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A Discussion with Diosmari Garcia, Administrator at St. Ignatius of Loyola Technical Institute, Dajabón, Dominican Republic

With: Diosmari Garcia

May 23, 2017

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, in May 2017 undergraduate student Mary Breen interviewed Diosmari Garcia, administrator at St. Ignatius of Loyola Technical Institute (Instituto Tecnológico San Ignacio de Loyola, ITESIL) in Dajabón, Dominican Republic. Garcia explains the interaction between Jesuit education and the specific problems affecting this border town.

Can you describe your job here at ITESIL?

I began working at St. Ignatius of Loyola Technical Institute in September 2014. I work in the area of administration. I am in charge of many accounts, working with alumni, and the bookstore.

Can you explain how this technical school functions?

The first two years are foundational classes. In their third year, they choose a major. The majors are agriculture, computing, infirmary, metal mechanics, administration, and electricity. At the end of their second year, they are asked what major they want and their information goes to the academic director. 

After they graduate, do the students normally enter the workforce immediately or go to college?

Normally, the majority of agriculture majors go to study for two years in La Vega where they are permitted to study engineering. They earn a degree in agricultural engineering. Some students choose to change their major when they get to college, and others keep the major they took here.

Have you lived in Dajabón your whole life?

Yes.

Can you describe your experience living at the border? Has it changed? What is the current environment?

I studied at the school Alta Gracia from primary school to high school. Then, I entered an institute. Life at the border is a pleasant experience. Now, there is crime; thefts are increasing constantly, and it is now at its highest in 2017. There are thefts, motorcycle accidents, illegal competition, the illegal transfer of marijuana, and there is also the transfer of undocumented people who are our neighbors from Haiti. 

What do you think is different about Jesuit education? Given that this school is Jesuit, what do you think is different about this school?

It is different. Everything has a different methodology than other centers, but it is similar to that of the school Alta Gracia. It is based in teaching you to seek to be present in the area of service. The education consists of innovative education.

Given that you attended Alta Gracia, a religious school run by nuns and founded by Jesuits, do you think your perspective is different than other people who live in Dajabón but didn’t receive a Jesuit or religious education?

Yes, it is different.

In what way? Especially within the context of the border and immigration.

Alta Gracia and the ITESIL are Catholic institutes that have different education based on the criteria of the Catholic religion, in the commandments of the Church, and the sacraments. We have knowledge of what Catholic life is. 

With the topic of immigration, do you think your perspective is very different from that of other people’s, and how would you characterize these potential differences?

With the problem of the transfer of illegals, we have CESFRONT [Specialized Border Security Corps], which are specialized military members that work on the borderline and the river. It is assumed that if they are illegal, they should not pass through, but what happens? They cross illegally without papers. They are received ordinarily. They pass constantly. They pass through the river and work illegally. If we do not control and do not train these people, they will continue to come. They do it perhaps because of the pay needed by customs. Others do it because it is not too hard to do.

Do they speak or discuss immigration here at the school or in classes?

No.

Since there are Haitians here in the school, how would you characterize the relationship between them and the other Dominican students here?

It is equal. There is no distinction between different types. 

Do you think the relationship is the same between people outside of the school that live in Dajabón?

The relationship is normal without a problem or distinction. There is a good relationship.

Given the challenges facing people living at the border and the varying opinions about the presence of Haitians, do you think the education that the students receive here plays a role in the future situation here at the border?

Yes, it plays a role in what is the equality. There is a controversy here in Dajabón, and people talk about Haitians over there and others here, but not everyone comes with the same perspective. Some come with the desire to study or work in order to better oneself. Others come to rob, to sell on the streets, to raid the trash, and to disturb. But what happens to them? Many attend Christ's House [El Hogar de Cristo], and there are others that do not. So, what they do very well is cause problems. The boys at El Hogar de Cristo do not have the same goal to cross constantly, because they have the chance to enroll in school so that they have an education. They are able to learn and play. 

Are there changes needed at the border, and do you think education is part of the solution?

Yes, education is part of the solution.

In what way is it part of the solution? How does education influence the situation? Do more Haitians need to attend Dominican schools, or does the next generation of Dominicans simply need to be educated in a way to resolve the problems here?

The next generation needs to be educated so that they are able to live with the same generations of other nationalities. They should live with them without discrimination and not in a negative way. Some come to study and are able to live together, and others do not want to come to study but come to work. If it is assumed that they are to live there and we are to be here, at the border they are able to pass through, but with conditions that their motivations are positive, not negative. Because what the majority are doing is deteriorating the country. We have bad influences.

If you need more control of the border, how do you think it is possible with such an open border?

Closing the border is not possible, but it is possible to have a little more control. 

Are there prejudices between both sides that are reinforced through education in schools, life at home, or society in general?

The schools do not reinforce these prejudices. Many Haitians study here, some in this high school and others in Alta Gracia and public schools. There is not a problem, and they are accepted. 

Is there anything else you want to explain about the border dynamic here and its interaction with education?

The border is very open. It is just a river that is low, so it is very easy to cross to the other side. Customs does not see the majority of the cases, since people can just cross the river. Someone who does not have papers, as well as someone who has papers, has access here to the Dominican Republic; it is something normal. 

There should be control. If someone wants to come to better himself, educate himself, give a change to his life, and take a job for his children, he would be able to do it. But, people come to damage, consume illegal substances, and people say they are coming here to Dajabón to work, but what they do is transfer undocumented Haitians. They charge Haitians a sum of money and take them to different places. These people use motorcycles or others are in vehicles. Some suffer, others do not, but there is a total cost. 

Although here at the border, everyone knows who charges the Haitians and who does not charge them. If 20 Haitians are being transferred, they have to pay to cross the military points. Sometimes the money is enough and sometimes it is not. At the holidays, for example, at Christmas and Easter, many Haitians who work here easily cross the border [to Haiti] to celebrate with their families. There is no problem. However, in January when they need to come back to their normal lives, their work lives, or their professional lives, this is the case in which they may not be able to pass.

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