Yesterday after class our group headed off for a last-minute excursion to Dajabón which is an area that sits right on the border of the DR and Haiti. We crammed into the gua-gua (bus) and went on our merry way blasting some music, taking some naps, and giggling about how sweaty we were. I was able to read 2 articles on the Massacre of 1937 on the way there to learn more about the reasons we were going to Dajabón.

Here’s what I understand from the massacre: in 1937 the dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo ordered dominicans to kill as many haitians as they could on the dominican side of the border.There are many different hypotheses to why Trujillo ordered his men to go through with a mass-murder but from what I understand, Trujillo was threatened by the amount of haitians that were on his side of the border decided that he wanted to “whiten” or “cleanse” his side of haitians.

The massacre is referred to as the Parsley Massacre because in order to determine whether a person was truly haitian, Trujillo made his men ask everyone they saw to say the word Parsley (Perejil) in spanish. By the way the person pronounced perejil, the soldier was able to tell if a person was dominican or haitian. Haitians speak creole and french and generally cannot trill their r’s like dominicans can. This way of determining race resulted in the demise of up to 20,000 haitians in 5 days. The haitians were killed at the border with machetes and knives to make it seem like they were killed by farmers who were mad at the haitians for stealing livestock. There were many ways Trujillo tried to cover up this horrific massacre. If one of his soldiers was lucky enough to have been given a gun, he was ordered to bring back an ear of every haitian he killed with it to keep tabs on how much ammunition was being used in relation to how effective it was. Soon the river between Haiti and the DR flowed red with blood and it is known as the Massacre River to this day. Many dominicans have never even heard of the Parsley Massacre because it is such a taboo subject and there is still lingering racism towards haitians in the DR.

The event that we participated in was called Border of Lights where we began at a park where we met passionate people, filled out postcards with what we knew about the massacre, and then had a discussion to better understand what happened. From there, we went to a church service specifically celebrating peace which was our first connection with the haitians. Across the border, haitians were celebrating the same mass in creole-connecting us in spirit. After the service, we were given a prayer sheet, a white daisy, and a candle. Soon the flames were being spread and everyone was ready to walk from the church to the border with their candles. When we made it to the border, I was astounded at how beautiful it was with a couple hundred candles lit as a symbol of peace.

Just across the border, I could see a flicker of the river and soon after flickers of candles being held by haitians in solidarity with us. Immediately, chills soared through my body and I couldn’t help but smile. It was pitch black across the border with the exception of those candles, uniting us in peace. Three white balloons were let go at the beginning of the ceremony and floated to the other side of the border, we all threw our white daisies over the border into the river, and people shouted, “we love you!” in french to the haitians and they shouted back. Soon, the whole border fence was covered in lit candles and it made for a truly memorable experience.

Being able to be a part of the vigil was something I could have only dreamed of. Seeing so many people stand in solidarity to remember the violation of human rights and to have hope for peace in the future was incredible. I am so blessed to have been given the opportunity to stand up for the dignity of the haitians and to bring them the justice they deserve.

Hannah Loppnow is studying abroad in Santiago, Dominican Republic, with CIEE.