December 5, 2013 / 12:47 AM / 5 years ago

Prize-winning Dominican author in war of words over migrant court ruling

SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz said a letter from Dominican authors and intellectuals questioning his loyalty to his country of birth was “a ham-fisted attempt to silence” his criticism of a controversial court ruling on birthright citizenship.

Diaz and three other authors have come under attack in the Dominican Republic after they published a letter in the New York Times that criticized a September decision by the country’s constitutional court that stripped Dominican citizenship from children of illegal immigrants, most of whom are descendants of Haitians.

“Such appalling racism is a continuation of a history of constant abuse, including the infamous Dominican massacre, under the dictator Rafael Trujillo, of an estimated 20,000 Haitians in five days in October 1937,” the Times letter said.

The letter drew a response from eight Dominican cultural figures, who, in an open letter published by media outlets in the country, suggested Diaz was adding to a “disinformation campaign aimed at curtailing our sovereignty.”

They went on to criticize Diaz’s literary style, saying he had “little capacity for reflection and a disrespectful and mediocre use of the written word.”

Diaz, who in early December returned from a trip to the Caribbean country, told Reuters in emails that “sectors of the society in favor of this ruling seem convinced that dissension is not a healthy part of a democratic society.”

The dustup comes amid continued international pressure for the Dominican government to walk back the court ruling, which will remove Dominican citizenship from tens of thousands of people born in the country dating back to 1929.

Some 245,000 Dominican-born first-generation children of immigrants live in the country, according to a government survey released earlier this year. Officials say only a fraction of that group will be affected by the ruling.

Civic groups have warned of a potential human rights crisis, although the government said it has put a plan in place to allow those affected to apply for naturalization and has no plans to deport anyone, for now.

A delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arrived this week to investigate the potential impact of the ruling and to hear from those affected.

Members of the Dominican diaspora living in the United States have criticized the ruling, organizing demonstrations in various U.S. cities and signing on to a letter asking the U.S. government to intervene.

Diaz, who immigrated to the United States in 1974 as a child, won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2008 for “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” His 2012 collection of short stories, “This is How You Lose Her,” was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Diaz lives in New York and is a creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Diaz became one of the most prominent voices of the Dominican-American population due to the critical and commercial successes of “Oscar Wao” and two collections of short stories. About 1.5 million Dominicans live in the United States, which makes it the fifth-largest Latino group in the country, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center.

Diaz’s work focuses on the lives of Dominicans in the United States, which has left him acutely aware of the plight of Haitians and their descendants in the Dominican Republic.

Editing by David Adams and Lisa Shumaker

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