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December 13, 1999
Dominicans, America’s Growing People for the New Millennium
The Dominican Republic or also known as La Republica Dominicana is a small island that is 18,816 square miles, located off the coast of Florida. The Dominicans of this land share their island with the Haitians. The island has a subtropical climate, mountains, rolling hills, and fertile river valleys. The economy is mainly dominated by sugar, which still earns much of the country’s foreign exchange despite establishment of varied light industries and the development of nickel, mining and tourism. Coffee, cocoa, tobacco, and bananas are also a major export crop. But, despite their seemingly stable economy, and lush landscaping, a vast majority of the estimated 8,603,200 people that live there wish to migrate to the United States. This may be due to the fact that since the time the Dominican Republic was proclaimed in 1844 as a dictatorship, it has come under the attack of bad political leadership, and civil strife. In 1899 the country was bankrupted by civil strife after the murder of Ulises Heureaux, their dictator. Shortly after that the country came under U.S. control. Even under U.S. control the country still suffered from dictators with highly restrictive policies on leaving the island, and harsh economic conditions. These terrible economic conditions only worsened and caused a gigantic influx of immigrants from the Dominican Republic to the United States in the early 80’s and even more in the 90’s (Hale-Benson, p. 97). The people came in groves to the United States seeking more opportunities and a better life, but they soon learned that they would face many of the same cultural, racial and ethnic barriers that other ethnic immigrants have faced when seeking a new life in a new land. In this paper I will detail the hardships Dominicans have suffered since their influx to America. Such as harsh economic problems here in the U.S., almost worse than those faced in the Dominican Republic, lack of quality and skilled job opportunities, due to a poor education, discriminatory barriers they have been forced to endure and overcome, and various other obstacles that they have had to surmount, all while striving to become a productive and contributing people here in America.
New York City’s fastest growing immigrant group are Dominicans, a Spanish speaking people, flocking from the Dominican Republic to the United States, New York City in specific. In 1980 the Dominican population in NYC was 125,380, in 1990 it was 332,713, and today in 1999 it is an estimated 500,000 people. The only problem with this is through the years of their migration to America, their per capita income has declined precipitously. It seems as though when the Dominican population in America increases, their income as a whole decreases. Nearly half of the Dominicans in NYC live below the poverty level. In 1990 29% of Dominicans where on welfare. Of foreign people immigrating to the U.S., only people from the former Soviet Union had a higher percentage of people living on public assistance. From 1989 to 1996 their per capita income declined 23% to $6,094 a year, in inflation adjusted dollars, while their poverty rate rose from 37% to 46%, that is almost double for the city as a whole. Unemployment also rose from 17.2% in 1990 to 18.8% in 1996 (Lopez, p. 3). The source of these severe economic problems according to Internet site, Latino Link, are from a lack of a proper education and skills, and their unusual young age.
6 out of every 10 Dominicans in the U.S. reside in New York City. Washington Heights, located in upper Manhattan houses the largest Dominican population nationwide. Dominicans make up 7% of NYC, but their children make up 12% of elementary age kids. On average Dominicans are much younger in comparison to American’s age in NYC. The average age for a New Yorker is 36, compared to 24 for someone of Dominican Heritage. This plays a large role in the problem they face when looking for skilled jobs. Researchers have said that their young age places a major barrier when seeking jobs outside of the blue collar market. Most Dominicans enter the full-time workforce here in America around age 16 or 17, no time at all for a proper education. 55% of the Dominican-American population has not graduated from high school, and only 4% have obtained some type of college degree. Dominican-Americans even have a relatively low education and skill level when compared to that of Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. Like most other ethnic immigrants Dominican adults need literacy and English language instruction while their children need better schools. The vast majority of jobs filled by Dominicans are unskilled blue collar positions. These positions require little or no formal education, and English skills are almost un-needed. Factors such as these make it easy for Dominican-Americans to acquire these jobs. But these same jobs, pay bare minimum, or below bare minimum wages .In 1998 the average wage for a Dominican-American was $12,810, which is a deep plunge below our poverty level (Calderon, p. 134-136). As if these conditions were not an immense enough problem for Dominican-Americans, they also face the discriminatory racial, cultural and ethnic barriers, placed on them by America.
As a people striving for identification here in America, Dominican-Americans have had to endure improper racial labeling, as had most people of color in American society. 2/3 of Dominicans are of Afro-European decent and the smaller 1/3 of mainly African decent. The key word in both descriptions of their ethnicity refer back to Africa for its roots. But yet when having to identify with a racial group here in America, because they are a Spanish speaking people society forces them to choose Hispanic or Latin, and deny their African/Black heritage and roots. Physically Dominicans can range in color, from hues possessed by the darker featured African-Americans, to the lighter toned Mexican-Americans. With such a disparity in range of color and features, America has not only made them deal with their lack of education, skills, and economic prowess, but also with the stigma of separating and dividing them based on their difference of appearance (Lopez, p. 12-15). Only recently here in America, have Dominicans now begun to separate themselves along color lines. Dominicans of more European features and lighter skin tone have had the privilege of the “white advantage” because they can pass for white, whereas their darker featured Dominican brothers have had to suffer racial injustices typically impressed upon Latinos and African-Americans. This one difference has caused a gap between Dominicans that needs bridging. Organizations such as Alianza Dominicana, Inc.(Dominican Alliance) and the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans, which are located and work out of Washington Heights, New York, have been working towards conquering this problem. These organizations are in place to help bridge the inter-race relationship gap between Dominicans by working with both sides, to help Dominicans as a whole overcome racial and economic oppression in America (DeAnda, p. 256-260).
Another factor contributing to the economic oppression of Dominican-Americans is the gender problem within their community. The majority of Dominican families are headed by single women with no man around to help out financially or emotionally. In 1990 households headed by women were at 41% and then jumped to 49% in 1996. This problem stems from the stigma of immigrating to a new land mixed in with traditional Dominican values. In Dominican culture men are seen as the providers. The problem starts when men move their families to America, and for whatever reason, cannot seem to find stable employment so that they may support their families. After they try and try and still cannot seem to support their families, they become frustrated and end up running away from the problem by leaving their families alone to fend for themselves. The emergence of all these single mother Dominican household also contributes to their severe economic problem (Hale-Benson, p. 59-61). As stated earlier most Dominicans when they arrive here in the United States speak only Spanish and have no real education so the only jobs open to them are blue collar positions. Such positions consist, of construction work, plumbing, repair service, physical labor etc. These positions are typically not jobs women are considered for. So because of the language barrier along with having no real skills, the only jobs open to Dominican women are housewives, maids, cooks, and nannies. These jobs on average yield a yearly salary of about $4- $7,000.00. This is hardly enough to support a family on so many mother’s are forced to become reliant upon public assistance (Lopez, p. 111). Lately there has been an emergence of organizations such as The Dominican Women’s Development Center, which promotes empowerment of all Blatino(Black-Latino) women, not just Dominicanas. This center provides job training, an English-as-a-Second Language Program, counseling for HIV+ people, immigration services, exercise training, a smoking cessation workshop and a Reike (healing method using hands) open house. There is also an exhibit space where women can display their paintings and pottery (Ruiz, p.53).
Even though Dominican-Americans are making strides in trying to better their life, there are still many negative stereotypes that persist about them. Once such stereotype that seems to plague all people of color, is that their men are lazy and will not account for their children. Another being that Dominican-American women do not want to work, but only care to get money from the government with no efforts to better themselves. The most silly of these stereotypes is that Dominican-Americans refuse to learn to speak English and will continue to only speak Spanish. Organizations such as Mano y Mano are helping young and old Dominican men to learn to cope with the transition of moving to America and the hardships of finding a job, while staying with their wife, girlfriend, family, etc. and learning to accept praise and support from their women without feeling that they have compromised their manhood. Mano y Mano hopes to achieve its goals through workshops, presentations, retreats and any other method that will help Dominican men cope with family life in America. La Familia Unida Day Care is an organization that is fixed on helping Dominicanas, by providing day care, offering ESL classes, and by providing job placement listings so that Dominican women can become somewhat self efficient and not depend on the government for funds and assistance. The Dominican Chamber of Commerce is working feverishly to dispel the myth that Dominican immigrants do not want to learn English. Dominicans have a strong drive and ambition to learn English, but as grown adults it is hard to find ESL classes that are convenient and can be worked around their work schedules. Dominican Immigrants know that without English they cannot succeed in this country. So the Dominican Chamber of Commerce has set up evening ESL classes, and day care establishments so that Dominicans can have the time to learn English. They also offer other classes that will assist Dominicans in adjusting to life in America (Hale-Benson, p.186). Also with the new age of computers and technology, different Dominican organizations have utilized the world wide web in finding resources to aid their cause. They have also used the Internet to network with different Blatino professionals in the community to come in and speak in the workshops and forums they host. Websites have been set up , so that the Internet will feel the presence of Blatinos in America. These websites also establish a grassroots foundation for Dominicans and other Blatino groups to seek out support and let them know that they are not alone (Lopez, p.142).
Regardless of all the major setbacks and obstacles Dominicans have had to face, they still have had a positive impact on American society. The easiest most recognizable contribution Dominicans have made is in the field of baseball. Many Dominicans have come to play major roles in American baseball. One such player that stands out is Sammy Sosa of the Chicago cubs, who was running neck and neck in the home run race with Mark McGwire. Also Ozzie Virgil became the first Dominican native to reach the major leagues, joining the Giants in 1956. Since that time, nearly 200 Dominicans have made an impact on the major leagues. In 1983, Juan Marichal became the first Dominican native to be named to the Hall of Fame. The legacy of Dominican players in the major leagues is very rich, and there are still many making history now. Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, 27, signed the most lucrative contract in baseball last year, getting $75 million over the next six years. Sammy Sosa of the Cubs, with a June-long burst of home runs, put himself in the race to break Roger Maris single-season home run record (Calderon, p.263). But Dominican contributions are not only found in the sports arena. In New York City and New Jersey there are over 23,000 business owners, 6,000 grocery stores, 500 supermarkets, 1,200 beauty salons, all Dominican owned. These business help contribute to the economy with an influx of new money (DeAnda, p.155).
Dominicans have also began to show their political power. Guillermo Linares has become the first Dominican-born elected official in the United States. In 1979 he developed the first Dominican non-profit organization, the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans. He was also elected three times to the school board, where he advocated for construction of schools. In the last five years, 10 of those schools have been built. Also New York State Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat won a narrow victory over John Muraugh last November, thus becoming the first Dominican-American to be elected as state legislator. His victory was credited with the growing political influence of naturalized Dominican citizens in the area. Dominicans are taking charge of their communities by running for public office and becoming more involved with American politics to help better Dominican life in this country (Calderon, p.79)
One of the most important contributions made to American society undoubtedly is the influx of new thoughts, ideas, practices and culture into main stream America. Right now America is seeing the biggest out pour of Latin talent in the entertainment/fashion industry. Oscar de la Renta is a well known, wealthy Dominican born designer. The influence of most of his designs are from his homeland of the Dominican Republic (Lopez, p.210). Musician Juan Luis Guerra has also scored high with the American public with his Latin infused rhythms. The new ideas, culture, music, and positive and productive citizens, are the most unique contributions that Dominicans have offered to the United States. Thus sometimes changing the way some of us view life, and handle various other situations (Calderon, p. 49).
Dominican-Americans suffer the hardships most new ethnic immigrants face when entering into America. Harsh economic problems, lack of quality and skilled job opportunities, discriminatory barriers, and various other obstacles are all very real problems Dominicans face while striving to become a productive and contributing people to America. Dominicans are a relatively new ethnic immigrant group, and have not had an abundant amount of time to establish themselves here as a positive group. But within the short time that Dominicans have been calling America home, they have managed to take what they were given and make the best of it. Through various organizations such as Alianza Dominicana, Inc., the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans, The Dominican Women Development Center, and Mano y Mano, along with such caring and passionate political leaders as Guillermo Linares, and Adriano Espaillat Dominicans have taken a giant step in the right direction for breaking negative stereotypes and making their presence a positive one here in America. As a person of color, I can deeply sympathize with what Dominicans are going through today. I also stand and applaud them for their courageous efforts to turn a bad situation into a good one. I think an important thing we as Americans can do to ease the problems Dominicans or immigrants to this country in general is to make them feel welcome here. First we must understand what it is they go through when coming from another country to live here, and adjust to a new language. Classes like Sociology 140, are a great start to understanding different people and the problems they face. But I don’t think we should stop there. Take a history class different from your own background. Expand your horizons and don’t limit yourself to what you see around you. Become a global citizen and become involved in different organizations, or start an organization in your community to help new immigrants cope with living in a new country. If more people would take the time to better understand what, where and why different groups have the problems that they face, they would understand that they share many of the same problems. A shared understanding, or a single thread in common is sometimes all it takes to bridge a gap between nations, and to see beyond your own line of understanding. If everyone just took time to try one of these simple suggestions, as a nation we would be much stronger and more unified. We can come together through our differences. A simple, over used statement, but usually ignored and not listened to, can help put us on the right track for the next Millennium.
Bronx Beat. Online. Internet. 11 Nov. 1999 Available:
Calderon, Andres. Afro-Latins in America-Revised Edition. Baltimore, MD: Brigham
Young University Press, 1982.
DeAnda, Diane. Consideration of Racial Issues at Play. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1997.
Herrea-Benson, Janice. Latin Americans in America. New York, NY: Oxford University
Latino Link. Online. Internet. 3 Dec. 1999 Available:
Lopez, Omar. Growing up Dominican. New York, NY: Anchor Press, 1998.
Ruiz, Delia. Women of Color in Modern Society. New York, NY: Harper and Row Press, 1992.
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