Remembering rights activist Sonia Pierre

Remembering rights activist Sonia Pierre|Remembering rights activist Sonia Pierre
Photo by Tequila Minsky|Photo by Tequila Minsky

The memorial service for Sonia Pierre was held at the Washington College of Law of American University in Washington D.C., an appropriate venue when so much of her work was about testifying about legal and human rights.

In addition to the on-going work she did in the Haitian worker camps in the Dominican Republic, bateyes, and the on-going Haiti relief work she did starting immediately after the earthquake, Pierre spent considerable time giving evidence.

She testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. She spoke at human rights conferences worldwide on the on-going denial of basic citizenship rights of Haitians and their descendents in the Dominican Republic.

Pierre was one of the most outspoken human rights advocates in the Americans and one of the most reviled persons in the Dominican Republic.

It was with this backdrop her four grown children and their spouses, her young grandson, other family members, friends, and individuals and organizations, that supported her work came together on Feb. 7, in Washington DC, to remember Sonia Pierre’s indomitable spirit, grace, and her tireless work. Anyone who knew her wanted to pay homage. All know that this woman cannot be replaced. Sonia Pierre died Dec. 4, at the age of 48, of a heart attack in the Dominican Republic.

Voicing others’ sentiments during the memorial, her friend and ally, Queens resident Jocelyne Mayas whispered, “I can’t believe she’s gone.”

“Here is a woman of courage and determination who stood up for all Dominicans’ equal rights,” said Dean Claudio Grossman from the law school. “She is a source of inspiration and a role model. Her task remains unfinished. Let us hope that in our world we don’t need a 13-year-old-girl to fight for these rights.” Sonia was 13 when she first began organizing. She led a five-day protest, for which she was arrested, demanding better working conditions for field workers.

In 2006, Sonia Pierre received the RFK Human Rights Award. Kerry Kennedy of the RFK Foundation that organized the memorial drew parallels between Sonia Pierre, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, “(Like those) she accomplished so much in so little time.”

Kennedy spoke of a recent trip to the DR seeing the work of Sonia. “We met with 50 (Haitians or Haitian-Dominicans) who were deprived of documentation. We met ancient men with no pension or aid, middle age people who were threatened with deportation. We met youth who, without documentation, couldn’t go to school and the youngest, children with no nationality.”

Kennedy continued. “People spoke of Sonia and the strength she gave them.“ Even amidst an angry mob, when Sonia was threatened, Sonia showed calm and dignity. In her fight for equal citizenship, she stared in the face of those who tried to silence her.”

Julissa Reynoso, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs with the State Department, who is Dominican, met Sonia at a human rights conference in New York, over a decade ago and spoke at the memorial. “She was defending Dominicans born of Haitian ancestry in a struggle I chose to engage in,” said Reynoso. She noted the sacrifice of Pierre to her family and health this struggle demanded.

“Sonia loved her children. She treated the movement in the Dominican Republic as her children and lived this approach. She took care of women on the island, knowing the support women needed,” relayed Monika Kalra Varma who worked with Sonia through the RFK Center.

“The work will continue,” assured Lecedy Luiz of MUDHA (Movement of Haitian-Dominican Women), the organization that Sonia co-founded.

Holding back tears, Sonia’s daughter Manuela, was the last to speak. She talked directly to her mom, how much she loved her and what a great mom she was. “I know you’re looking down on us,” she said. “You’ve paved the way for us to go.”

Open to the public, 1199SEIU, The Dominican Women’s Development Center and We Care For Haiti are celebrating the life and legacy of Sonia Pierre on March 22 at 1199SEIU, 310 W. 43rd St., NYC, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Julissa Reynoso, deputy assistant secretary of state Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State, aligned herself with the struggle of Sonia Pierre for human rights for all Dominicans.
Photos by Tequila Minsky
Photo by Tequila Minsky