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To the Lighthouse

updated, just a few tidbits and rants, really. down in the middle section.

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I couldn’t wear shorts to the movies. My sister could wear shorts; she could were jeans, dresses, even mini-skirts. For the ticket takers, the shorter the shorts the better. She preffered sun-dresses (of the missionary type), but every once in a while she would wear shorts just to spite me. It was law and on more than one occasion I was turned away for inappropriate attire. Like booger flicking legislation in Alabama, the bobbing of a pedagogue’s hair in Arkansas, the proscription against moustachioed men kissing women in public, etc, etc, ad nauseum, this particular sumptuary law (and I realize that two of these have nothing to do with clothing) was a hold-over from earlier days. Specifically, days when the Dominican Republic languished under the dictator Trujillo… a dictator who would arrest men for not wearing their suit jacket while driving in airconditionless automobiles through the hot, tropical city he had renamed Ciudad Trujillo. After all, the law states that professional men should wear a suit… and a suit is jacket and pants… and everyone knows where a country ends up if the rule of law isn’t followed!

His party specifically trumpeted rectitud (despite his constant philandering, torturing, and stealing of choice land from others), liberty (despite his opressive regime of torture), and work (in fact, under him, a trembling middle class of bureaucrats was created). Another of his slogans was Dios y Trujillo.

There are two dictators to whom United Statsian lore has attached the phrase: He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch. Roosevelt of Somoza, (though some versions say it was Truman) and Cordell Hull, the Nobel Peace prize recipient, of Trujillo. In a way it doesn’t matter of whom it was said (they both were sons of bitches) nor who said it (this has been the attitude towards Bannana Republics). For the truth of the matter; that, apparently, it might’ve never been said by anyone person, but simply was rumbling through Washington like a tumbleweed.. More importantly, perhaps, it doesn’t matter if it was said or not or about whom it was said because this little bit of lore has passed over from hearsay into truth. Nicaraguans (and I have known many), Dominicans (and I have known many), and many other Latin Americans from every part of the Southern lattitudes (and I have known many) believe a version of this story to be God’s truth.

But this post isn’t about him, nor about U.S. foriegn policy, nor about believing myths (which despite being fictions, or at least being unattributable, are true)... instead it’s about Joaquín Balaguer, one of Trujillo’s protogees, who was the geriatric president of the Dominican Republic while we were there.

All my commie school teachers, who came of age during a time of pinko headiness in Latin America (most would’ve been 5th graders in ‘59 or ‘61 and would’ve been in college during ‘73 and out of college in ‘79), hated Balaguer. He had, in fact, been “president” from ‘65 to ‘78, during which time he deployed La Banda Colorada, a death squad, that in 1970 alone was responsible for 186 political deaths and 30 disappearances. Coincidentally enough, he became president during the LBJ Marine occupation of the countury in 1965. That makes three tyrants in this post (four if you count the deposed president) who were put into power by the Marines. (No wonder Dominicans and Nicaraguans are so good at baseball… we won’t talk about Cubans and Batista.) (Who said preemptive containment and occupation doesn’t work… the D.R. never went commie, neither did Chile, despite both having lawfully elected socialist presidents? Did somebody say something about the rule of law and the sovereignty of the people?)

Still, his return to power in 1986 was a moment of reconciliation and repentance. This was the moment for him to make ammends for the wrongs of his past. He did not, it should be known, make ammends for the Rio Massacre, where Trujillo slaughtered 17-30,000 Haitians because of the color of their skin. Instead, he instituted a policy of mass deportation, despite the fact that Domincan economy depended on Haitian migrant labor. No one else is desperate enough to slave away cutting sugar cane all day long.

To celebrate the Columbian Quincentenary, he reached all the way back to 1929… make that 1852 (but still, really 1929).

In 1852, Antonio Del Monte y Tejada, a renowned Dominican historian, had the bright idea of erecting a lighthouse to Columbus. Something that would commemorate his daring to sail the interminable western sea… to penetrate and puncture the Columns of Hercules, which proudly proclaimed the terminus of the orbis terrarum, land’s end.
there… you can see them, right in the middle of the straight of gibralter

In 1929, the president, whose presidency “General” Trujillo took over in a coup (both had been trained as members of the National Guard by the US Marines—the hope was that a strong National Guard would ensure peace and stability), decided to make good on a promise that an ambassador of his had made a few years earlier in a PanAm meeting to hold an architectural contest for lighthouse designs to honor Columbus. 1,926 applications poured in from 48 different countries. 591 from the U.S. alone. Of these, only 445 completed entries were submitted. Joseph L. Gleave, an architecture student from the U.K., won the contest—his was a masterpiece of light, they said at the time. Sadly, he died in 1965, well before the ground was even broken.

stamp commemorating the event, with one of the drawings

It really is a magnificent structure and beautiful, at least at night.

I remember the first night it came on. The entire city of Santo Domingo was in one of its very normal black outs. Hot, heavy clouds sat over the island and most of the city was sitting outside drinking lemonade or other more adult libations (cut, processed, and fermented by Hatians). We did not, at first, see the light. We were busy talking and none of us had looked up. Instead, it was a sister of the church who lived around the block. In an asthmatic fit of excitement, she called us up and wheezed into the phone: ¡ay hermanos! ¡Cristo viene, Cristo viene!.

Indeed, And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in clouds with much power and glory. (Mark 13:26)

 

Comments

I like these Latin [American] history posts. Do you find it easier to connect yourself to LA political history than to United Statsian? Perhaps it’s because my own politics were so muted growing up (and are even still today), but personally, I find it difficult to imagine political history as my history too, although it’s certainly mine as much as my own peculiar memories are mine.

will answer, but i gotta get ready for class…

i hope i didn’t ruin the subtle, or not so subtle, connections to current politics with my added rant.

Not ruined at all, although I’m admittedly thick in the early evenings and may not be a good judge—several too many 5th grade essays will do that. We don’t talk much about immigration policy around here…

i’ve got some crazy notions regarding immigration… but this month’s atlantic monthly has a nice 2 page essay on it… their site seems to be down, but once it’s back up, i’ll link to it.

i’ve now posted the immigration essay