and western sides of an island that will be stronger together,” she added. “This event was not just a celebration but the start of a conversation that I hope will bring forth ideas and solutions to help resolve conflicts in Brooklyn and on the island.”
“Quisqueya is a celebration of two countries and two cultures that share one island,” Espinal said. “Even though there’s a troubled history, here in New York City, we’ve seen what’s possible when we act united. We forge unity from our diversity, and sustain that unity even in times of hardship.
“I’m proud to come together with my colleagues Council Member Farah Louis and Council Member Antonio Reynoso to lead this celebration and to honor outstanding members of our community,” he added. “Together, as leaders in New York City, we can’t forget the problems of our home countries, but we have a responsibility to come together in spaces like this to celebrate what we have achieved, and strengthen our kinship with one another.
“The change we make in our city, the pride we bring to our culture, all of this is in our hands no matter what the politics are at home,” Espinal continued.
“If we stay true to this, then we will continue to stand as examples of true unity.”
Reynoso said he was “proud” to co-host the event, stating that it paid homage to Dominican Republic and Haitian cultures, and recognized their “shared roots on the island of Hispaniola.”
He also said it was his pleasure to honor Gregory E. Louis, a community lawyer with Communities Resist, whose parents hail from Haiti, and Raul King, a “dedicated public servant” with roots in the Dominican Republic, for their contributions to the Haitian and Dominican Republic communities.
“I look forward to more opportunities to help bridge cultures within Brooklyn and throughout New York City,” Reynoso said.
The legislators said the Dominican Republic and Haiti are among the top 10 countries of birth for the 3.1 million foreign-born New York City residents, “whose cultural footprint and contributions are undeniable.”
From community organizing and advocacy to diplomacy, the elected officials said the five honorees have been “catalysts for change – both locally and globally.”
They were: King; Louis, Esq.; Genesis Aquino, a human rights activist and community organizer; diplomat Raymond A. Joseph; and the late New York State Sen. José R. Peralta, who championed the NYS DREAM Act.
Each honoree was presented with a New York City Council proclamation in recognition of their extraordinary work in public service, outstanding leadership and contributions to the Haitian and Dominican Republic Diasporas.
“I am thankful to those who recognized my contribution in the struggle for democracy and unity in the two republics that share Quisqueya or Haiti, Land of Mountains, as the original Taïno people called it,” Joseph said.
“Having been born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Haiti from the time that I was eight years old, I feel honored to be recognized by American Council members of both Dominican (Republic) and Haitian ancestry, a testimonial to those in our motherlands that ‘In Unity, there’s Strength,’ as expressed in a Haitian motto, which goes along with ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.’”
Clarivel Ruiz, Founder of Dominicans Love Haitians Movement, said: “It is imperative to dismantle the myths of ‘race’ that have been instituted and internalized as hard-core values and beliefs that continue to perpetuate hate and separate people be creating ‘others’ who are subsequently used as scapegoats and seen as less than human.
“The movement is to celebrate our commonalities while we honor our differences,” she added. “It is the only way for all of us to heal from these systems of superiority and oppression.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams said: “We were honored to host the inaugural Quisqueya celebration at the People’s House, honoring Dominican and Haitian heritage and the close ties between the two cultures.
“Since I took office as borough president, I have endeavored to forge bonds between communities, highlighting what unites us while celebrating our differences,” he said. “Quisqueya is very much in keeping with our mission to create ‘One Brooklyn’, and I thank Council Members Louis, Espinal, Reynoso, and others for their steadfast partnership.”