Summer 2015 Fellow: Elissa Lister

Elissa Lister


Dr. Elissa Lister is an Associate Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Literature at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá. She completed her Bachelor's degree with a concentration in Philosophy and Letters at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in Santiago, Dominican Republic; a Master's degree in Education at the University of Salamanca in Spain; and finished her doctoral degree in Spanish Philology at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain. We spoke with Dr. Lister about her experience at the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, after she received the 2015 Summer Library Travel Research Award to continue her research on the conflict between Haitians and Dominicans.

Her book Conflicto domínico-haitiano en la literatura caribeña (Dominican-Haitian Conflict in Caribbean Literature), published in 2013, looked at how the conflict between the two countries was represented in the literature of the Caribbean. In it, she compared the works of Haitian writer, Jacques Stephen Alexis; Dominican writer, Ramón Marrero Aristy; Cuban writer, Mayra Montero; and Puerto Rican writer, Ana Lydia Vega. Dr. Lister felt it was important to include writers outside the Dominican and Haitian ethnic scope, in order to avoid such ethnically-fuelled biases;therefore, highlighting their different viewpoints as Caribbean writers. Dr. Lister's work has focused on the production of opinion about the conflict and how it has been treated in academic discourse, "what is said or not said, or in certain matters when you investigate another source you can perceive how the hegemonic speech has distorted and manipulated the issue."

In her recent research at the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, Dr. Lister investigated two eruptions of anti-Haitianism: the 1937 Haitian massacre and a snapping point in 1990 that correlates with the current Dominican-Haitian antagonism. This research has two dimensions, one concerning facts and historical events that occur, the second relating to the production of knowledge, discourse, and ideology, and their manipulation by certain sectors of power. Dr. Lister points out that her focus on this issue is due in part to her experience working with historian Franklin Franco. Prior to his untimely death in 2013, they worked on the literary and sociopolitical aspects of the problem together, and their discussions led her to pursue the historical aspect in her literary analysis. "Franklin's contributions led in different directions," she says; crucially, he stressed the importance of understanding the Caribbean as a whole, not just the Spanish Caribbean. Franklin also emphasized the importance of the Dominican-Haitian relationship. "He gave me the impression that what I was doing was necessary and valid, because it made sense, and it need to be disseminated."

Dr. Lister describes her latest research: "I articulate and center on three themes: identity, memory, and subordination, to look at the implications in the cultural, political and social areas. To look at the political and ideological implications culturally and how identity intersects with daily practices of memory. Looking at how such practices produce subordination, establishing marginality and exclusion. And the potential for the subordinated population to subvert that position by remaining a community, or to counteract the hegemonic power through their practices." In concrete terms, her research looks at the situation that developed in the Dominican Republic in recent years and how it has worsened with the constitutional court ruling 168-13. "It was generated between different sectors of Dominican society, with clashes between certain classes that were habitual in the sectors of power but unfortunately have been spreading into areas previously not in conflict or violent conflict, such as the marginal agricultural areas or sectors. In the city, where there is already a clear anti-Haitianism, the conflict is worsening."

She is also examining the historical relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, including resistance to the first military occupation of the island by the United States on both sides. She describes the interactions between the rebel leaders, Liborio Mateo on the Dominican side and Charlemagne Pralte on the Haitian side, and cooperation between the two resistance groups.

Dr. Lister has consulted books, articles, newspaper articles, and reports that have helped her develop her critical argument. She hopes to produce an article that will foster dialogue within academia on themes related to her topic.

This visit to CUNY DSI has been an exciting opportunity for Dr. Lister, given that as a Dominican immigrant in Colombia, she has found few forums to share with her Colombian colleagues concerning Dominican issues. Conducting research at the Institute has allowed her to have an exchange with other scholars and benefit from their ideas. It has been an enriching experience for her, allowing her a chance to see some of the other research being produced on Dominicans. She deeply values the connections she has made during her time at CUNY DSI.