Hispaniola – quite the little melting pot!

Friday, May 5, 2006
The last time (February 15th) we were on the subject we more or less took the story of visitors to our island of Hispaniola up to one of those black-historical points in human history: the near extermination of the Taíno Indians which then leaves us to cover just the last 500 years or so.
By a clear margin the most famous of all visitors since that time is Christopher Columbus (whose name by the way in Spanish is not quite so famously known by English speakers to be Cristobal Colon). For such a prestigious visitor you would expect it to have been the all-expenses paid trip that it was but not such an obvious thing back in 1492. He was of course the first white man here and by default the first non-Indian visitor and the first ever person to come with a return trip-ticket. His all-inclusive ticket, along with many of the other paradise-seekers who came at that time, was paid for by the Spanish crown and it was the Spanish themselves who abruptly changed this style of paradise-seeking visitor when they started bringing in slaves from Africa who clearly had no hope of any kind of return ticket and were disgracefully brought in for no other reason than to replace those badly decimated Taíno Indians as laborers.
After that the next identifiable group of arrivals, in any significant numbers, was the French who took advantage of the Spanish being distracted by their insatiable search for greater wealth in other parts of South America. The French concentrated on the north and west of the island thereby explaining the current division between French-speaking Haiti and Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. Interspersed in the early years the English too had their own style of visits with their particular specialty being pirate trips also usually all-inclusive. Most notable of all was that of Sir Francis Drake who just a little along the coast from us very successfully held Santo Domingo to ransom in 1586. By the end of the 19th century both Haiti and the Dominican Republic had established themselves as fully fledged republics even if it came with the usual bubbling turmoil you get between neighbors and visits, at least to this side of the border, both from Haiti and overseas have continued apace in one form or another ever since that time.
For example quite a sprinkling of Chinese can be found here including an up and coming Chinatown in Santo Domingo – as of writing an arch-type entrance way is being constructed, funded by Chinese businesses, at the intersection of Avenida’s Duarte and Mexico to designate the area. The Chinese began arriving from other Caribbean islands together with even greater numbers of other natives seeking regular work and opportunities from the 19th century onwards. Considerable numbers of Americans arrived in the early part of that century to set up plantations as many of the Europeans had done in the previous centuries and then the US army made its first visit in 1903, they certainly must have liked it because they came again in 1916 and stayed for a full eight years. They came again in 1965 but moved on much more quickly this time for they were gone by the following year.
Arabs formed the nucleus of another group of visitors, mainly Lebanese with lesser numbers of Palestinians and Syrians who first started arriving towards the end of the nineteenth century and continued to come and stay through the following century. A visit to one of the principal shopping areas in Santo Domingo, namely Avenida Duarte, reveals names on shop hoardings here and there directly reflecting this, one of the most familiar being the large department store under Lebanese-descended ownership: Plaza Lama.
A peek back to the last century shows that the most notable single groups with, at least, intentions to settle entered the country from the 1930s onwards. Many founded agricultural colonies that unfortunately very often didn’t work out as planned but of these groups there can still be found legacies of their presence here. Among the groups were German Jews (1930s), Japanese (after World War II), and Hungarians and Spaniards (both in the 1950s). Then more Chinese came from Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1970s and 1980s actually making them second only to Haitians in numbers settling in the country.
Nowadays we have visitors all the year round of course and from all around the world, the majority of which return home tanned and relaxed, some choose to stay on and become ex-pats like ourselves and perhaps still the largest group who come in search of their own paradise or at least to escape the ravages of that desperately unstable seemingly impossible to govern neighbor of ours Haiti.

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