Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


History (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Kate Ramsey

Second Committee Member

Ashli White

Third Committee Member

Edward Elena

Fourth Committee Member

Samuel Martinez


This dissertation integrates archival, ethnographic, and oral-historical research to investigate the intertwined histories of the Dominican sugar industry and Haitian immigrant communities in the Dominican Republic. Over the first half of the twentieth century the Dominican economy became increasingly dependent on Haitian labor to cut sugarcane, and at the same time government policies became more anti-Haitian. During the thirty-year dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican state worked to recruit what they assumed would be a male and temporary Haitian workforce. Trujillo developed an extensive legal apparatus to surveil the country’s population, enabling state officials to segregate Haitians on sugar plantations and treat bateyes as effectively denationalized spaces. However, this work examines how both male and female migrants built permanent Haitian-Dominican communities and asserted their right to citizenship by transforming the space of the plantation over generations. They appropriated company land and buildings to create homes, raise families, keep livestock, and cultivate food staples. In so doing they formed peasant settlements and demanded protections similar to those afforded to communities outside of the plantation. What is more, they used the very forms of documentation through which Trujillo sought to segregate Haitian migrants as legal avenues to claim Dominican citizenship. Imputing racial “otherness” to this population, Trujillo’s successor Joaquín Balaguer worked to revoke the citizenship rights of Haitian-Dominicans, leading to the growth of statelessness on plantations in the 1970s and 80s. Despite increasing isolation, residents used a spectrum of political tools to demand that those in power respect rights they deemed inalienable. In doing so they envisioned, and enacted, a reality that challenged the way company and state officials viewed the space of the plantation. By combining situated ethnography with in-depth archival research, this work is able to closely analyze how translocal forces, like large-scale migration, corporate monoculture, and state-sanctioned racism, were negotiated locally. This dissertation contributes to scholarship on Latin America and the Caribbean by analyzing the complex intersections between plantation agriculture, migration, and citizenship. Across the region, elites used the isolated landscapes of export enclaves to segregate “racially undesirable” communities from full citizenship rights. Concurrently, plantation residents created alternative forms of citizenship that emphasized their own definitions of cultural and economic freedom. In addition, this dissertation investigates the growing global problem of statelessness, and how one community has contented with this condition over the course of the twentieth century. Finally, it provides important analysis of the fraught intersections between race and birthright citizenship in the Americas.


Dominican Republic; Haiti; migration; sugar plantations; citizenship