Dieula and the Black Dolls
Ana María Belique (@abelique), Dominican Republic
The Naranjo Batey community is far from the city, but it’s full of hard-working people brimming with enthusiasm. A girl named Dieula lived there. Even though her parents always told her she was beautiful, she never believed them. Her parents thought she was the most beautiful creature that ever lived, but the child never saw herself as a pretty girl. Dieula thought that if she was really pretty, she should have long blond hair, blue eyes, and skin as light as a doll’s.
“I want to be pretty like the doll I received for the Reyes holiday” she said as she played.
One day a young woman came to the community and gathered all the women together in the community centre. Dieula overheard her mother telling a neighbour that this young woman was going to make dolls. That really piqued her curiosity.
- I want to learn how to make dolls too – she pleaded with her mother, pulling on her skirt. But she was too young to be part of the group, and that made her sad.
Nevertheless, every Saturday, Dieula stood in the doorway or spied through the window to see all the women inside, talking and learning how to make dolls.
- These little balls they’re making don’t look like dolls. They’re ugly and make me scared – Dieula told one of the boys that also looked on with her.
As the women’s work advanced, Dieula thought that these dolls were very black, and they weren’t nice like the ones she saw on television.
She wanted a big doll, with long hair and blue eyes, and hoped that they would soon start making those. But no. They kept on making little ugly black balls that didn’t look like real dolls.
One afternoon, after the teacher gave her instructions, the women started to glue these little balls and little by little the dolls took shape. Then the women sewed colourful outfits for them. Dieula couldn’t see what they were doing very well, but she did notice that the women were very happy and put a lot of effort into their work.
At the end of the class they placed several of the dolls they made on a table for all to see.
That day, Dieula saw something she had never seen before. One of the dolls looked so pretty, just like a princess, even more beautiful than a Barbie. She was surprised because the doll was neither white nor had blue eyes. Up to that day she never thought that a black doll could be so pretty.
- I want to have one of those beautiful dolls, because they’re so nice. I want a black doll like that – she cried out full of emotion. -It’s a pretty and black doll. It’s BE-A-U-TIFUL.
Her mother, who was part of the women’s group, got up out of her seat and called her aside. Dieula jumped in delight when her mother put one of those black dolls in her hands. She hugged it tight to her chest, beaming with happiness.
Since that day, Dieula started to understand that black dolls are also beautiful.
For the first time she felt that her parents were right when they said that she also was. The girl understood that the colour of her skin and hair didn’t make her ugly.
Dieula was as pretty as a black doll. She felt so proud of the colour of her skin that she told her little girlfriends:
- If all these black dolls are so pretty, then all the Black girls are also pretty. We are black dolls.
Muñecas Negras RD is an initiative that aims to empower women and girls from the Bateys of the Dominican Republic. It runs doll-making workshops while engaging the women in discussions on themes related to Blackness, identity, Afro-descendance, and gender issues, among others.
Muñecas Negras RD uses group work methodology that combines theory and practice to promote knowledge and strengthen capacity among Black women.
Racial discrimination is an important element that constantly affects the Afro-descendant population. In the Dominica this is no exception and it’s even more severe among Dominicans of Haitian roots. This is the main reason why we think it’s so important to work holistically on empowerment about identity, self-esteem, and Afro-descendance.
This initiative is a way to encourage debate about how we are empowered actors of our own reality.
Another motivation for this initiative is income generation for its participants, since as women they suffer multiple exclusions (poor, Black, from the Bateys, and stateless) and they face limited possibilities of entering the labour market. Constant questionings about their Dominican nationality, documentation, and personal identity affects them as daughters of Haitian immigrants. In addition, the limited technical skills they’ve been able to develop make access to qualified workspaces even more difficult for women from the Bateys. This initiative thus seeks to provide opportunities for these women to build something way beyond the workplace social boundaries imposed on Black women, so that they can aspire to be more than domestic workers and explore their creativity.
Muñecas Negras grew out of ten years accompanying Dominicans of Haitian descent within the reconoci.do movement, a youth collective that works against racial discrimination, denationalization, and stateless policies in the Dominican Republic.
“Tejedoras de sueños” [Women weaving dreams]
Diana Mar (@mar_indigo_), Oaxaca, Mexico
In the coastal region of Oaxaca weaving has been a legacy of resistance among women for generations. We women are weaving by waist loom the threads of our own histories, struggles and dreams.