Things have calmed down a bit since Dominican-Haitian tensions reached a boiling point early last year, but there are still a lot of difficult conversations to be had in the wake of the DR’s ethically suspect Haitian deportation law. And while DR’s loud and unapologetically nationalist pundits continue to rail blindly against any sign of Haitianness on their side of the island, there are plenty of Dominicans both on the island and in the diaspora who are opening an important space for dialogue and cross-cultural understanding.

Yelaine Rodriguez is one young voice coming out of the Bronx and Uptown Manhattan’s vibrant Dominican Yol cultural scene. A graduate of Parson’s BFA program in fashion design, Rodriguez has focused her hybrid work around explorations of Dominican identity in all its complexity; but her biggest splash on the New York scene has undoubtedly been as the curator behind the La Lucha art exhibition series, which brings together Dominican and Haitian artists in a space of critical reflection.

Photo from Yelaine Rodriguez’s “El Matrimonio Quisqueyano” fashion photography series.

In fact, the first edition of La Lucha, subtitled “Quisqueya & Haiti, One Island”, was well ahead of the curve when it hit Washington Height’s Rio Penthouse Gallery back in 2015, and the ambitious project brought together a total of 27 artists in partnership with Haiti Cultural Exchange. Since then, Yelaine has followed up with several more events that have continued to push the conversation while inspiring vocal protests from stateside Dominican nationalists.

But, as Yelaine herself told NY1 late last year, “If they protest you, that means that you’re doing your job, because at least they’re thinking about the subject.” And indeed, rather than offering up some anti-patriotic criticism, as her own critics claim, Yelaine is inviting members of both communities to remember that the narrative around Dominican-Haitian relations hasn’t always been about “hatred and separation.”

Indeed, rather than taking sides on a contentious political issue, Yelaine’s work as a curator and artist is about finding a place of mutual respect and common humanity, laying the cultural groundwork for true dialogue and transformational change.

H/T The Creators Project