|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 44 - Wednesday June 11, 2003
| Dominica and the Dominican Republic |
The recent repatriation by the authorities in St Marten of 15 Nationals of the Dominican Republic, 10 Haitians, and one Venezuelan to Dominica, would have made for a good laugh if the implications of this actions were not so downright serious.
This episode points immediately to some key issues, which we should concern ourselves with. Firstly, there continues to be persistent confusion by many with the two separate and distinct countries of the Dominican Republic and Dominica.
Secondly, Dominica continues to serve as a major transit point for persons facing economic problems in their own countries, and wishing to migrate to the French Islands, St. Marten, and even the United States and Canada.
Lax immigration laws as well as steady abuses of Dominica’s Citizenship program account for the current state of affairs. Urgent attention must be paid to addressing this situation. Failure to immediately redress the situation could lead to hundreds of English speaking Dominicans residing in St. Marten, see their livelihood interrupted if the authorities there decide to indiscriminately crack down on Dominicans.
The average Dominican trying to introduce his country usually starts like this: “ I am from Dominica, not the Dominican Republic...”. Dominica has the distinct misfortune of having a similar name to a much larger country to its North. To make matters worse, nationals of both countries are referred to as Dominicans.
On his first voyage in 1492, Columbus stumbled upon the country and called it Hispaniola (Little Spain). Years later, the French occupied the western third of Hispaniola and in 1804 it was recognized by Spain as Haiti. The rest of Hispaniola was by then referred to as Santo Domingo. In 1844 that part was granted independence from Spain and became known as the Dominican Republic.
Dominica on the other hand was first named by Columbus in 1493, more than 350 years before the Dominican Republic was named. However, with almost 9 million people to Dominica’s 70,000, the Dominican Republic has come to dominate people’s view of geography and even history where the two countries are concerned.
In the past, the confusion with the name mainly resulted in mail destined for English Dominica going to Spanish Dominican Republic, and English Dominicans continually correcting the geography of others.
I also recall about a year ago receiving a call from an English Dominican breathlessly recounting that he had just heard over the news that a planeload of over two hundred Dominicans were killed in an airline leaving out of JFK and if I happen to know any of the victims.
These occurrences one could generally live with. In the majority of cases the mail would eventually get to Dominica, and one normally gets a great sense of satisfaction in delivering a geography lesson on just where the two countries are situated. Now however the situation is such that this is no laughing matter.
Even as Dominica seeks to expand into the tourism market this name confusion could prove costly. A recent review of a Caribbean Tourism promotion brochure revealed that only one Dominica was listed, the Dominican Republic.
I immediately surmised that whoever was doing the brochure assumed that someone had incorrectly put the name Dominica twice and simply deleted one without a second thought. Recently I met a gentleman who traveled to the Dominican Republic in the mistaken belief that he was traveling to Dominica.
Perhaps all is not lost. Just last week I met a colleague from Italy, as I was about to say Domininica not the Dom.... he stopped me and said “Roseau right”. I was obviously surprised, but he quickly explained that as a kid he memorized all the countries of the world and their capitals, so he knew of the two Dominicas’. However, the average traveler is not that sophisticated.
There is obviously a clear and present danger to our efforts to promote Dominica as a tourism destination as long as this confusion persists. Already, the debate has reignited on the wisdom of changing Dominica’s name to something more unique like “Nature Isle”, “Dominique”, or “Waitikubuli” (the Carib Indians name for the island). Those promoting the name change argue that the unprecedented amount of publicity that would be generated from a name change would clearly offset any negative impact.
Approximately two years ago, a planeload of Chinese arrived in Canada all bearing Dominican passports. The Canadian authorities were immediately suspicious because none of the Chinese spoke a word of English.
This episode more than anything else, led the Canadian authorities to impose visa restrictions on holders of Dominican passports. Up to that point, Dominicans as part of the Commonwealth of Nations could virtually stroll into Canada, now no more.
A casual walk through the streets of Portsmouth will reveal a significant inflow of Spanish speaking Dominicans, the majority of them been women, who between trying to move on to other more prosperous islands, actively engage in activities that some claim keep the men as well as the significant amount of medical students living in that area well entertained.
While the debate rages on, what is perfectly clear is that ways must be found to once and for all clearly make the distinction between the Spanish Dominicans and the English/creole Dominicans. Maybe then these unfortunate Dominicans would not end up in Dominica, and tourist will come to the real Dominica.
The most amazing thing, and maybe the most ironic about all this is the fact that for a country that was never colonized by the Spaniards, although the French and English constantly fought over us, we find that one of our biggest challenges in the modern era is to compete for recognition of a Spanish name with a thoroughly Spanish country one hundred times our size. Maybe it’s time to seriously consider changing the name.