Dominicans of Taino heritage will no longer be able to indicate their ethnicity on their national ID card if a new electoral law goes into effect.
While there has been no published reaction by Tainos to this part of the law in the Dominican Republic, one prominent Taino activist in the United States is hoping to prevent it’s passage.
Electoral Reform Law 275-97 states that the colors citizens will have to choose from are mulatto, black and white and that these colors will designate their ethnicity, meaning that there will be no color assigned to the ethnicity of ‘Indian’. In other words, no Indians.
The proposed reform will be discussed before being submitted for approval to the Congress according to various reports; the project was developed by the Central Electoral Board (CEB) of the Dominican Government and representatives of the Organization for American States (OAS) and was announced on the island on November 11.
Activist Jorge Estevez, a Taino from the Dominican Republic who works with the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, referred to the announcement as “disturbing”.
“There is no telling how this will complicate racial problems already existent on the island,” Estevez asserted in a written response to the law. “Crazy as it may sound this appears as an organized effort to force Dominicans to identify with just two racial components of a people that are one of the most genetically diverse populations in the world. To say Dominicans are mulatto is simplistic and absurd at best. The realities of the complexities of Dominican racial make-up and identity must be viewed from individual perspectives and not, collectively. This is not to imply that the “indio” color scheme and all its ranges, indio claro, indio oscuro et is not without absurdity as well.”
The noted activist stated that he was glad that there was some official recognition of the country’s African heritage, but that it should not be at the expense of accepting their indigenous identity as well.
“The problem I see is that this has been traditionally our only and closest connection to Indian identity,” Estevez said regarding the official identification cards.
”Many Dominicans have traditionally identified with the islands first inhabitants, the Taino. Despite the fact that we have been told over the last 450 years that the Indians all died out and we are taught this in school, Dominicans insist on believing that we do in fact have Indian ancestry. When Dominicans express this sentiment, we are automatically branded as racist and anti-Haitian etc.,” Estevez stated.
While Estevez noted that he and other Dominican Taino activists were trying to fight against the law on the island, one stateside organization, the United Confederation of Taino People (UCTP), is also seeking to influence the Organization of American States (OAS) that has been working with the Dominican government on this legislation and others.
“..the UCTP is following up with the OAS to attempt to determine their involvement in this issue. UCTP lobbying at the OAS has contributed to the increase of indigenous Caribbean delegates including a representative from the Dominican republic last year,” stated UCTP President Robert Mukaro Barrero.
“The proposed revision of the Dominican Republic's Electoral Law 275-97 that seeks to limit self-identification to “white, black, and mulatto” is discriminatory not only against those who seek to continue to identify as “Indios/Indians” but to Asian and other communities long residing in the Dominican Republic as well," Barrero asserted.
“I think it is also important that the outside community knows that others outside the Dominican community are following this issue and supporting the self-determination and self-identification of all Dominicans,” he added.
In seeking the reasons for the legislation neither the office of the President of the Dominican Republic or the Central Electoral Board responded to requests for comment.