Trapped Like Monkeys in a Cage: Structural Racism and Mental Health in the Dominican Republic

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Childers, Trenita B.


Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo
George, Linda K.

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Haitian immigrants and their Dominican-born descendants face sociopolitical exclusion in spite of their contribution to the Dominican economy. This project engages three key theoretical perspectives to explain inequality in the Dominican Republic. First, intersectionality theory informs analyses of gender- and nativity-based social factors that influence mental health. Mental health inequalities based on gender and nativity have been documented independently; however, few studies have examined how the intersection of these social locations influences mental health. Results show that contextual factors shape gender- and nativity-related stressors according to intersectional patterns, revealing the importance of intersectional analyses of mental health that include nativity as a site of structural oppression. Next, I use stress process theory to examine how documentation policy is a key driver of negative mental health outcomes among Haitian immigrants and their descendants. Results reveal two major findings. First, documentation policy can act as a primary stressor that yields additional stressors for affected populations. Second, documentation policy can produce the social locations which contribute to compound disadvantage as ethnic Haitians are excluded from multiple domains of social life at once: education, employment, political and social participation. Finally, I apply assimilation theory to examine how the racial context of reception affects immigrant incorporation. Data show that although anti-immigrant sentiment contributes to Haitians’ context of reception in the D.R., immigration officials use race and racialized characteristics to screen for Haitian ancestry. This points to the need to explore the racial context of reception when theorizing inequality among immigrants’ incorporation trajectories. Collective results from this project underscore the importance of including of nativity in intersectional analyses, examining the social consequences of documentation policies, and measuring immigrants’ social contexts comprehensively.






Childers, Trenita B. (2017). Trapped Like Monkeys in a Cage: Structural Racism and Mental Health in the Dominican Republic. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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