After picking up only one medal in their first 36 years representing at the Olympic Games, the Dominican Republic is finally having a good run. From 2004-2012, the small nation of 10 million medaled in three consecutive games for a total medal count of five – four more than they had won in their entire Olympic history up to that point.
Now, thanks to efforts of a young taekwondo fighter named Luis Pie, Dominicana has continued their medal streak into yet another Olympic Games, with a bronze in the 58kg weight class. But behind the triumph of “Luisito,” there is a much more complex narrative than one of national glory. In fact, as the descendant of Haitian migrants born and raised in DR, Luisito Pie isn’t technically Dominican at all, thanks to last year’s controversial Ley de Naturalización Especial
So when the 22-year-old navy cadet hoisted his beloved flag in the air down in Rio, dedicating his third-place finish unequivocally to his countrymen, the Dominican Republic was left to face the uncomfortable legacy of anti-Haitian sentiment codified in that law.
According to Law 169-14, Luisito and any other descendent of Haitians who settled to the country after 1929 are not automatically guaranteed Dominican citizenship. And indeed, Pie had well-documented difficulties obtaining his passport to participate in this year’s games, receiving his travel documents only after the Dominican sports commission interceded on his behalf.
Yet the third-generation resident of DR has shown nothing but love for his país in the wake of yesterday’s win. “We’re going to keep working to bring more wins to [Dominican Republic]. The country deserves this,” he told CND radio after expressing the deep satisfaction he felt giving Dominicans a moment on the Olympic podium. Yet even with this outpouring of gratitude and patriotic sentiment, some have continued to question his legal status as a Dominican citizen, going so far as to suggest he should have never been sent to the games.
Perhaps it’s no accident, then, that Luisito shares a name with an emblematic character from Dominican literature. In a brief but dense 1942 story by Juan Bosch entitled “Luis Pie”, a Haitian man is the subject of persecution and mob violence after he is arbitrarily blamed for a deadly crop fire.
The moving parable was written as a condemnation of anti-Haitian sentiment in Dominican Republic, making the name Luis Pie synonymous with the thousands of Haitians who suffer silently the abuses of a Dominican elite that profits off of xenophobia and ethnic hatred. But after Rio 2016, perhaps the name will symbolize the feats of the thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent who proudly represent for their homeland on the world’s biggest stages.