The Dominican Republic is not a country that CSMS Magazine usually covers, although it shares with Haiti the island of Hispaniola. The long and tumultuous history of the two republics have had a repressed effect on many Haitians, especially on those living outside of Haiti. But today, we’re glad to have a dazzling story from the DR to report. It is the story of Deisy Toussaint, a Dominican journalist of Haitian origin. Deisy’s story is the story of bittersweet remembrances and un-flinching hope.
Still at the spring of her life, her trajectory in this world, sometimes cruel, is one that has the power to shake the deepest end of one’s heart. Twenty-five years ago, in the fall of 1989, November to be precise, Deisy suffered an attack of catalepsy. “The stethoscope of the hospital confirmed my “Death…..just when I was scheduled to be buried (5:00 pm), I opened my eyes from inside of my own coffin. Thanks to God and to the tenacity of my mother, today I can share this story with you. Life gave me a second chance to meet, to forget, to remember, to love, to lose, to win… and above all, to enjoy the pleasure of literature—the literature of the world that it has been created in our whim.”
As a writer, Deisy Toussaint is also a poet, and she belongs to the literary group “Storytellers Litervolución Santo Domingo.” Her short story “The Letter” won second place in the competition at the “Workshop participants’ 2011. In 2014, her story “Gasps” won 3rd place of the same competition organized by the Ministry of Culture of the Dominican Republic. Deisy Toussaint is a prolific writer, her texts were published in anthologies “The bottom of the iceberg”, “Woman in a nutshell”, “Collective Suspicion” and the French digital anthology “Lectures de la République Dominicaine, auteurs dominicains du XXIe Siegle” with the story “La lettre”.
Some of her fiction stories can be found in Miniature Digital Magazine (Spain), Strokes Magazine (USA), and others have been selected for other magazines like Caribbean Voices (USA). Her gut-wrenching testimony ”The deaths of Deisy Toussaint” was featured in Afro-Hispanic Review.
In the DR, her articles have been able to find their way in mainstream newspapers such as Hoy Digital, Listin Diario, Accent and Digo.do Rep. Dom. Last week, our chief editor, Dr. Ardain Isma, had the privilege to hold a conversation with Deisy from her home in Sosua, a suburban town on the DR’s northern coast near the city of Puerto Plata. The interview was conducted in French…
AI: Good morning, Deisy. It’s a pleasure to have you here at CSMS Magazine. First of all, can you please tell us about your origin?
DT: With only 5 months into her pregnancy, my mother gave birth to a baby girl she named Deisy in the morning of April 20th, 1987, in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). I came into this world to the surprise of everyone present. They thought I would not survive for being so premature. I am the daughter of Ana Rose Toussaint (Haiti), Ramon De Jesus Castro (Dominican Republic) and the fifth of eight siblings.
AI: I know you are a writer. Can you please share with our readers the circumstances that led to Deisy Toussaint becoming a writer?
DT: I started writing at the age of 11, with no narrative technique. Then in 2010 I met a group of young writers and joined the literary workshop Litervolución. Months later, I joined the Storytellers Workshop of Santo Domingo, and later with some techniques and the desire to publish my childhood experiences, I was inspired to write my first story: The Letter with which I won an award in the same year. Currently I am part of Thursday Literary Group Sosúa (on the northern coast of the island) and I continue to write literature and journalism. My stories have been published in anthologies like Dominican Women, the Bottom of the Iceberg, Suspicion Collective and digital magazines like Miniature (Spain) science fiction, horror and fantasy, Afro-Hispanic Review (USA), and Strokes (USA). Some were translated into French in the digital anthology Lectures Nouvelles et République Dominicaine microrécits dominicains auteurs du siècle XXIe (France). I’m also a contributor to newspapers such as the Dominican Today, Listin Diario, Accent and Digo.do
AI: I know you’ve already published a book on the life of Toussaint Louverture. How was the reception? How was it received in the literary community of your country?
DT: It is not yet published. It is a novel that I just wrote in collaboration with another writer / historian, but we do not know who the publisher will be, or in what the country it might be published.
AI: Why is that?
DT: Because I’m almost certain that no Dominican publisher will publish a book that relates to so highly to Toussaint Louverture, knowing the negative sentiment boiling against Haiti in the DR.
AI: What is its genre? Biographical? Historical, depicting the life of Toussaint?
DT: It is a historical novel where fiction and history mix to draw the parallel between the events of today and the life of Toussaint Louverture.
AI: I know your lineal descent has historical proportion, because you are descended from the same bloodline of Toussaint Louverture, but you are Dominican. How do you explain this awkward dualism?
DT: Through migration nationalities change, from one generation to another. My father is Dominican, but my mother is Haitian, and according to her family tree, she is the great-granddaughter of TL.
DT: She always tell us of her childhood, but it was always in Spanish. In my household, we never learned to speak Creole because my mother stayed away from her culture. We were never exposed to the Haitian culture. Maybe it was a way to protect us on this side of the island where we were born, of perhaps she unconsciously thought to be Haitian would have made us more vulnerable. She is from Cap Haitien, and since 1977 she’s been living in the DR.
AI: They always speak about horrible treatments Haitians living in the DR face almost daily. You’re a young black women with a French name. How do you survive in an environment quite hostile to Haitians and their children?
DT: In the DR, the level of xenophobia and classism is high and has been more blatant in recent years, especially with the decision of the Constitutional Court that issued a judgment without nationality 168-13, leaving hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent in a legal limbo. The rejection of the” haitiano” has left a dangerous mark in the minds of many Dominicans, either because Haiti held this side of the island and made it a dictatorship or because of the fact Haiti has a lot of poverty, hunger, despair, etc. Being Haitian or being of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic makes you an easy target of abuses and discriminations.
AI: Have you ever felt victim of your name and of discriminations?
DT: I never felt discriminated against because of my last name. On the contrary, being a Toussaint gave me a unique opportunity to be admired by many, especially in my history classes where Toussaint appeared as liberator and excellent strategist. But in 2011, the course of my life took a dramatic turn. Because my name was ”afrancesado” or Frenchified/French-like, they began to question my nationality.
AI: Are you a university student? Which one?
DT: I studied journalism at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD).
AI: I read your story for the first time in the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. It was a story related to your ordeal trying to obtain a Dominican passport. Did you finally get your passport?
DT: I spent 2 and a half years waiting for the authorities to deliver my passport. Nothing happened. Then I took my story public. I started writing articles, reports, giving out interviews… Finally my father, who lives on the island of San Martin, came to the country to add his name into my documents. My case was resolved.
AI: Do you know many young Dominicans who have been through this same experience? Is there any Haitian-Dominican association in the DR?
DT: I know hundreds of people who are living in the same situation. People who cannot go to school, cannot work, cannot open up a bank account, or may not have health insurance because their documents were taken away arbitrarily by a racist decision—decision 168-13 of the Constitutional Court ruling. In 2014, international pressure on the Dominican government forced it to look for an exit of this situation and a new law 169-14 was issued, supposedly ordering the return of the documents which were held by the Central Electoral Board and Passport. This law, however, has not been enforced in its entirety because even today hundreds of people continue to live in a state of legal limbo.
AI: I’ve noticed as Dominican, you are also Francophone, but not Creolophone. Where did you learn French? Why not Creole?
DT: Although my mother is Haitian, in my house, we never spoke Creole. We did not practice Catholicism. I still do not know Haiti for the reasons I referred to above. My brothers and sisters and I never had the opportunity to live in the proximity of the Haitian culture. However, a few years ago I became interested in my roots. I wanted to learn more about the reality of the other side of the island. Somehow I’ve become concerned. I learned French at the French Alliance of Santo Domingo, and among other things I’m now able to read francophone authors in their original language.
AI: Let’s go back to your literary talent. Do you have any intention of having French translations for your novels? Have you ever thought of traveling abroad? Perhaps, traveling to Canada, USA, in order to meet your Haitian and Dominican brothers born in the immigration like you so that you can share your experiences with them?
DT: Like I said, my short stories have been translated in French, but I love the new novel, especially because it involves both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, including the United States. For the moment, however, it is only in Spanish. I dream of traveling abroad, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, and if I have to “suffer” from the nostalgia immigrants usually have to undergo as a price for the new experience, that will be okay.
AI: Do you have some advice you would like to give to young folks who hope to someday become a writer like you?
DT: If you want to be a writer, write. We all have stories to tell. Regardless your style of writing, you need to read and read a lot.
AI: Do you know any of the Haitian writers? If yes, which one is your favorite?
DT: I know Edwidge Danticat and I love her writing.
AI: Who is your favorite Dominican novelist? Why?
DT: Juan Bosch, he’s more like a historian than a novelist; but he’s an excellent narrator as someone who knew how to capture the reality of the Dominican countryside, the drama and the misery of the people who live there.
AI: Do you have any new Project? A novel?
DT: For now, my main project is the novel that I just co-wrote. I plan on subjecting it to a contest or to directly find a publisher who would be interested in the subject.
AI: Deisy, as our conversation reaches its end, do you have a last word for the readers of CSMS Magazine?
DT: I would say thank you for your support to the Haitian-Dominican cause. Believe in yourself. Do not let anyone rob you of your dreams, your projects … your life. And when something is wrong, do not keep silent because there are people across the world waiting to hear your alarm. If we are silent, we will never be able to eradicate injustices from this earth. We will all be “annihilated” and be buried in our tombs along with our unspoken words.
AI: Deisy, we could spend the whole night chatting. As you know, however, all good things must come to an end. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. À bientôt!
DT: À bientôt aussi! The pleasure was also mine.
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