Without Any Words In It

Graffiti artist Carlos Jesus Martinez Dominguez is Dominican and Puerto Rican, but doesn’t want to be called “Latino” or “Hispanic.” The visual artist uses his work to express what he calls a propagandist sense of self-pride by declaring an identity that isn’t centered around Europe and those who colonized his island heritage. What may seem offensive even to his own people— as he calls out colonizers and Latinxs who follow in their footsteps by oppressing their own— is a man questioning his place in the world through a visual medium to provoke conversations and change.

In recent years, in an effort to "socially cleanse" its population, generations of Dominican-born descendants of Haitian immigrants are being deported from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The constitutional court found an exception that negated citizenship of these descendants born after 1929, leaving 100,000-500,000 Haitian-Dominicans in limbo. Despite requests for copies of official documentation, many at risk are being denied; only those in possession of passports-- a mere fraction-- are being granted residency. Reports of police trucks sweeping neighborhoods with high Haitian-Dominican populations for people with darker skin and "Haitian facial features." This sets a dangerous precedent which allows the government to lawfully eject natural-born citizens who are perceived as being The Other through racial profiling and other biases. After the deadline for Haitian-Dominicans to self-deport, the minimal press this issue received mostly died down as Haitian-Dominicans must survive a new world where they have no cultural ties.

One of his works, “Confederate Dominicans: Dominicans Celebrating the 1844 Independence Reminds Me of Southerners Romanticizing the Confederacy” points out the hypocrisy of one marginalized population oppressing another, more marginalized population because of their skin color, calling attention to that fact that anyone, no matter their ethnicity, can participate in white supremacy. In his neighborhood of Washington Heights in Manhattan, a heavily Dominican-populated area, displaying his works incites shock and anger from his own people, but Dominguez says that this is what he strives to do: get people to understand how racism perpetuates itself, and that the marginalized mimicking oppressors will not bring them power.

Street art is the voice of the people, and Dominguez creates art that is accessible for those for whom visiting museums is expensive and impractical. As an arts educator, Dominguez reaches out to students by teaching them to think critically about the world around them, embracing unconventional methods to help at-risk kids from dropping out of school as he did. By teaching our countries’ real history, a history that isn’t Eurocentric and one that instills pride in people of color, through art the marginalized can come closer to freedom.

See more from NYXT partner Harlem One Stop.

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