Journalist and budding documentarian Dash Harris explores the shades of identity and racism in her documentary series Negro, currently in production. The New York-based Panamanian, raised partially in the States and in Panama, studied broadcast journalism and business at Temple University in Philadelphia before heading to the Big Apple and a job in TV news. She left that all behind this summer for a three-week trip to Colombia and the Dominican Republic, where she filmed the first part of her self-financed documentary. Eat your heart out, Henry Louis Gates.
I asked Dash about her motivation behind the series:
I am a very proud Latina. I am proud of the different roots that comprise us all. Growing up my parents instilled that pride and that was because we embraced all facets of who we are. I remember my mother saying to me you have big eyes, big nose, big lips and I think you are so beautiful. Sadly, sometimes, those same things are looked on as ugly. Negro: A Docu-Series about Latino Identity tackles a lot of where these ideas stem from. European colonization, oppression and supremacy can be found the world over and why a lot of these issues are global. The Latino ethnicity is comprised of African, European and Indigenous influences. Unfortunately, many times the African aspect is denied, stifled or falsely made as if it is not part when it is in fact an integral part of our very music, food, religion, traditions and customs.
Part of what drew me to Dash’s documentary – aside from the very subject of the film – is my own personal experience as a black American who has lived in both the Dominican Republic and Colombia, and who has had to deal with foolishness from various points on the color spectrum. I’ve been to a batey (a community of marginalized Haitians living in the DR, usually operated by a sugar company) and spoken with brothers and sisters who were terrorized during Trujillo’s American-backed regime. I’ve danced the mapalé as a school Carnival king in Colombia. What’s always drawn me to Latin America is the pervasiveness of black culture in the overall cultural matrix of the region, unlike in the United States, where we’ve been more thoroughly relegated to our own space. Dash plugs into the shared culture that enthralls me and the ingrained self-hatred that infuriates me.
And the story’s not done. You can help send Dash to Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Cuba to complete Negro by making a donation through her GoFundMe page. Let’s uplift this sister, folk.
Recently screened at the Havana Film Festival New York, the 12-minute short film, Hispaniola, tackles Haitian-Dominican relations on the Caribbean’s second-largest island.
Director Freddy Vargas shows us how childhood friendships can be marred by issues of race, class, and nationality as we watch a rich, light-skinned Dominican kid befriend the son of Haitian migrant workers living illegally across the street. The opening sequence underscores the misinformation taught to Dominicans about their historical ties with Haiti (the Haitians freed the entire island from European colonial rule and liberated the slaves on both the French and Spanish sides), and alludes to the legacy of former U.S.-backed Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ensured that education in the country minimized any references to African heritage.
My only criticism of the film would be that the obvious phenotypic differences between the characters in the movie don’t speak to the complexities that arise when Dominicans of my own skin color (or darker) behave with the same rancor and hatred toward Haitians (or even very dark-skinned Dominicans). And believe me, I love my Dominicanos, but when it comes to the race issue, sometimes I be havin to let ‘em know.
Best line comes from the little rich kid when he goes over to see his friend in spite of his jackass dad and tells him, “We’re still friends and we’re going to play baseball, okay?” with all the verve of a knowing Caribbean uncle. A mi mencant’el acento’minicano, sabeh?