December 4, 2019, Seibo, Dominican Republic – The plight of displaced farmers from Seibo, in the western part of the Dominican Republic, has drawn the solidarity and advocacy of Dominican Sisters and Friars from both the Dominican Republic and the United States.
About three years ago, the farmers were displaced from their homes and land with the arrival of a sugar corporation. “Every day the media brought news of the mistreatments [the farmers] had suffered at the hands of the landowner, who with his economic power and influence had evicted them from, and destroyed their plantations,” said Adrian Dominican Sister Luisa Campos, OP, a native of the Dominican Republic who ministers at Centro Antonio Montesino in Santo Domingo. She added that 12-year-old Carlos Rojas Peguero was killed during conflicts over the land.
On October 25, 2019, nearly 40 displaced farmers began a march to the capital to meet with Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina Sánchez about regaining their land. At this point, Sister Luisa said, the collaboration of the Dominican family came to the fore, led by the Dominican Missionaries of the Rosary Sisters.
“The Sisters opened their Provincial House to house the group of farmers, who were evicted during the night from a space in front of the National Palace,” Sister Luisa explained. “They had been camped [in front of the National Palace] since their arrival from Seibo in an attempt to meet with the president.”
Sister Luisa has also been working with the displaced farmers. “I have been accompanying in solidarity the farmers of Seibo – supporting them, talking with them, being aware of their needs,” she said.
In the meantime, other members of the Dominican family advocated for the farmers. Father Ricardo Guardado, OP, Dominican Justice Promoter for Latin America, sent a letter to President Medina on behalf of the International Conference of Dominicans of Latin America and the Caribbean (CIDALC), and Father Michael Deeb, OP, a Dominican at the United Nations, also wrote to President Medina.
In her letter to the president, Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, noted that members of the Dominican Order are “alarmed and saddened by the confiscation of [the farmers’] lands and their displacement.” She advocated for the farmers of Seibo, as well as for those from the areas of Culebra and Vicentillo.
“As president of this beautiful country, you have the power to find a solution that returns the lands to their people and preserves the common good,” Sister Patricia wrote. “We pray that you will hear their cries and respond positively to their requests, recognizing them as the rightful owners of the disputed properties and restoring their dignity and respect.”
The advocacy appears to have had an effect. President Medina met with the farmers several times in November. Sister Luisa said that the next step is a census in Seibo of “all the people who were established on those lands and who were evicted so the property could be made available.”
Sister Luisa said the farmers who had traveled to the capital had returned to their land to be part of the census. “Those of us who are involved will be observing the process with the hope that these families can return and be able to live in peace and cultivate their land,” Sister Luisa said.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters have had a presence in the Dominican Republic since 1945 when they established Colegio Santo Domingo, a school for girls that has, since 1973, served under the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo. Currently, six Adrian Dominican Sisters and more than 20 Associates serve in the Dominican Republic in areas such as education, health care, and social justice.
Read more about the experience of the farmers of being evicted from their land and of their journey to the capital to speak to President Medina.
November 19, 2019, Chicago – Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP, was one of more than 34,000 people to become United States citizens in mid-September during 316 Naturalization Ceremonies nationwide in celebration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. She participated in the Naturalization Ceremony at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Field Office in Chicago.
“People were in tears,” Sister Xiomara recalled. “I saw a lot of gratefulness and a lot of accomplishment. For me, it was a commitment.”
Sister Xiomara met the Adrian Dominican Sisters in her home country, the Dominican Republic, and was an Adrian Dominican Associate for three years before she entered the Congregation in 2008. At that time, she had her own fashion design business. She now ministers as a chaplain at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.
Deciding to become a U.S. citizen was a “discernment,” Sister Xiomara said. She had been a resident of the United States for seven years – that was two years beyond her eligibility for citizenship. “For some reason I was comfortable being a resident.”
“Not many people have the blessing and privilege of going to the next step” of citizenship, Sister Xiomara said. “It was a long process,” Sister Xiomara recalled. “The Congregation had to send a letter saying I’m part of the Congregation and a resident in good faith ... and also proof of work, that I was working full-time and was an asset to this country.”
Sister Xiomara had her fingerprints and picture taken in January and was given information on the test she would take in August. “I had to memorize 100 questions – a lot of history of the United States.” She studied for the test while driving, with the help of a CD and an app. “I could recite every answer,” she said. She received word right after taking the test that she had passed and waited to learn the date of the Naturalization Ceremony.
Sister Xiomara recalled the kindness she received from immigration officials during the process of becoming a citizen. “They greeted me with so much dignity and respect,” she said. “It was a very good experience.”
Being a citizen makes it easier for her to travel overseas, Sister Xiomara said. Before, she had to apply for a special visa every time she traveled to Europe. “If you are a North American citizen, you don’t need a visa for so many places,” she added.
But Sister Xiomara sees an even greater advantage to being a U.S. citizen. “Being a citizen gives me a chance to have a full voice in this country.” She recalled being hesitant to speak out as a resident. “Now I have a voice for the voiceless who don’t have a pathway to citizenship,” she said. “I’m praying so hard and consistently so the [immigrants] don’t have to be afraid any more. This is my hope and my dream.”
“I feel a part of all of you – all of my Sisters who are native citizens,” Sister Xiomara added. “We are united for justice, for peace, and for reverence of life. I see more power to do this now as a citizen.”