HuffPost: A Creative Outpour Inspired by a Massacre

 

Author Julia Alvarez at the first Border of Lights vigil. Photo © 2012 by Tony Savino.

Author Julia Alvarez at the first Border of Lights vigil. Photo © 2012 by Tony Savino.

As Haiti and the Dominican Republic clean up from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, this week commemorates another tragedy: the Parsley Massacre, an ethnic cleansing in early October 1937 on the border of the two islands sharing the island of Hispaniola.

In my first book, Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola, I wrote about how Dominican soldiers are said to have asked people on the border to pronounce the Spanish word for parsley; if they had trouble trilling the “r,” they were killed.

Rita Dove’s poem, entitled Parsley in reference to that story, powerfully evokes the massacre.

The tragedy has produced other powerful works of literature, film, and creativity.

Farming of Bones is the Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat’s novel of star-crossed lovers set against the backdrop of the massacre.

More recently, the Dominican-American poet and novelist Julia Alvarez published A Wedding in Haiti, a memoir of her friendship with a young Haitian man named Piti.

I met Julia in 1999 after my publisher sent her an advance copy of Why the Cocks Fight. She sent me a lovely note with a hand-made card with a photograph of a cockfight on the front, beginning a long friendship between two authors who hold a certain island dear in their hearts.

A few years later, Julia and talked over lunch about how sad it was that there had been no “truth commission” or other formal recognition of the victims and survivors of the massacre. We talked about how wonderful it would be to hold a candlelight vigil at the border in their honor. This was before the Internet could bring people together the way it does today, and life (as it has a habit of doing) got in the way of turning the idea into reality.

But in 2011, after the death far too soon of the Dominican-Haitian activist Sonia Pierre, a group of young Dominican- and Haitian-Americans approached us about reviving the idea of a border vigil to both honor Sonia’s memory and memorialize the massacre.

Thus was born Border of Lights, an arts collective driven by rising new voices from the diaspora, that launched in 2012 in the weeks leading up to the 75th anniversary of the massacre. Border of Lights convened performances ofmonologues from the perspectives of victims, survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders, and collected personal narratives that are still hosted on its website.

Border of Lights will hold a Global Vigil this Saturday, October 8, from 8-10pm Eastern Time, with a real time Facebook Q&A about the historical legacy and the way it has played into today’s issues. Border of Lights invites friends around the world to post photos of themselves with candles or other lights to its Facebookand Twitter accounts with the hashtag #BeLights.

From October 7-9, Border of Lights volunteers and partners will hold a vigil on the actual border and clean up after the storm. They also will screen a new film, Death by a Thousand Cuts, a powerful tale of how border tensions play out in a life and death drama over deforestation and the illicit charcoal trade from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The film premiered at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival in May.

The annual vigil, which celebrates the positive elements of the two countries’ relationship, continues even after tensions rose to new heights after a 2013 Dominican high court decision revoking the citizenship of many Dominicans of Haitian descent, and the exodus that followed after the government began enforcing it in 2015. The Dominican government revoked an award it had given to Dominican-American author Junot Diaz because he, like many other writers, artists, and scholars, had spoken out against its harsh policies.

The massacre and its modern-day legacy also have informed scholarship on the fraught relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

In The Tears of Hispaniola: Haitian and Dominican Diaspora Memory, the Cuban-American scholar Lucia Suarez shows how the writing of diaspora Dominicans and Haitians has shed new light on both the past and present tensions. She ties their work to the historical record by drawing as well on texts like human rights reports.

Two new books published in 2016 by a new generation of Dominican-American scholars add new insights to the long-running issues of race, nationalism, and violence.

Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nation, and Archives of Contradiction, by the Harvard scholar Lorgia Garcia Pena, comes out in November.

Edward Paulino, a historian at John Jay College and a co-founder of Border of Lights, published Dividing Hispaniola: The Dominican Republic’s Border Campaign against Haiti, 1930-1961 in January.

Together, these works serve to recognize the memory of the victims and survivors of the massacre, and to work toward the hope that such an atrocity is never repeated. At a time when racist and nationalist speech is enjoying a resurgence around the world, this creative outpouring is more important than ever -both on the island of Hispaniola and everywhere that hatred raises its ugly head.

Originally published at The Huffington Post.

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LinkedIn Editor’s Pick: From Black Swans to Gray Rhinos

LinkedIn Black Swan Gray Rhino

September 2, 2016

The European Union has known since the creation of the euro that the currency was bound for trouble if did not create workable ways to adjust for the wide differences among its national economies. Yet well into its second decade, its failure to do so threatens the currency’s future. The deadly defects in ignition switches and airbags at General Motors and Takata, and the emissions test fixing at Volkswagen were hardly a secret inside the companies, which covered them up instead of correcting them. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change caused by human activity, temperatures keep rising, with this July marking the hottest month ever recorded.

The reasons are different in each case, but the pattern is the same: humans consistently fail to respond to looming dangers, at astronomical costs in lives, money, reputation, and lost opportunities. Once you start looking at how many crises began with clear but essentially ignored warning signals, it becomes strikingly clear how often we miss opportunities to head off predictable problems.

Too many people take for granted that we cannot react in time to change the course of the disasters even when they are right in front of us. It’s well past time to challenge this assumption.

READ MORE, COMMENT AND SHARE ON LINKEDIN

Seeking Alpha: The Top Gray Rhinos of 2016

safe_imagePredictions may be imperfect, but we do have tools at hand to help us think about what developments are most likely to sideswipe our plans. Every year, analysts compile lists of top risks for investors and policy makers.

Combined and filtered, they make for a strong comprehensive list of gray rhinos that provides a wider, balanced, global view of the year’s top risks than any individual ranking can on its own.

Most of these lists appear in the first quarter. In the months since, the momentous Brexit vote, conclusion of the U.S. primary season, and evolving economic picture make it worth revisiting them as the summer winds up and markets head into the typically volatile last part of the year.

My August 11th article on Seeking Alpha lists the Top Five Gray Rhinos of 2016 in order of importance, based on the frequency and rank of their mentions earlier in the year. I’ve updated each with my view on how the outlook has evolved over the course of the year.

Read the full article on Seeking Alpha

Gray Rhinos and Glass Cliffs

Prime Minister Theresa May in Great Britain and CEO Marissa Mayer at Yahoo are two examples of women brought in to lead in extremely trying circumstances. It’s no more a coincidence that a country and company in turmoil both looked to women to lead than it is that a last-ditch “Hail Mary Pass” effort involves a prayer to a woman. But if companies and governments brought in women earlier, to both boards and leadership positions, they likely would do a much better job avoiding probable but neglected gray rhino crises. Waiting until it may be too late misses key opportunities to handle gray rhinos before they charge. Read my perspective at the Women’s Media Center.

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HuffPost: Trump – RINO or Gray Rhino?

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The failure of a final doomed attempt to prevent Donald Trump from securing the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland has brought to a close the first stage of the presidential race: a campaign defined above all by how bad humans are at recognizing and dealing with obvious problems right in front of them.

Many of Trump’s foes within the GOP have complained that Donald Trump is a RINO (Republican in Name Only), who does not hew to conservative principles. That may be true, but he’s not just a RINO. He’s a classic example of what I call a gray rhino: a big, obvious threat that we are all too likely to neglect or outright ignore until it’s too late.

The Republican presidential candidate’s inflammatory statements and encouragement of bullying have left many Americans terrified over what’s happening to our democracy. World leaders have compared him to Hitler and Mussolini and called him everything from an idiot to a demagogue to a threat to peace.

Some pundits have described the loose-tongued business mogul’s initial popularity as an outlier black swan event, referring to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s 2007 book about the unpredictable events that can sideswipe us. But once enough people recognize that something can happen, by definition it is no longer a black swan.

Unlike the highly improbable black swan seen only in hindsight, gray rhinos are obvious risks that all too often are poorly (if at all) addressed until they are charging straight at you. Unlike the elephant in the room, gray rhinos move fast. Crucially, they give us a choice: act or get trampled.

Trump’s campaign has tapped into an entire crash (the zoologically correct term, appropriately enough) of gray rhinos: a polarized, paralyzed government; a breakdown in democracy and civil discourse; dramatic changes in the labor market; the increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few; and, as might be expected, rising social and political unrest. Both white working-class voters and minority populations feel neglected and disrespected.

Basic civility, compromise and constructive engagement have fallen to the wayside, replaced by bullying, insults, race-baiting, and candidates comparing the size of their you-know-whats. Too many Americans feel that they lack the power to change things for the better. Some have dropped out of the political process altogether. Others are drawn, like moths to a flame, to strong-arm leadership and revolution, reminiscent of Latin American caudillismo, with no evidence of concrete plans to keep their promises.

Trump’s takeover of the GOP is a classic example of how the five stages of a gray rhino unfold, from denial to muddling to diagnosing to panic to action. Understanding these stages can help to understand how to face a threat staring us in the face.

Early denial of the idea that Trump could become the GOP presidential nominee was more than understandable in the summer of 2015. But as he gained momentum over the fall, denial quickly ceded to muddling: recognition that the problem existed, but failure to diagnose the problem or present a solution, much less act decisively.

By Fall 2015, Republican campaign strategists were worried enough that they drew up a “ProtectUSA” plan to stop him. But no donors took them up on it. In February, Republican governors met to talk about how to prevent the increasingly real possibility of a Trump nomination. In March, they laid out a 100-day plan to derail his campaign. In April, Ted Cruz and John Kasich announced a plan to cooperate against Trump. But it was all too little, too late.

When his last rival dropped out and Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, the political establishment entered the fourth stage of a Gray Rhino crisis: full blown panic. Panic ought to create the impulse to action. In this case, the action the party chose was to let itself be trampled.

We’re at a new inflection point, for both the GOP and the general public.

The GOP will have to decide if the party can be rebuilt. Trump’s GOP does not seem to be ready to deal seriously with the issues that created his fan base, nor with cross-cutting fault lines within it: between those who believe the party can only survive if it is more inclusive and those who want to bring it back to the 1950s but without the optimism; and between those who believe in more trickle-down policy for the one percent and those who are sincere in their believe in growth and entrepreneurialism.

By choosing a smaller tent and utterly refusing to act presidential, Trump may be his own gray rhino.

For its part, the Democratic Party has a choice of how to deal with Trump between now and November. To stop Trump, it must face head on the obvious but neglected issues that helped to create him.

The first challenge is to avoid the GOP’s first pitfall: denial. Surely America could not possibly elect as president a bully who insults Muslims, Mexicans, women, and disabled people; who has dragged the campaign rhetoric to a high school level; and who has told so many flat-out lies and half-truths that Politifact has called his accumulated statements its 2015 Lie of the Year?

Yet millions of voters across the United States have supported him. The website Five Thirty Eight puts the odds of a Trump win at about one in three. Recall that the odds of a Brexit were just 17 percent only months before 52 percent of British voters chose to leave the European Union. A Trump win is not impossible.

Hillary Clinton is hardly muddling or complacent in the face of Trump, out-fundraising him and making it hard to ignore his less attractive traits. The Democratic Party’s full strategy will become more apparent at its upcoming national convention.

Trump may come with a silver (or is it faux gold?) lining by giving America the shake-up that it needs. Indeed, his candidacy itself has sparked a sense of urgency and soul-searching, if not yet full-blown panic, that suggests the Democrats are more likely than the GOP to act successfully than capitulate.

But even if there were no Trump, America’s underlying gray rhinos would still be there. Unless Americans succeed in addressing those issues, we will be flattened, whether by Trump or otherwise.

Originally published at Huffington Post