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Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic.

What Do We Mean When We Say Fascist?

Jhoneidy Javier ’19 shares his thoughts on protest rhetoric, and particularly, asks readers to interrogate the meaning of words such as ‘fascism’ in activism.

Over Winter Break, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with my Grandma María. Being away at school makes talking really difficult, so I was really happy to see her after so long. We started talking about the mundane, daily rhythm of our lives, but, as I try to do as often as I can, I asked Grandma María about how life was for her growing up. Grandma María was born in the early 1940s in a village of the Cordillera Septentrional in the Dominican Republic. She told me about how she had to wake up at dawn to go down to the Río Blanco and fetch water; there really wouldn’t be another opportunity to do so later in the day under a sweltering Caribbean sun. She told about me how she lived under an archaic and extremely machista patriarchy, in which she wasn’t able to leave the farm without a man at her side. She told me about how grateful she is to God that she is literate even though she didn’t complete primary school. Most of all, Grandma María told me what fascism was like.

Grandma María was born during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, and her children were born under the regime of Joaquín Balaguer. I am the first generation of my family to be born and raised outside of fascism. Grandma María would always speak of the Trujillato with mixed feelings. She would say how much order there was in the Dominican Republic under a dictator, not like today with all the sinvergüenzas running the streets. She would say how sad she felt when the Hermanas Mirabal were murdered by Trujillo’s secret police in a finca no more than 15 miles from where she lived. But she didn’t want to be associated with that rebú. When I asked her how she felt when civil war broke out in 1965, she said, “No sé si la guerra era loca [como dices], pero sólo sé que el arroz no se podía comer.” When I asked what she meant. She said, “El arroz de Bosch.” Juan Bosch was the leftist president that was overthrown and replaced by Joaquín Balaguer, who was also a compinche of Trujillo, after a presidency that lasted only seven months. It was at this moment that I acquired a new understanding of fascism.


Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic in 1952. Public Domain.
Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic.

Beyond the death squads, the concentration camps, the secret police, the political assassinations, the genocide, the systematic rape, El Padre de La Patria Rafael Trujillo made an entire generation of Dominicans believe that chaos and destruction would follow if he was ever taken out of power. Grandma María saw this chaos play out in civil war, and she still believes those words. Fascism misshapes and distorts the very consciousness of the people.

While protesting in Philadelphia, and assisting leftist groups on Haverford’s campus, I heard the warning cries of fascism from my peers. Political consciousness is choked down by fascism. Political suffocation is achieved by any means deemed necessary.

Donald Trump is not a fascist. Fascists don’t simply criticize the media, they don’t simply call for the acceptance of “alternative facts.” They kill people systematically and convince the people of a nation that state violence is a necessary evil for the security and progression of La Patria. Donald Trump did not order death squads to subvert the millions of people who participated in the Women’s March. Instead, The Donald tweeted.

None of this is to say that Donald Trump is not a serious danger to millions of marginalized people in the United States. His recent executive orders to continue the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to build a wall on the border with Mexico, to ban people arriving from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya from entering the United States are testaments to that real and legitimate danger. But a correct diagnosis is necessary to successfully combat a problem.

Donald Trump is a misogynist, racist, right-wing egomaniacal demagogue that must be resisted. He is a legitimate threat. But let us be frank, the dawn of fascist government is not followed by the largest demonstrations in United States history. It’s followed by the passive acceptance of the hated and marginalized being disappeared, disposed, and demonized. If you believe this to be fascism, ask yourself when was the last time you demonstrated for the 2.3 million people incarcerated and 7 million people silenced by the criminal justice system.

Fascism is more than an insult. Grandma María is a survivor of a fascist dictatorship. The love she gave me while growing up in a forgotten ghetto north of Boston is the true hallmark of what anti-fascism looks like.


Do not misunderstand: fascism can erupt in any nation. But we are failing to self-critique, to target and organize effectively. We must move beyond cathartic mobilization. 


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One Comment

  1. CitizenAZ February 1, 2017

    Thanks for clarifying, the threat is there non the less

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