Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, in May 2017 undergraduate student Mary Breen interviewed Pedro Rodriguez and Benaldita Natalí Valerio, teachers and campus ministry workers at Saint Ignatius of Loyola Technical Institute (Instituto Tecnológico San Ignacio de Loyola, ITESIL) in Dajabón, Dominican Republic. Rodriguez and Valerio shed light on the prejudices that exist at the border, the mechanism that reinforce them, and the impact of the Jesuits’ work in Dajabón.
What are your positions at ITESIL?
Pedro Rodriguez: We are both a part of the school’s ministry team and teachers.
How long have you worked here?
Rodriguez: Three years.
Have you lived in Dajabón your whole life?
Rodriguez: No, I was studying with the Jesuit priests in Santo Domingo until I heard about this project in Dajabón.
Why did you choose to work at ITESIL?
Rodriguez: At that time, needing the remuneration as an economic factor, but also the factor of evangelization and the mission. I am able to help with the work of the Christian formation of the youth at the border.
Can you describe what is different about a Jesuit education, especially in the context of life at the border and immigration?
Rodriguez: I think that the difference is that the Jesuits make a very human education, above all with tolerance and with openness from the beginning. Beliefs and grace are very important. They do not discriminate and are very open to everybody. They are not people that reject others. I think the difference is the open position and the social work that they do here at the border. They work together with their Haitian brothers. In this sense, this is what I highlight as the difference in the education we are imparting here in the Dominican Republic, especially here at the border.
How would you characterize the relationship between Dominican and Haitian students here?
Rodriguez: There are very few Haitian students here in reality. However, there are some, and there is no discrimination here, and it is possible to create friendship. Although the Dominican society many times—not all the time—discriminates a little against the Haitians, here with the help of the Jesuits there is a foundation between the students of friendship.
Do you think the Jesuit education at this school plays an important role in improving the situation of discrimination at the border?
Rodriguez: Yes, I think it plays a decisive role. Above all, because here at the school we have the future adolescents and youth of our country, in this sense I think that yes, the school and also the Jesuits play a good part in this sense. Because if the students are formed in this sense of solidarity, race and color are not important. So, tomorrow it will help to have more aware citizens who are respectful and tolerant.
How would you like to see the situation at the border change?
Benaldita Natalí Valerio: The first thing is that I want to give a little context about Dajabón. We are at the border with Haiti, but for example, the same people of Dajabón do not accept the Haitians. They reject them. For the students we have here, we are giving an open education that does not discriminate. However, as I said, from the same area, the same Dajabón, the same parents manifest rejection against the Haitians. The first education is from the home. If it depended on the schools, on this school, it would be seen as something that grew more in bonds and became stronger. For example, here there is an exchange program with Haiti. If it depended on the education here, it would be much better. But, it depends on the community of Dajabón and the inhabitants, not all of them, because the same Christians from the same parish also already work with the Jesuits or are at Border Solidarity [Solidaridad Fronteriza], the parish, Radio Marién. All of these institutions that work with the Jesuits teach to strengthen this bond. In the community of Dajabón, there is a rejection. If someone instills in their children at home that the Haitians are a stain here, the difference is that when the child comes here they are told that these people are human and we are all the same. Always when we are accompanying and working here at the border, the bonds are strengthened.
Rodriguez: In the future, there should not be prejudices there and here; however, this also depends more on the state. It is true that they are able to send an essay with the mission of the Jesuit priests here to the state, but it already depends more on the state. We see the discrimination and prejudices that do not help this relationship.
Valerio: The works of the Jesuits here are helping this. We come here, for example, to have meetings; we have a number of employees who are Haitian immigrants. They are working in engineering or on the property, and we can have relationships with them and be friends. This is a house without prejudices that teaches to not have prejudices.
How would you characterize these prejudices and what reinforces them—education at home, formal education, or something else?
Rodriguez: I think there are schools that lead to encouraging prejudices, because many times they are producing what was said previously. They tell them that Haitians with many children are creating a terror, the Haitians do not want to know us and they hate us, and all of these prejudices that came from earlier. They are reproduced in the schools, because many people do not have the formation we discussed. In a way, an Ignatian education is based clearly on values, but not all Dominicans have this consciousness. Along with the schools, the history, the historians also make these prejudices current and present. It is our culture. Historians from there and here, not only from here, because I talk to Haitians that tell me there are Haitians that have a very negative conception of Dominicans—Dominicans are violent and do not love. I think it is the schools, not all of them, the historians, and the family. There is also another group in the Dominican Republic, the nationalists, that are very strong. They hold on to the fact that we were dominated by the Haitians for 22 years. Many times this nationalism is created and they are often normal people; there are many nationalists in the country. They do not want any Haitians passing through or any relationship with the other side. This is another group that influences the society.
Valerio: The family makes a commentary and says not to give water or help to Haitians. There is a prejudice and division even concerning the territory. I agree that the schools and the history play a role, but also the family.
Is there anything else you would like to explain about the situation here?
Valerio: I understand that now it is better in terms of life at the border by the fact that there has been good work from Solidaridad at the border and people attending school. I have lived here for four years, and this year the relationship is stronger and things are calmer. With Solidaridad Fronteriza, Father Mario Serrano started Christ's House [El Hogar de Cristo] for these Haitian boys who were living on the street and begging. He picked them up and made El Hogar de Cristo. Before, they were living as savages, and now they have a group and support. I think that Dominicans are more in solidarity with Haitians than Haitians are with other Haitians. When I was at college in another city for four years, I saw young Haitians living like the ones at El Hogar de Cristo, and Dominicans would buy plates of food to give them, while the Haitians living here did not. I think the situation has improved in terms of solidarity with Haitians.