For Dominicans around the world, Dominican Independence Day is traditionally a time of celebration and festivities. But as immigration and technology have shifted the way people understand our local and global stories, alongside the rise of ethnic and decolonial studies, we have begun to question the conquistadorial narratives of our histories.
When is the real Dominican Independence Day? Is there just one day? Why is the separation from the first Black nation so fervently celebrated but not the one from Spanish colonization? What does it mean to celebrate independence? And why are so few people educated on the important series of events that comprise our independence history?
From brutal European colonization to traumatic American invasions stretching through the 1900s, here’s our breakdown of the important dates that have led to the Dominican Republic’s independence. And from this, you’ll hopefully see why we’re rethinking when independence day should actually be celebrated.
If you’re more interested in Dominican cultural traditions, you can scroll ahead to read how we traditionally celebrate independence day in the Dominican Republic and New York City.
Five Times the Dominican Republic Had to Gain Independence
1. Independence From Spain in 1822 & Abolishment of Slavery
The end of Spanish rule in the Dominican Republic is intrinsically tied to the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). For thirteen years, Haitian revolutionaries fought the most powerful colonial armies of the time and gained their independence from France. Haiti became the first free Black nation in the Americas, and to this day remains the only successful slave revolt in modern history.
After Haiti’s independence, black and mixed-race populations in the Dominican Republic (Spanish Santo Domingo), launched rebellions seeking to overthrow colonial rule. On December 1, 1821, Dominicans finally declared themselves independent of Spain, with the former general in charge of the colony, José Nuñez de Cáceres, declaring the country the independent “Spanish Haiti.” White and mulatto plantation owners, wishing to retain the system of slavery, sought to have the country annexed to Gran Colombia.
However, on February 9, 1822, Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer marched into Santo Domingo, ended slavery in the Dominican Republic, and unified the island. The island of Hispaniola became a beacon of resistance, revolution, and Blackness in the Atlantic world.
Fun fact: Black and mixed-race people on the Spanish side of the island (now the Dominican Republic) also contributed to the Haitian revolutionary struggle. For example, cattle ranchers on the Spanish-speaking side of the island provided meat and supplies to Haitian troops.
2. The Separation From Haiti in 1844
During the Haitian Revolution and through its early decades as an independent country, Haiti was aware of its precarious position as the first and only country in the entire Americas to have abolished slavery. Neither the neighboring countries nor European powers liked that. It threatened them. So part of President Boyer’s motivation in bringing together both sides of the island was to safeguard against another European invasion.
Boyer continued policies that enabled Black and mixed Dominicans to acquire positions of power in government. Such policies angered white Dominican elites who felt their power slipping away. To make matters worse, Haiti was forced to pay France a $28 billion USD freedom penalty, or face an economic embargo and continued threats of European invasion. This penalty crippled the island and forced Boyer to implement austere economic policies on the entire island.
White Dominican elites used all of that to further their propaganda against Haiti and propel the separation of the island. But BIPOC Dominicans were overwhelmingly wary of this separation from Haiti, fearing re-enslavement.
On February 27, 1844, one hundred Dominican men gathered in the Puerta del Conde (the main entrance to the capital city of Santo Domingo) and forced the Haitian army from the city, raised a Dominican flag, and claimed themselves separated from Haiti.
Among Dominicans at the time, this was called the “la separación” not an independence. So technically, this could be celebrated as the day that we officially became a country with a name, flag, and constitution. It was another step in a series of major events that finally led to our full self-autonomous and sovereign independence. Let’s continue to the next step.
Fun fact: Juan Pablo Duarte organized the secret society called la Trinitaria, which led to separation efforts from Haiti. Duarte, along with Matías Ramón Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez, are considered the Dominican founding fathers because they were critical to the 1844 separation from Haiti.
3. The War of Restoration in 1865
Juan Pablo Duarte envisioned a progressive Dominican Republic that protected all races of people. This vision was not shared by wealthy landowners like Pedro Santana, who in 1845 exiled the entire Duarte family from the island (before them, Juan Puablo Duarte was exiled in 1843). It turned out that Black Dominicans were right to mistrust the actions of white Dominican elites.
Here’s the kicker, then, Pedro Santana became president and literally gave the country back to Spain and legalized slavery once again! A race war erupted. Spain sent thousands of troops and warships only to be defeated by Dominican and Haitian troops.
Finally, by 1865, the Dominican Republic regained independence from Spain, and slavery was abolished again. One of the revolutionary leaders in this struggle was Gregorio Luperon.
So why isn’t this our day of independence?
Fun fact: After the Haitian Revolution, Haiti enacted several policies to ensure that no one in the country could become enslaved once again. It was a legitimate fear, and now you can see why! Look at how slavery was reenacted, and Spain recolonized the Dominican Republic.
4. United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic (1916-1924)
The United States’ political and economic power today was in large part shaped by its consecutive invasions of Latin America. President Theodore Roosevelt’s addition to the Monroe Doctrine served as justification for the U.S. to assume the role of “regional policeman”. The desire to maintain economic control of the region, the facade of “civilizing” other countries, and the race to beat European powers, led to the 1916 U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic. The Americans remained in the country until 1924.
Dominicans and Haitians resisted these American invasions. Mostly peasant guerilla fighters in the rural portions of the Dominican Republic fought back, as did activists and intellectuals in the cities. Latin American countries protested against the U.S. invasion, and a United States Senate investigation detailed U.S. Marine abuse against Dominicans. The guerilla war, foreign protest, and low support back in the U.S. finally led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops by 1924.
This U.S. invasion impacted modern-day Dominican culture. For instance, baseball became the national pastime instead of cockfighting, and Afro-Dominican traditions such as voodoo and palo were declared illegal. The Americans also left long-lasting traumatic legacies of disenfranchisement, state repression, and anti-Blackness.
But one of the most detrimental effects of this American invasion? The U.S. trained and helped to install the notorious dictator Rafael Trujillo. One of the most brutal dictators in Latin American history who launched the massacre of an estimated 20,000 Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans. This highlights, how much of today’s borders are often the violently crafted products of U.S. imperialism and European colonization.
Not-so-fun fact: In 1915, the U.S. also invaded Haiti and remained in the country until 1934. Read more about it here.
Not-so-fun fact 2: These invasions also led to the rise of Haitian peasants crossing into the Dominican Republic for work in the U.S.-controlled, Dominican sugar industry.
5. Second United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic (1965-1966)
This one is a fresh wound. Many of our grandparents can vividly recount the events of this tragic invasion, which brutally undermined our democratic sovereignty.
In May 1961, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo was assassinated. The efforts of students, labor activists, and political organizers led to one of the first free elections in modern Dominican history. In 1962, Dominican writer and political activist Juan Bosch became president of the Dominican Republic! At the heart of Bosch’s presidency were Dominicans advocating for land reform, increased secular educational opportunities, the right to organize without the fear of state repression, labor protections, and better economic opportunities for campesinos.
But this progressive agenda caused fear among military leaders, elite conservative families, and the still powerful Catholic Church, fearing that their power, much of which they cultivated during the Trujillo regime, was coming to an end. These three sectors of the Dominican populace combined to overthrow Bosch, falsely accusing him of Communism. By September 1963, a military coup removed Bosch from the Presidential Palace.
Dominicans consistently resisted the military coup. On April 25, 1965, a group of military defectors entered the Presidential Palace and overthrew the military regime. They reinstated the 1963 Constitution passed under the Bosch presidency. Thousands of Dominicans marched into the streets of Santo Domingo to support this movement.
So what happened next? On April 28, 1965, the United States military invaded the Dominican Republic. Again! President Lyndon B. Johnson used the pretext of saving American lives and preventing another Cuban Revolution to justify this invasion.
This U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic triggered a civil war, which in the words of scholars Raj Chetty and Amaury Rodriguez, “gave birth to a far left-wing counterculture that continues to this day.” Despite that demographic being silenced, exiled, and murdered by U.S.-backed dictators for decades.
The U.S. remained in the country until June 1966, when Trujillo’s right-hand man, Joaquín Balaguer, became another dictator president of the Dominican Republic. He would rule through 1996 (1960 to 1962, 1966 to 1978, and 1986 to 1996).
Having another dictator, was yet another major detriment of the U.S. invasion. Joaquín Balaguer would notoriously launch a “dirty war” against Dominican activists, educators, students, journalists, etc. Thousand of Dominicans were killed or disappeared during Balaguer’s infamous “doce años.” This persecution led to the massive rise of Dominican immigration to the United States. The creation of the Dominican diaspora community in the United States today is intimately tied to this history of revolution, resistance, and U.S. invasion.
Bonus fact: President Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic based on FALSE “evidence” of communist activity in the country. And he admitted regretting his decision to invade. You can hear the tapes here.
Dominican Independence Day Today FAQ
All the above events are critical to fully understanding our Dominican independence, history, Black resistance, abolition, and the effects of colonial/imperial invasions. But unfortunately, most of these details are not common knowledge.
Who Do Dominicans Currently Celebrate Independence From?
Out of all five major events recapitulated above, the Dominican government decided to designate their official day of independence from Haiti. Yikes.
Many argue that it is correct to be February 27, 1844, because that is when the flag and constitution of the Dominican Republic were officially “created.” Even though back then, it was not recognized as an independence struggle, but as a separation from Haiti.
Why Do We Celebrate the Separation From Haiti Instead of Liberation from Colonial Powers for Independence Day?
Black Dominicans and Dominicans of color have consistently fought against colonization, slavery, and U.S. imperialism. Unfortunately, those powers and white supremacist propaganda still have a stronghold on the way education is taught. All of this, coupled with poverty, the legacies of trauma, and poor access to education further these revisionist narratives. Thus, today, “the fear of Haitian invasion” and anti-Black propaganda is still utilized by racist conservative politicians two hundred years later.
Should We Rethink February 27 as the Official Dominican Day of Independence?
As we learn more about the past and question modern power structures, perhaps the question that we should be asking ourselves is what does it mean to celebrate independence? If independence is meant to celebrate the end of colonial rule, then February 27th fails to capture the entirety of the Dominican independence struggle.
If Independence Day should celebrate the time when all of the peoples of a nation became free including the struggle it took to acquire that freedom, then that day should be the War of Restoration, right?
But what about the end of American rule over the country? How will Dominicans remember the struggles of U.S. invasion and their long-lasting disruptions on Dominican history? In the Dominican Republic, shockingly, these two invasions are rarely ever discussed. The trauma of these events, combined with political repression and immigration, makes it difficult to unpack what really happened. There are still families today that are searching for answers regarding family members that disappeared during the Trujillo and Balaguer dictatorships. These histories are still being written.
Is Independence from Spanish Colonization Celebrated at All?
August 16th is a public holiday in the Dominican Republic, commemorating the War of Restoration (Dia de la Restauracion), which ended Spanish colonization in the country for the last time. It is also the date that the new Dominican president is sworn into office.
August is a month for celebrations for Dominicans both in and out of the Dominican Republic. The end of August usually brings about a flurry of Dominican day parades, loud music, and family celebrations in Dominican diaspora communities around the world.
But it’s not acknowledged as a Day of Independence and is nowhere nearly as celebrated or recognized as February 27th.
Dominican Independence Day Traditional Celebrations
So how is Dominican Independence Day celebrated? Well, the entire month of February is the Dominican Republic’s carnival month with weekly festivities around the country. Throughout the month, you see parades of people marching down the streets, playing music, and people dressed in carnival characters like the diablo cojuelo. All these carnivals culminate and end with the largest celebration on February 27th, the government-recognized Independence Day. You can find the biggest parades and street parties in Santo Domingo and in La Vega. Dominican children will also dress up in traditional outfits and complete school projects on Dominican history, Dominican foohttps://www.dominicanabroad.com/dominican-foods-dishes-drinks-cuisine/d, and culture.
In the diaspora, Dominican Day parades are often held in August. One of the most famous ones is the Dominican Day Parade held in Washington Heights. However, as Dominican communities outside of New York have expanded, parades and festivals are now also held in places like Boston, Allentown, and even in Spain!
We like to think that today’s “Dominican Independence Day” is also a day of academic debate and cultural reflection. Especially as more and more Dominicans are questioning whether it’s February 27th that should be recognized as the country’s official day of independence. What do you think?
Should our official day of independence be with the end of the War of Restoration of 1865? Or the very first time we gained our independence from Spain was in 1822? Or… The time we created a constitution and flag in 1845? And should we also add a day of Imperial Independence? Or are we not there, yet?
- Are Dominicans Black? Understanding Blackness in the Dominican Republic
- Anne Eller, We Dream Together: Dominican Independence, Haiti and the Fight for Caribbean Freedom.
- Lorgia Garcia Peña, The Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nation, and Archives of Contradiction.
- Lorgia Garcia Peña, One Hundred Years After the Occupation.
- Quisqueya Lora, La conquista olvidada. La abolicion de la esclavitud y su importancia para la historia dominicana.
- Raj Chetty and Amuary Rodriguez, The Challenge and Dilemma of Dominican Black Studies.
- 40 years later, U.S. invasion still haunts Dominican Republic
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- Santiago’s Centro Leon Cultural Center & Museum
- Dominican Slang: Old and New Terms
About the WRITER: GENESIS LARA
Dr. Génesis Lara, Ph.D. is a scholar and writer. She received her undergraduate degree in History from the University of Florida and her Ph.D. in Caribbean history, with a focus on Afro-Latinx studies, from the University of California, Davis.
About the Editor: Gerry Isabelle
Gerry is Dominican Abroad’s founder, editorial director, and head content creator.
Passionate about cultural heritage preservation, she launched the popular Dominican Heritage Tours to connect Dominicans of the global diaspora back to their roots in the Dominican Republic.
Dominican Abroad also provides educational travel, culture, and lifestyle guides. We believe in intentional and informed travel experiences. That means that we practice being mindful of local cultures and traditions so that our readers travel with knowledge and respect.