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Sonia Pierre: In Memory of Sonia

Sergia Galván

This article is part of the Heroes of Social Inclusion series from the Spring 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly. View the full list of heroes here.

Sonia Pierre was born in the sugar town of Batey Lecheria in the shadow of the Catarey Sugar Mill, in Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic. Her mother, Carmen Pierre, was a Haitian immigrant who, like many of her Haitian sisters, worked in the sugar fields.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama presenting Sonia Pierre with the 2010 International Women of Courage Award. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Even when she was young, Sonia spoke out against discrimination, social exclusion and the routine violation of human rights that afflicted those of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic. In 1982, she joined the Dominican-Haitian Cultural Center (CCDH), where she began to lobby for the needs and rights of Haitian-Dominican women—eventually founding the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA) which she led until her death on December 4, 2011.

I met Sonia in 1982, a year before the creation of MUDHA. She helped me understand the dynamics of racism and xenophobia, and I like to believe that I contributed to her quest for understanding the subordination of women.

She was a pioneer in organizing women who lived in the bateyes (the company towns for sugar workers) and in fighting for the citizenship of people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic.

She left behind a community that now understands the need for profound judicial reform to protect the rights of Haitian-descendant Dominican people, and the need to align immigration policies to international human rights standards.

I admired Sonia for being a Dominican woman who was proud of her heritage in a country that too often discriminates against Haitians, and for speaking up on their behalf.

She refused to let the pronunciation of the word “perejil” (parsley) to be used as a tool of social exclusion, the way former President Rafael Trujillo’s soldiers would determine if someone was Haitian by the way they pronounced it. She fiercely defended her Dominicanness, in all its complexity.

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