New Historical

The Selfish Nature of Colonization: How Junot Díaz’s “Monstro” Demonstrates The Superiority Complex of the Wealthy

james halma

January 12th, 2010. The small Caribbean country of Haiti was hit with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The 43 seconds it lasted had rendered the country’s capital to rubble. Several government buildings had collapsed during a disaster that lasted less than a minute. The US and UN initiated full-scale humanitarian efforts to aid the small country. Twenty-six nations had given military aid, with the US taking up the majority. This tragedy marked a worldwide response, earning sympathetic eyes from across the Western world. Two years later, Junot Díaz released a post-apocalyptic short story known as “Monstro.”

Díaz begins a tale of a mold-derived plague beginning in Port-A-Prince, the capital of Haiti. Despite this setting, the three protagonists are in the prosperous Dominican Republic. The three young characters range from upper-middle class to the highest of the bourgeoisie. Due to their higher status, apparent lower-class health crises are seen as entertainment. Much like the Western power’s overflow of support, “Monstro” demonstrates how the wealthier societies can make entertainment of the subaltern.

The narrator is a 19-year-old man spending his summer with his sick mother who owns rental property in New Jersey. His mother had rented out their home in order to pay for her medical bills while she lived with her family in the Dominican Republic, “I’d come down to the D.R. because my mother had got super sick… No chance she was going to be taken care of back North. Not with what the cheapest nurses charged. So she rented out the Brooklyn house to a bunch of Mexos, took that loot, and came home” (Díaz 3). The narrator comes from a poor family as evident by his mother’s sacrifice of their American home. His lack of connections to a wealthy family “We ran in totally different circles back at Brown, him prince, me prole, but we were both from the same little Island that no one else in the world cared about…” (Díaz). The distinction between their behavior shows a visible difference between their actions. The fact that their brotherhood stems from their home country offers an insight into how race is viewed in the DR. Alex has considered him a friend while the other parts of their group see him in a different light.

The narrator is introduced to the rest of Alex’s friends, who are described as, “slim, tall, and wealthy, every one doing double takes when they saw the size of me and heard my Dark accent….” (Díaz). The surprise in their response comes from DR’s view of their neighbor, Haiti. Black prejudice within the DR has been hidden beneath the label of “indio” (Gates 120). The DR’s roots stem from the African slave trade with a large part of their ancestors coming from Africa. Their rejection of black heritage stems from Haitian intervention.

In 1822, Haiti had, “…moved into the former Spanish colony that had just proclaimed its independence, as “Spanish Haiti,” from imperial Spain in December 1821,” (Gates 137) and birthed anti-black views. During their occupation, Haiti “needed money, so it taxed Dominicans and their institutions…” and “…imposed French as the language of instruction, when it had been Spanish for centuries…” (Gates 137) to increase the gap between the two neighbors. The DR is composed largely of black heritage and yet, the lighter-skinned inhabitants are seen as superior to darker individuals due to the negativity associated with Haiti. The pandemic within Díaz’s short story begins in Haiti’s capital, Port-A-Prince, to an apathetic response from their lighter-skinned neighbors across the island.
The infection received the nickname, “La Negrura…The Darkness,” (Díaz) as the first symptom is a dark spot on black skin. The epidemic is regarded as the “joke of the year” (Díaz) for its ability to “make a Haitian blacker” (Díaz). Such a disease received some attention but not enough due to “…it was just poor Haitian types getting fucked up—no real margin in that” (Díaz). Darker individuals are a common target within the DR. Their ability to make light of a serious disease ignores the real effects on other lives, “For six, seven months it was just a horrible Haitian disease—who fucking cared, right?” (Díaz). Haiti’s occupation had deemed black persons as “other,” to lessen their importance within society. The narrator himself regarded the victims in a humorous tone, “When I came back from my outings I’d say, fooling, How are los explotao?” (Díaz). In spite of being “one of the pro-Haitian domos” the narrator finds humor in their plight despite their claimed sympathy. Thus, their sympathy is nothing more than performative.  Their sympathy goes no further than words, much like the outpouring of support from other countries.

At the start of the plague, the narrator talks about how other powers had put it in the works to fix the virus, “The medicos formed a ninety-nation consortium, flooded one another with papers and hypotheses, ran every test they could afford, but not even the military enhancers could crack it. In the early months, there was a big make do, because it was so strange and because no one could identify the route of transmission—that got the bigheads more worked up than the disease itself.” (Díaz 2)The interest stemmed from how mysterious the disease was. Few of the medical scientists truly cared about the people it was hurting, “A huge rah-rah, but when the experts determined that it wasn’t communicable in the standard ways, and that normal immune systems appeared to be at no kind of risk, the renminbi and the attention and the savvy went elsewhere” (Díaz 2). Their interest was lost which revealed their efforts to be a façade. The patients at risk were more than lab rats, as they were being used to further advance medical science. This outpouring of support would vanish as soon as they gave up. Many see their pity as a sign of a superior nation. They were required to care for the disenfranchised when they saw it as a “horrible Haitian disease” (Díaz). Their response echoed the Haitian earthquake as governments, medical organizations and military efforts had poured into the country.

Of the efforts within the earthquake, the US military provided the most personnel among the “Twenty-six countries provided military assets” (Kirch, Sauer, Saphir 203) to the country. It is important to note that, “…victims of the event included the Haitian government…” (Kirch, Sauer, Guha 200) as the quake devastated the capital city. Their aid, in its immensity, could be considered a demonstration of strength and ownership, “The Haitian response was more like a US domestic response, in which resources are prepositioned and “pushed” into the field and are not based on needs assessments but rather on a historical knowledge of a specific disaster’s impact” (Kirch, Sauer, Saphir 203). Military involvement in a humanitarian effort can be suspicious because, “…the military is not impartial, as required by humanitarian principles, leading to concerns in the humanitarian community about political motives.” ((Kirch, Sauer, Saphir 206)   Their rapid response may be due to their history with Haiti, “When World War I cut off the United States’ European sugar supply, leading to terrible shortages, the United States rebuilt and expanded Dominican sugar plantations to meet its domestic demand. The United States had only one problem: a shortage of labor.” (Gates 137) This labor came in the form of Haitian immigrants. Their support for the small country could be to protect their interests and resources, should they need to use them. The sudden outpouring of support is a lingering sign of the “white man’s burden.” None of the western countries needed to provide support had the US refrained from using a weaker country. “Monstro” echoed the sentiment of the earthquake in a more permanent response.

There was no lasting support or cure for the impoverished country within the story. The medical personnel which could very well save hundreds of lives had given up. The savior sent by the United Powers arrived in, “bomber wing scrambled out of Southern Command in Puerto Rico” (Díaz). Instead of rescuing their labor force, the fictional US has chosen to destroy the humans which they had given up on. This action is no doubt an act of genocide, although the violence began long before, “The Detonation Event—no one knows what else to call it—turned the entire world white” (Díaz). Díaz’s statement of “turning the world white” can be considered a callback to the DR’s dislike of the darkened skin. The racism of the extermination shows the third world’s importance to Western post-imperial society. In many ways, “Monstro” can be seen as a realistic and brutal take on the Haitian Earthquake. Few outsiders within the country truly care about the government. The support of the international community was a method to maintain a flow of cheap labor and performative sympathy.

Works Cited

Champion, Giulia. “Imperialism is a Plague, Too: Transatlantic Pandemic Imaginaries in César Mba Abogo’s “El sueño de Dayo”(2007) and Junot Díaz’s “Monstro”(2012).” SFRA Review 51.2 (2021): 167-174.

Díaz, Junot. “Monstro.” The New Yorker, 28 May 2012,

Gates, Henry Louis. “The Dominican Republic: ‘Black behind the Ears.’” Black in Latin America, NYU Press, 2011, pp. 119–45,

Kirsch, Thomas & Sauer, Lauren & Guha-Sapir, Debarati. (2012). Analysis of the International and US Response to the Haiti Earthquake: Recommendations for Change. Disaster medicine and public health preparedness. 6. 200-8. 10.1001/dmp.2012.48.


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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