By Jack McLaughlin
Arts & Features Editor
The “Historians of Color” speaker series welcomed René Cordero to discuss Dominican youth politics at the Heineman Ecumenical Center Oct. 4. “Historians of Color” is a series sponsored by the History Department and the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE).
History Professor Stefan Papaioannou introduced Cordero through a brief overview of his many accomplishments. Cordero is an assistant professor at John Jay College, CUNY, and recently earned his Ph.D. from Brown University.
Once introduced, Cordero began his discussion by offering an overview of the type of research he does, which is focused on the global 1960s and Afro Latin American studies, which he described as “an emerging field within Afro Latin American history.”
He continued by explaining his hopes are for attendees to be convinced of the Dominican’s importance in the “studies of political contestations” during the late 20th century.
Cordero described the Dominican’s political context of the Cold War era as being trapped in a “purgatory condition.”
He defined this as being “chained to analytical dictates of external events and forces that have left it outside of meaningful historic radical conversations.”
Cordero cited the U.S. involvement in the 1965 Dominican Civil War that followed this as one of the defining features of this mindset.
He also mentioned that racially the country has been affected by the anti-Asian and anti-Black discourse, while socially it has been affected by “the male-dominated histories of the left.”
Cordero described to the audience the idea of “trans scalar historic” approach, which he describes as the ability “to understand all of these moving parts - one must attend to how the global, national, and the local interweave with one another to forge a unique political culture.”
At the center of this research, Cordero introduced attendees to the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD).
He described how the school is the primary public university of the country, and that it experienced a shift in the 20th century that steered away from its origins of a school built on Spanish colonialism.
“It transformed itself into a space of political and social culturalization for the student masses,” Cordero said.
Cordero then spoke on how the political and economic relationship between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic allowed for the rise of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.
Trujillo was responsible for the genocide of Haitian and Haitian-Dominican border residents in 1937, which is recognized as the beginning of targeted racism toward Afro Dominicans, Cordero said.
He then discussed how the U.S. intervention in the country’s civil war in 1965 led to a dramatic transition for the UASD. He said statistics showed that from 1965 to 1974, the university grew to almost 25,000 students and female enrollment increased by 747%.
The rise in desire for education led to the university’s entrance exam to be challenged by young people who did not have access to a proper education.
“The result was a struggle that further radicalized students and forced them to think about organizing the [revolution] around access to education,” Cordero said.
The rapid emergence of the UASD caused the U.S. State Department to become highly interested in the school. Cordero revealed that there were over 100 entries of memos and confidential communication among officials about the school’s growth in the 1960s.
“It was pulling the Dominican Republic into a left-leaning popular direction,” he said.
Cordero told the audience about a former student activist of UASD that told him in the early 1960s it was possible to graduate from the university without learning of the history of slavery in the country.
He added this was blamed primarily on the inherently racist historiography of the country, which resulted in the distorted views on their history.
Cordero wrapped up the presentation with a reflection on the UASD’s importance in transforming the Dominican Republic in the 1960s as a result of the civil war.
“Examining the history of the [UASD’s] rise during the 20th century, the Dominican Republic pries open a set of questions and observations of the relationship between race, empire, and authoritarianism,” he said.