Every year one piece of fiction or non-fiction literary work is chosen by the humanities division of College of the Canyons. This year it was the “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”
Students participated in a series of events this spring, promoting the book which was written by Junot Diaz. His novel is based on of his own experiences growing up in the Dominican Republic and the reign of Dictator Rafael Trujillo—who is said to be responsible for the slaughter of 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians in October 1937.
“For some months, I have traveled and traversed the border in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, ‘I will fix this,’ said Trujillo during a speech at Dominican Republic’s capital, Dajabon, on Oct. 2, 1937. “And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Bánica. This remedy will continue.”
This massacre is better known to Americans as the Parsley Massacre, or El Corte ‘the cutting’ to Dominicans. For five days, thousands of Haitian people were killed by Dominican troops with the use of guns, machetes, clubs and knives.
The way Trujillo had his soldiers decide whether someone deserved to live was by the simple pronunciation of the word parsley, or “el perejil.” Dominican soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley and ask “what is this?” If the person pronounced the word correctly, they were assumed to speak Spanish fluently and not to be Haitian. Considering the Haitian language is a mix of both French and Haitian Creole, these people had the most difficult time pronouncing the Spanish word with the correct sounds of the Spanish trill.
Earlier last week, French professor Pierre Etienne paid a special visit to students to discuss Diaz’s first novel. He enjoyed the book so much; he has read it three times. Etienne also lived in the Dominican Republic for nine years and praised its rich culture which continues to thrive today.
The Dominican Republic is most known for its vibrant music, Merengue. The traditional rhythm of Merengue is “two steps forward, one step back,” which is exactly the pace Diaz wrote his novel at. Etienne described it as “narrative Merengue.”
However, it was Trujillo who has been said to popularize the Merengue music. Therefore, many people associate the colorful music with the massacre.
“I knew I’d lose people with the approach, but I was going to lose people anyway. That’s the nature of fiction: despite our lofty claims of universality, no piece of art is for everyone which is why we have so much art, so that everyone has a chance of finding something that moves them,” Diaz told the New Yorker online earlier this year.
“I’m a product of a fragmented world. Take a brief look at Dominican or Caribbean history and you’ll see that the structure of the book is more in keeping with the reality of this history than with its most popular myth: that of unity and continuity. In my mind the book was supposed to take the shape of an archipelago; it was supposed to be a textual Caribbean. Shattered and yet somehow holding together, somehow incredibly vibrant and compelling,” Diaz said in an interview with Meghan O’Rourke of the online site Slate, a division of the Washington Post.
Diaz has received many awards and recognition for his work including the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize.