Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Those of you who know me, know I love a good political conversation, but I’ve deliberately kept politics out of this blog. This blog isn’t political and neither is this story. This story is a story of one individual immigrant, in a long history of immigrants and immigrations.

The island of Hispaniola, of which the DR makes up half and it’s neighbor Haiti the other half, is a complicated island. You would think on such a small island two neighboring nations would almost live as one people, but Dominicans and Haitians are two very distinct people, with their own cultures, languages and customs. There is a long history of occupations, wars and massacres between these two countries that leave relations today tense.

Today the tale between the DR and Haiti is almost the same age-old immigration tale happening around the world, people leaving one nation in hopes of finding a better life on the other side. Many Haitians cross the small border to the Dominican looking for a better life and most end up working the toughest and dirtiest jobs; street vendors, cutting sugarcane, working in cacao, whatever odd jobs they can find as illegal immigrants. This story is of one Haitian who crossed the border and made his way to my campo.

I didn’t know this Haitian man, he could’ve passed my house weekly, daily, who knows, but I never met him. I don’t know where he lived or who his family was, I don’t even know his name. He came to our community to work on the electricity project. The electric company “hired” Haitians to dig the ditches for the lamp poles and to connect the wires pole to pole. Last week, one particular ordinary day, this man went to work, someone forgot to shut off the electricity in our zone, and he was electrocuted and died. When word got to my house he had died, no one even knew his name, they just said, “A Haitian died with the electricity.”

There is a sizeable Haitian community where I live, so thankfully someone found his brother, the only family he had here in the DR. Where I live the Dominicans and Haitians don’t mix much so I didn’t think anyone would be going to the funeral. At first I think people were curious. They wanted to see if the rumors of his stiff naked body were true, or if you could really smell the burnt still on him. They wondered what type of voodoo and witchcraft the Haitians would do to bury him.

But once the Dominicans actually started going to see the body, the talk changed. The men talked of how painful it was to see his distraught brother, who opened the casket every ten minutes to clean his brother’s face. The women, many with sons illegal in the US, related all too much to how painful it must be for a mother to never be able to touch her son’s face again, dead in a far away land. They talked about how sad it was that no one could bring him back to his own land because they were too afraid of immigration at the border. Something changed, the community started seeing this man as the human being he was. Weather it be Dominicans to Haitians, or Israelis to Palestinians or Al-Qaeda to Americans or Americans to Latinos, an important thing happens when you start seeing a people as human beings, you start treating them like that.

Although a little late the community started pulling together to support the Haitian community and bury the man with dignity. They stopped recounting the horrible details of his death, they brought food and donated a burial plot.

Amazing things happen when you see people as human beings, you see them as having basic rights. In our Declaration of Independence the US defines basic rights as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is the one that seems to drive everyone: to get a job, to buy a house, to marry, to have kids, to look for a better life, wherever that may be.

Sadly this man, who I still don’t know his name, left his home like so many immigrants in pursuit of happiness, only to find despair. May he rest in peace now.

Sadly this man, who I still don’t know his name, left his home like so many immigrants in pursuit of happiness, only to find despair. May he rest in peace now.

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One Response to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

  1. padre says:

    What more can I say that I haven’t said already! You amaze me! You are experiencing more in your 2 yrs there in the Peace Corps than most people will experience in their lifetime. We are very proud of you and your giving of yourself to such a noble cause. Love you, miss you and can’t wait for you to come home on Sunday!

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