Field of Study
Latin American History
Racing the Empire: Gender, Race and the Contours of Imperial Control in the Dominican Occupation, 1916-1924
Dissertation DescriptionMy dissertation project critically examines the gendered and racialized nature of imperial rule during the 1916-1924 United States occupation of the Dominican Republic. It is my hypothesis that Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961) and elite policy makers, played off an array of anti-Haitian commonalities existing prior to the U.S. intervention but made more acute during it, situating Dominicans in a perceived inferior position above Haitians in the context of the island’s occupation. The paternalistic character of U.S. imperialism, vis-à-vis the Marine-run government, institutionalized spasmodic anti-Haitian sentiment into a bifurcated, yet ranked process creating two distinct nations modeled closely after the United States. As the U.S. military attempted to construct a reflective paradigm of modernity and progress in the Dominican Republic, Haiti served as a cultural counterpoint to the Dominican project.
While much has been written on the period of Trujillo and the Haitian Massacre (1937), scholars have reflected very little on the era immediately preceding the rise of Trujillo. I argue that the military occupation marked the formative years for Trujillo and that in order to understand his particular nationalist trajectory, one in which racial hierarchies and patriarchy nurtured the roots of his approach to nation building, the culture of U.S. military control must be analyzed. However, Trujillo was not simply a byproduct of imperialism. The historic complexities of Haitian-Dominican relations provide an important piece to this puzzle, as do the political and social developments of the United States military in Haiti from 1915-1934. Moreover, Trujillo’s actions and the geo-political calculations of lawmakers grounded in race, characterized an international trajectory of shifting forms of imperial domination, and state sponsored violence, culminating with the atrocities of WWII. The Dominican case serves as an under-explored yet additional testament to the ubiquity of racialized nation making in the first half of the twentieth century.