This past Saturday Local Buttons and our Pép designs took part in a Symposium on the Island of Hispaniola at York University’s Glendon campus. The event, organized and hosted by six highly motivated, organized, talented and intelligent undergraduate women was titled Transcending the Border. It engaged in dialogues on the challenges of the political, cultural, developmental and social issues on the island of Hispaniola. The all day event was full of intellectuals, artists, students and professionals all looking to engage on topics regarding the Domincan Republic and Haiti. Check out theirwebsite here.
The conference opened with the lovely Alex wearing a Pép vest and giving a SHOUT out to Local Buttons!! The morning remarks were followed by keynote speaker, Todd Kuiack, former York graduate and Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Ambassador Kuiack is an engaging speaker and spoke to the issues of Canada working harmoniously with the Dominican Republic. While, undoubtably knowledgeable on the transactions and engagement between the D.R. and Canada, his speech did air on the side of economic praise and rederic, especially in regards to supporting Canadian mining companies in the D.R.
Panel sessions followed. We sat in on the first discussion with speakers talking on issues of Ethnicity and Citizenship. Melissa Breton, York PhD candidate, spoke to the issues of both the invisible and constructed borders between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As the Dominican government is often unable to control the physical border it relies on immigration law to create borders within. These invisible borders are detrimental to all Haitians living in the Dominican Republic-both with and without legal documentation, as there is an unwillingness to distinguish between the two. Gender dynamics play a significant role and demand a high level of discourse as women are often ignored not only from the dialogue of migrant workers, but also face increased and additional levels of discrimination and lack of legal aid in the Dominican Republic.
Dr. Mendez discussed the additional racial discourse within the Dominican Republic, one that celebrates the ‘white, catholic and Hispanic roots while ignoring the African roots’. As such there is a constructed Antihaitianismo image.Those who fall under this image are often subject to mass deportation and roundups especially following the outbreak of cholera.
While there remain many, many issues in regards to the racial, ethnic and cultural discourses between Haiti and the Dominican, Dr. Mendez spoke of the light at the end of the tunnel-something he was unsure existed just a few years back. Dr. Mendez focused on the importnace of grassroots movements and small changes being made from within to create a greater demand for larger, structural change within the Dominican society. While not directly related to issues in regards to transcending Haitian/Dominican border, we do feel that Pép engages a social awareness and works from a ground level up within Haiti.
Following the first panel, Local Buttons was featured in the expo where we met many others engaged in Haiti the Dominican Republic and Canada . It was such a pleasure to hear people’s enthusiasm for the Pép line. Many were quite engaged by what we are doing and graciously provided their support. We felt truly humbled by the intrigue. After months of working towards a goal it is so nice to be able to present ourselves and have the idea for truly sustainable and ethical clothing in an international context be respected.
Not only that, but we had a number of people ask if they could BUY our vests. We were so excited to have this response! We can not wait until we will be able to fill our first purchase order for a retail store, but also to contact those interested so that we can sell our fist Pép garments directly to the buyer:)
Thank you to the Alex, Alexandra, Tamaisha, Andrée, Kathryn and Shareefah for including us in the conference!
Another blog will follow shortly speaking to the second half of the conference-an acccount that includes an artistic and human element.