Latino USA

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#1442 – Islands

We take you to literal and metaphorical islands. We start by looking at an often ignored situation in the Dominican Republic that’s left thousands of people stateless. We also examine their sexual education system, which is tied to religion. In Cuba, organic farms are changing local economies. We visit Hawaii to learn how Latinos—the fastest-growing ethnic group in the state—fit in. A Latino moves to North Dakota, an island of economic development. Peace Corps volunteers learn to overcome cultural isolation. And a journalist visits Cuba and learns to forgive her father.



The Dominican Republic and Haiti: Two Nations, One Island

On a Sunday afternoon Johende Cepin and his father, Wilfredo , hang out together at Venus Restaurant, a Haitian place in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, in Brooklyn.


“I feel more Haitian than Dominican” Johende says.


Johende tells his father that Haitians are smarter but Wilfredo replies, “Just keep talking.”


Wilfredo was beaming while Johende talked to me. He proudly told me that his son speaks four languages: French, Creole, English, and Spanish.


But the Dominican-Haitian love might just stay in the family. Johende says that the Dominican news outlets promote negative stereotypes about the Haitians.


“They say in the news the Haitian people are bad. The Haitian people have the voodoo thing.”


The Dominican-Haitian feud makes for fun banter between Johende and Wilfred, but the history of the relationship between the two nations is no joke.


The Republic of Spanish Haiti


To truly understand how deep these roots go we need to go back… way back to the late 1700s when Haiti fought the first successful slave revolution.


Haiti gained independence from France while the Dominican Republic to the east continued to be governed by the Spanish crown.


Almost two decades after gaining independence, Haitian president Jean Pierre Boyer began his campaign to unite the island and defeated the Spanish crown in 1821.


For 22 years the island of Hispaniola was one nation: the Republic of Spanish Haiti. But then the Dominicans rebelled against the Haitians to gain independence.


In fact, when the Dominican Republic celebrates their independence day on February 27th – they are celebrating their independence from Haiti. They are the only Latin American country to celebrate independence from another country in the region.


A Border of Lights


Over the next century, things between the nations didn’t necessarily get easier.


“Estimates go from 4,000 to upwards from 20,000 haitians and dominicans of haitian descent were murdered.” Says Julia Alvarez, a Dominican writer and professor at Middlebury College in Vermont.


She is referring to a 1937 massacre, which is still denied by many in the Dominican Republic. Some know it as the parsley massacre because it was rumored that the president at the time, Rafael Trujillo, had ordered anyone who said the word “perejil” or parsley in Spanish with a french sounding “r” to be killed.


“When I was a little kid I was taught that the Haitians were this enemy next door. That if I didn’t eat my supper or go to bed the Haitians would come and take me away to Haiti where they ate little Dominican kids.” Alvarez says.


Once Alvarez was an adult she learned more about the actual history of both countries and on the 75th anniversary of the massacre, in 2012, Alvarez joined efforts with some colleagues to remember what happened.


“We had a procession, we had a service, the people in the border town joined us in the border. We lit up the border with lights.”


Alvarez says that hundreds of people from both sides of the border brought candles to honor the sad history. And they still do it every year.


“There was so much real, from the people, grassroots desire to really connect and make this a porous border. You know a border of lights.”


Yet the political relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti continues to be strained.


The Fight for Dominican Citizenship


Just last year in 2013, a court ruling made it so that anywhere from 24,000 to 200,000 people of Haitian descendant who were born and grew up in the Dominican Republic were determined ineligible for citizenship.


The woman at the heart of this case applied for a national ID card. She was denied on the grounds that her parents were considered “irregular parents.” They were irregular because they were what was deemed “in transit.”


“The general understanding of what in transit means it means you took a flight in and you’re flying out and you happen to have your baby,” says Allyn Gaestal, a freelance journalist who covered this court ruling.


The Dominican courts defined in transit differently.


“They kind of determined that anybody who was there without documentation or had overstayed their visas or anything besides having all their paperwork in line was considered in transit. And this applied especially to a lot of farm workers who had come on temporary work visas to work in the sugar cane fields. And a lot of those were at the invitation of the Dominican state.”



Another aspect of this case that made this whole situation complicated is that documentation in the Dominican Republic is kind of a mess.


“The birth certificate means something a little different in the Dominican Republic. It’s something you need to do a lot of things that you don’t need it for here. Like going to college you need your birth certificate, a lot of state services. So it’s something that people need a lot but it’s not something you necessarily get when you’re born.”


Deisy Toussaint’s Story


One such person, who did not get her birth certificate at birth, is Deisy Toussaint. Deisy was born to a Dominican father and Haitian mother. Since her father traveled a lot, when it came time for her to get her birth certificate her mother ended up giving Deisy her maiden name: Toussaint, a very common Haitian last name.


Even before Deisy’s last name ended up getting her into trouble years later, a bizarre childhood experience foreshadowed her strange relationship with the state and her status.


“When I was one and a half years old my fragile body began to balloon for some unknown reason. They decided to hospitalize me but my veins weren’t showing up. They had to give me the IV and all the shots into my head. I had a heart attack.”


The doctors declared Desiy dead.


“Since I didn’t have a birth certificate and was the daughter of poor people, it was difficult to sign off on getting the body removed from the hospital.”


But her mother was finally able to take what they believed was Deisy’s lifeless body out of the hospital and a wake was planned for that very day.


“They had commissioned an ambulance to take me from the hospital to my home and that same ambulance was going to take me from my home to the cemetery.”


At the cemetery, Deisy’s mom saw Deisy open her eyes right before they were supposed to bury her.


“The only person in the entire wake that sees me open my eyes is my mother. She grabs me out of the coffin and begins to run. She ends up taking me back to the hospital where I’m declared not dead. At that point the medics wouldn’t let the press or the police come into the hospital because they were the ones who had declared me dead that very morning. “

It turns out that Deisy suffered from catalepsy, a condition that is characterized by rigid muscles and a lack of response to external stimuli.


Deisy went on to become a writer and she actually won a national award for a short story she wrote about catalepsy. After winning the award she was invited to go to a book fair in Cuba. This is what happened when she applied for a passport:


“They say they can’t give me my passport because my last name is French. I think this must be a prank. I had seen stories about this before but it felt really distant from me. They treated me like I was a cheater. I had a birth certificate, an ID card, I studied, and everything was normal. but now…they tell me no. It’s like erasing my entire past. “


Since Deisy applied for a passport, she has been recognized formally by her Dominican father in court and is officially a Dominican citizen.


Deisy still has not been able to leave the Dominican Republic. Her visa to come to new york for a book fair this year was denied. She was going to present her latest work, “The Deaths of Deisy Toussaint.”


“I draw a parallel between the first death, the one by catalepsy, and the second death, my civil death.”


Deisy has been lucky. But for others in the Dominican Republic who don’t have her profile, being recognized by the state can be very difficult.



The 2013 court ruling received a lot of backlash and since the Dominican government has established a program that allows Haitians who have been living in the Dominican Republic to apply for residency.


According to a report from the AP released in late august, more than 115,000 people have signed up through the program since it launched in early June – but only 275 have met the criteria.


Nationality isn’t just an issue of whether you have papers – It’s how people identify.


“Most of the people who have not been able to get their identity cards or have not been able to register, they identify very strongly as Dominican.” Gaestal says, “Juliana Deguis, one of the most important cases, when I asked her if she felt Dominican, she said I don’t feel Dominican, I am Dominican.”

Inside the Cuban Kitchen and organic farming

Ever wonder why a mango just tastes better outside the U.S.? Well, here’s one answer: in Cuba’s case, ninety percent of Cuba’s food comes from organic farms. And in addition to drawing the attention of U.S. restaurateurs like San Francisco’s Narsai David, these small, cooperative farms are slowly transforming the food economy in Cuba. Reporter Reese Erlich went along with David to see how the food’s cooking up.


Narsai’s Sauce Cubana


Recipe copyrighted 2014 by Narsai M. David


I created this sauce at a cooking class for aspiring chefs recently in Cuba. It caught my audience by surprise as the papaya is a fruit and not traditionally used in savory recipes. It was also intriguing to them that I used the papaya seeds. They have a slightly peppery flavor and add complexity to the heat of the chili.


1 lb red papaya Yield 1 1⁄2 cups


1⁄4 cup white wine vinegar


1⁄4-1⁄2 tsp cayenne or chili pepper flakes


Peel the papaya, and reserving the seeds, cut the papaya into small chunks.


Puree all ingredients, including the papaya seeds in a blender or food processor.


Press through a fine sieve to create a smooth, creamy sauce.


This sauce can be served at the table with grilled or poached chicken or fish. I

have used it as a salad dressing by just thinning it out a little with vinegar. The

texture is such that no oil is needed.


VARIATIONS: Consider adding one or two cloves of garlic when pureeing, and

experimenting with the use of fresh chili peppers instead of the dried.



Aloha, Latinos: life in Hawaii

When people think of Hawaii, they think beaches, surf, and sun. But they don’t know that Hawaii is the most diverse state in the country. With a quickly growing Latino population, it’s becoming even more so. Maria Martin tells us a little bit of the history of Latinos in Hawaii, and about what’s behind the state’s aloha spirit.

Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Sex ed in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic one in four teenage girls gets pregnant. That gives them the third highest teen pregnancy rate in Latin America.

In the U.S., by contrast, that number is only one in 20.

The Dominican Republic has been trying to lower the teen pregnancy rate since 2002, but these efforts must also respect religious sensibilities.

Much like the U.S. states that taught abstinence only sex education and ended up with the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, the previous push to lower teen pregnancy rates in the Dominican Republic have failed.

Now the country prepares to try a new program, with more funding. Reporter Katie Manning talks to people in Santo Domingo about whether or not a new campaign that doesn’t discuss contraception, can succeed.



North Dakota: Island of Opportunity

Juan Beltran is the president of the Organization of Latino American students at the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks. He’s a biology major and he moved to North Dakota “to try his luck” after finishing high school in California. He’s one of the thousands that have flocked to North Dakota’s oil fields in the state’s oil boom that began in 2006. In 2012, North Dakota saw the biggest growth in the Latino population, fueled by the state’s low unemployment rate.

At first, Juan didn’t think he’d stay for very long. But the booming oil industry, the education opportunities, and the hospitality ended up changing his mind.

Maria Hinojosa’s new show, America By The Numbers on PBS and The World Channel has another story about the oil boom in North Dakota and how it’s affecting its Native American reservations.

America By The Numbers: Native American Boom Town from The Futuro Media Group on Vimeo.



Juan Beltran was born in French Camp, CA and raised in Stockton, CA. He graduated from Edison Senior High School in May 2010 and moved to North Dakota in December of that year. He began undergraduate studies at the University of North Dakota in the Fall of 2011 and majors in biology with a minor in chemistry. He is currently studying for the MCAT and plans to go to medical school after graduation.





Photo of Watford City, North Dakota in July, 2013, by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Peace Corps Culture Clash

American Peace Corps volunteers are known for bringing aid to communities in developing countries, but American volunteers are also supposed to learn about another culture, and vice versa. In rural Paraguay, three volunteers each face their own struggle with the local people. Julia Wentzel, who is teaching local farmers how to keep bees, finds that most men are more interested in her than in making honey. Nick Fisher discovers that his sexuality is a bigger deal in Paraguay than he expected. And Maren Saly finds love in a small farming town, but itsn’t sure if their cultural differences can sustain the relationship over time. Nina Feldman reports from Rincon Guazu, Paraguay.


Photo by Stan Wentzel

Daisy Hernandez Journeys to Cuba

In her new memoir, “A Cup of Water Under my Bed” journalist Daisy Hernandez reveals many personal experiences. One such difficult experience is how her father would abuse her when she was a child.

She talks to us about how she learned to forgive him and how her trip to Cuba put things in perspective.

This Week’s Music: Islands

-Guantanamera by Celia Cruz 

-I Got Life by Calma Carmona

-IMAMOU LELE by Boukman Eksperyans

-Donde Estara by Antony Santos

-Sin Ti No Puede Estar Tan Mal by Ximena Sarinaña 

-Hawaii by Astro

-Panini Pua Kea by Cyril Pahinui

-Playita by Bill Yonson 

-Yo Vengo a Ofrecer Mi Corazón by Silvana Kane

-Penélope (feat. Mana) by Draco Rosa

-Carribean Poewr by Bomba Estereo

-Interlude by Irene Diaz

-Siempre Quiero Más (Featuring Heidy) by Rafi El

-Salchichón Primavera (Sonidero Choridub) by Bondi Blaster

Bondi Blaster – “Salchichón Primavera” (Sonidero Choridub) from Bondi Blaster on Vimeo.

This Week’s Captions: Islands

We take you to literal and metaphorical islands, like an often ignored situation in the Dominican Republicthat’s left thousands of people stateless. We also examine their sexual education system, which is tied to religion. In Cuba, organic farms are changing local economies. We visit Hawaii to learn how Latinos—the fastest-growing ethnic group in the state—fit in. A Latino moves to North Dakota, an island of economic development. Peace Corps volunteers learn to overcome cultural isolation. And a journalist visits Cubaand learns to forgive her father.

Latino USA, the foremost Latino voice in public media and the longest running Latino-focused program on radio, is the first radio program to commence equal-access distribution via Captioning for Radio. “Research has shown that Latino children have a higher incidence of hearing loss and deafness than other populations,” according to Latino USA’s Anchor & Executive Producer Maria Hinojosa. “When the opportunity to break this sound barrier came to our attention, we were pleased to embrace this new technology developed by NPR Labs and Towson University for the thousands of Latinos with serious hearing loss.”
The International Center for Accessible Radio Technology (ICART), a strategic alliance between NPR and Towson University, is co-directed by Mike Starling of NPR and Ellyn Sheffield of Towson University.
For each week’s captioning, check back on



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