State of Dominicans in the United States of America
Renewed Vision – Renewed Commitment
By President Nestor Montilla, Sr.
Today, we are convened at the 12th Annual Dominican American National Roundtable Conference to consider and discuss the State of Dominicans in the US and set the Dominican community’s direction for the next ten years.
Thus, it is suitable and appropriate to review why, how, and when we got here, where we are, and where we are going. Currently one of the largest ethnic groups in the United States, Dominicans have carved out a place for themselves within the American cultural landscape. Dominicans have made strides as a community with a distinct cultural identity, finally stepping out of the social shadows they have been in for years.
Dominicans’ presence in the United States as a formidable ethnic group has its origins in the migration patterns of the late 1980s, relatively late in comparison to that of Puerto Ricans and Cubans.
Why we came
Cubans fled to the US after the rise of the communist presence in Cuba. After the enactment of the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans started to be born American citizens. However, Dominicans were not allowed to travel under the regime of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. The political and economic elite and the well-to-do were allowed this freedom and possessed the means to make it to the United States. After a group of Dominican patriots executed dictator Trujillo and the island’s power structure changed, travel amongst Dominicans became a possibility and necessity.
Eventually, under President Joaquin Balaguer, all who chose to leave the Dominican Republic searching for better lives were given every opportunity to go. Due to an almost continuous decline of the country’s economic and political stability in the mid to late 1980s, and due in part to a prolonged recession after the so-called “Dominican Economic Miracle,” Dominicans were part of one of the largest migratory booms of the late 20th century. This migratory boom is made evident not just by Dominicans’ presence as an ethnic group but by other Hispanic/Latino subgroups. According to the 2000 US census, there were 40 million Hispanics/Latinos in the United States, of which 1,051,032 were of Dominican descent.
The population of Dominican migrants to the US between the early 1970s and mid-1980s was relatively low, totaling close to 350,000. Then, there was a migration boom within ten years that consolidated their presence in the United States. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of Dominicans increased from 348,000 to 692,000. From the years 2000 to 2004 alone, Dominicans’ population once again soared. There was an increase from 692,000 to more than one million Dominicans living in the United States. Today, as the upcoming US Census 2010 will indeed reflect, there are over 2,000,000 in the United States. This statistic only accounts for people who identify the Dominican Republic as their place of origin and doesn’t include the children of Dominicans born in the United States. Including them would make this figure much higher, as distinguished Professor John Mollenkopf noted in his latest research about second-generation Dominicans in the USA.
Of all registered ethnic groups from Latin America, Dominicans make up the third-largest group, after Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. More than half of Dominicans in the United States reside in the state of New York. New Jersey has the second-largest Dominican population with more than 153,000 Dominicans (unofficial estimates put that figure at 250,000). The state of Florida follows with 132,000; then Massachusetts with 69,000, Pennsylvania with 66,000, Rhode Island 40,000, Connecticut 28,000, Maryland 16,000, Alaska 2,000, and Puerto Rico 57,000. Dominicans are living in each one of the 435 congressional districts in the United States.
Dominicans separate themselves from other ethnic communities by what they have done since their arrival to the United States and how they have defined themselves.
Dominicans who arrive in the US from the Dominican Republic struggle with the language barrier and find work outside of the typical job market. Most had family connections here. They quickly entered into family businesses like bodegas, international phone calling centers, restaurants, remittance wiring, taxi companies, travel 1agencies, and accountants to make a living.
Dominicans own close to 25,000 small businesses in New York alone, revitalizing the city’s economy. Unlike other groups that have come to the US, Dominicans keep a strong bond with their homeland. Remittances from US Dominicans to the Dominican Republic amount to an estimated 2 billion dollars a year, second only to Salvadoran remittances, which indicates a solid connection to the land of origin. Dominicans in the US also carve out particular enclaves within American cities and segregate themselves from other Hispanic and non-Hispanic groups. The phenomenon is made evident by communities such as New York’s Washington Heights and the Bronx, which now has the largest per capita concentration of Dominicans in the USA.
Another aspect of Dominicans’ characteristic is that they, unlike other ethnic groups, refer to themselves as Dominicans and not Dominican-Americans. Cubans, whether born in the US or not, call themselves Cuban-Americans. Puerto Ricans are referred to as Puerto Rican (or Nuyoricans). And Mexicans born in the United States are referred to as Chicanos. These Latinos are proud of their heritage, but Dominicans have yet to embrace this as part of their identity. They are ultimately very nationalistic. The resounding idea among many Dominicans is that they are only in the USA for a limited period to make money and return to their homeland. Dominicans are inherently tied to their roots and hold an overwhelming level of pride in their culture and customs. They aren’t willing to give that up easily.
Spanish is still the language of choice for most Dominicans in the USA.
Dominicans’ unwillingness to fully integrate into the US cultural landscape is also due to their disenfranchisement. Lack of integration is also primarily due to the uncharitable welcome they have received from the start of their immigration experience. Dominicans have become one of the most stigmatized groups in the US. The American eye associates them with the vices of poverty, crime, violence, drugs, and lawlessness.
Aside from the fact that Dominicans have made strides in sports, which has come at the price of stereotyping young Dominicans as only baseball players, they have been arbitrarily labeled as menaces. The news media almost always identifies Dominicans as drug traffickers or the ringleaders of other illicit activities. They have been radicalized and criminalized, which has led to a distancing from fully immersing into the larger American culture.
Ultimately, the racial aspect has differentiated Dominicans in another way. Dominicans are not white. And they are most certainly not black. According to the American model, Dominicans often shun the strict rules of racial classification and rely on the Dominican model as the default concept to classify themselves.
In the United States, there are specific categories for classification. It seems almost impossible to be something other than white or black. But Dominicans refuse these narrow classifications as they prefer to label themselves as racially mixed, neither black nor white, but everything in between. Because the American model for racial classification doesn’t capture the spirit of multiracial people, Dominicans have contested this country’s limited view on race. They have expanded the racial possibilities and have made it critical for the public to recognize that Dominicans don’t fit into a conventional mold.
The situation for Dominicans in the United States is changing and taking shape. With the growth of a more educated and skilled second generation, and an emphasis from within the Dominican community to integrate, Dominicans are becoming more prominent in American society. In this process, the Dominican community must address and come to terms with four components that are the secret to their success and stability as an ethnic group in the United States:
Education – Dominicans have made progress in their educational attainment- graduating college and obtaining graduate degrees – as they believe education is the cornerstone for advancement and prosperity. We still suffer, however, one of the highest drop-out rates among major Latino communities. Therefore, we are committed to:
1. Lobbying for and supporting programs focused on school retention
2. Supporting legislation and programs that foster recruitment, retention, and graduation of Dominican students from college
3. Supporting legislation that enhances Dominicans’ educational opportunities and easy access to scholarships, grants, educational loans, etc.
4. Supporting processes that facilitate the entrance of Dominican education professionals in administrative positions
5. Promoting access to Higher Education
Economic advancement – Dominicans own and operate a significant percentage of small businesses in communities where we live and work and are thus the backbone of their neighborhoods’ economy. Neighborhoods such as Washington Heights in New York, in Perth Amboy and Paterson in New Jersey, Lawrence, and Boston, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, Allentown, Pennsylvania; Orlando, Florida, and Puerto Rico. A mechanism to advocate and represent the small business community in technical assistance, small business loans, accounting, and legal representation becomes necessary. Engaging the pro-bono contribution of professionals such as accountants, lawyers, and business strategists to this mechanism is essential and attainable.
Political representation: Dominicans must achieve the degree of representation in both elected and appointed roles in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government commensurate with our numbers and contributions.
To this end, we are committed to an empowerment plan designed to build our political power, including the following priorities aggressively:
1. The development of a community-based leadership pool to ensure that we, and not the political parties, select our leaders.
2. Maintaining a permanent voter registration, voter education, and citizenship drive to increase the political awareness, knowledge, and participation of Dominican American voters.
3. The development of a Political Action Committee named DANR-PAC to identify and support candidates aligned with our interests.
4. The election of the first Dominican to the Congress of the United States of America.
5. Strengthening our bond with Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans, Haitians, and other groups in our Latino family.
6. Building coalitions of interest with our friends in the African-American, Jewish, Indian, Asian-American communities, the Labor Movement, and other groups that may partner with us on common interest issues.
7. Establishing a formal lobbying effort to ensure our inclusion in the three branches of government.
Last but not least is the media.
Cognizant of the media’s power in influencing a group’s opinion and treatment in this society, we must play an active role in how we are portrayed. During the past decade, DANR has contributed to change the conversation about Dominicans in the USA. From being referred to in the media as maids, drug dealers, and undocumented, the conversation has shifted to denote Dominicans’ building a thriving community whose presence is felt in every profession. Examples of Dominicans excelling in the US abound now. For instance, from US Assistant Attorney General Thom Perez and Prosecutor Camelia Valdes in the legal profession to Dr. Rafael Lantigua and Dr. Aritmedes Restituyo in medicine. From Professor Feniosky Pena-Mora at Columbia University and Dr. Rosario Espinal at Temple University in the sciences. From authors Julia Alvarez and Junot Diaz in literature to Dr. Sylvio Torres-Saillant and Dr. Ramona Hernandez in education; and over 40 elected officials nationwide, ranging from the board of education commissioners to state senators.
We must, however, establish a mechanism that will serve as both watchdog and promoter of the actual image of Dominicans in the media. Compared with other groups before us, a formal and concerted effort will be made to be included in major national and international media outlets and shape their message about us.
Finally, defining our role and occupying our place in this society at this time in history, as others did before us, requires teson (persistence), ingenuity, and courage. Dominicans know about teson, creativity, and courage. Our history includes men and women of teson, ingenuity, and courage, who at every challenging juncture came through as the moment required that they do. In doing so, they defined who we are as a people. We have seen Dominicans excelling in many areas: from Salome Urena de Henriquez, establishing our educational system, to Florinda Soriano Munoz (Mama Tingo) organizing field workers in Yamasa, to a group of 14 to 19 years old known as Los Panfleteros de Santiago defying a dictator, and every defining moment we have experienced as a people. Gregorio Luperón led the Dominican Republic’s Restauration a war against Spain’s oppression. Ulises Espaillat and many other patriots fought hard for our independence from Spain. Desiderio Arias confronted the dictator. Juan Bosch brought Democracy to the Dominican Republic and enacted the 1962 constitution, and Manolo Tavares Justo, and the leaders of the 14 de Junio Movement fought against oppression and for the freedom of the Dominican people.
It is not surprising that here and now, in a foreign country, Dominicans of every age, creed, professional background, and political affiliation are going about making their contribution and marks. In doing so, they define us as a people in the USA.
Individuals like Tom Almonte in Grand Rapids and Rafael Nunez in Chicago, Michigan (stand-up Dominicans from Michigan). Claribel Martinez Marmolejos in Puerto Rico (stand up Dominicans from Puerto Rico). Christian Mendoza and Jocelyn Melnick in Maryland (stand-up Dominicans from Maryland). Denise Nolasco in Washington (stand-up Dominicans from Washington, DC). Victor Diaz in Connecticut (stand-up Dominicans from Connecticut). Julio Guridy, Facundo Knight, Venezia, and Monica Lockward in Allentown, Pennsylvania (stand-up Dominicans from Pennsylvania). Radhames Peguero, America Tavarez, and Jaime Matos in Florida (stand-up Dominicans from Florida). Maria Moreno, William Lantigua, Frank Moran, Oneida Aquino, Daniel Rivera, and Modesto Maldonado in Lawrence Massachusetts (stand-up Dominicans from Massachusetts). Juan Pichardo, Victor Capellan, and Gracie Diaz, in Providence, Rhode Island (stand-up Dominicans from Rhode Island). Manuel Segura, Maria Teresa Montilla, Yessenia Frias, Julio Tavarez, and Dr. Alex Blanco in New Jersey (stand-up Dominicans from New Jersey). Adriano Espaillat, Julissa Ferreras, Rosita Romero, Ydanis Rodriguez, Wilson Terrero, Ofelia Rodriguez in New York (stand-up Dominicans from New York).
We are the stars of our own story.
We are defining the role we play.
We are occupying our place in American society.
We are the Dominicans in the United States of America.
DANR President Nestor Montilla, Sr.
Conference Press Releases
Dr. Felix Matos Rodriguez to Discuss Dominican-Puerto Rican Relations at DANR National Conference in Walt Disney
The US Dominican Leadership Will Honor Him with the DANR National Guanin Educator Award
|Washington, DC– Dr. Felix V. Matos Rodríguez, the New President of the City University of New York’s Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College, an institution founded over forty years ago in the South Bronx by Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, African Americans, and other community leaders, will present at the DANR 12th National Conference scheduled to take place from Friday, December 4 to Sunday, December 6, 2009, at the Coronado Springs Resort in Walt Disney World, Florida. |
“Dr. Matos Rodríguez will speak at a forum on Dominican-Puerto Rican relations and during the DANR 12th Annual National Award Ceremony where the Dominican leadership in the US will honor him with the DANR National Guanin Educator Award,” said DANR President Nestor Montilla.
The forum is titled “Dominican-Puerto Rican Relations: Let’s Talk About It” and will be held on Saturday, December 5, 2009, at the Coronado Springs Resort’s Convention Center. Invited and confirmed panelists include Mr. Moises Perez, Executive Director of Alianza Dominicana, who is of Dominican-Puerto Rican descent; Dr. Hugo M. Morales, CUNY Trustee, and the Hon. Lorraine Cortez- Vasquez, New York Secretary of State.
“It is indeed an honor for me to attend the DANR 12th Annual National Conference to talk about the historical relationship between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans,” said Dr. Matos Rodriguez.
He took office as President of Eugenio María de Hostos Community College of The City University of New York (CUNY) on July 1, 2009.
Trained as a social scientist, Dr. Matos Rodríguez previously held leadership positions in foundations, universities, policy centers, and branches of government in which he combined his scholarship with social policy, advocacy, and change.
On December 31, 2008, Dr. Matos Rodríguez finished his service as Secretary of the Department of the Family for Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth. As Secretary, he formulated public policy and administered service delivery in the following programs: Child Support Enforcement, Adoption and Foster Care, Child and Elderly Protection, Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Care, and Head Start. Managing an annual budget of $2.2 billion, Dr. Matos Rodríguez oversaw nearly 9,500 employees. Earlier, he had served as Social Welfare and Health Advisor to Governor Anibal Acevedo Vilá.
While at Hostos, Dr. Matos Rodríguez is on leave from his tenured position as an Associate Professor of Black and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies at Hunter College of CUNY, where he teaches Caribbean courses, Latin American, and Latino history. He has also served as director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter, one of the largest and most important Latino research centers in the United States. Besides, Dr. Matos Rodríguez is part of the History Department at CUNY’s Graduate Center.
Dr. Matos Rodríguez has an extensive publication record in the fields of Women’s, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latino Studies and Migration. He is the author of Women and Urban Life in Nineteenth-century San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1820-1862 (University Presses of Florida, 1999; Marcus Weiner, 2001); co-author of “Pioneros”: Puerto Ricans in New York City, 1896-1948 (Arcadia Publishers, 2001); editor of A Nation of Women, An Early Feminist Speaks Out: Mi opiníon sobre las libertades, derechos y deberes de la mujer by Luisa Capetillo (Arte Público Press, 2005); co-editor with Gabriel Haslip Viera et al. of Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City (Marcus Wiener, 2004); co-editor with Matthew C. Gutmann, Lynn Stephen, and Patricia Zavella of Blackwell Reader on The Americas (Blackwell Publishers, 2003) and co-editor of Puerto Rican Women’s History: New Perspectives (M.E. Sharpe Publishers, 1998).
Dr. Matos Rodríguez’ work has been in such peer- reviewed journals as the Journal of Urban History, the Public Historian, Latin American Research Review, Centro Journal, Revista de Ciencias Sociales, and the Boletín de la Asociacíon de Demografía Histórica, in addition to having chapters in several anthologies. He was the founding editor of the series New Directions in Puerto Rican Studies, published by the University Press of Florida. He has also reviewed manuscripts for Temple University Press, Rutgers University Press, M.E. Sharpe Publishers, Blackwell Publishers, Hispanic American Historical Review, and Revista de Ciencias Sociales. He has been a member of the advisory boards of the Latino Studies Journal and New York Archives.
Dr. Matos Rodríguez’ expert commentary has appeared in many periodicals, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Hartford Courant, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, The Congressional Quarterly, The Daily News, Newsday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, El Diario/La Prensa, Hoy, The Orlando Sentinel, El Nuevo Día, and The Hispanic Outlook of Higher Education.
Dr. Matos Rodríguez is a graduate of Colegio San Ignacio High School in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His undergraduate studies were at Yale University, where he graduated cum laude in Latin American Studies. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. Before his work at Hunter College, Dr. Matos Rodríguez was a Program Officer at the Social Science Research Council in New York City and a faculty member at Northeastern University in Boston.
He has also held visiting and adjunct teaching appointments at Yale University, Boston College, and CUNY. Active in community organizations, Dr. Matos Rodríguez has been a board member of ASPIRA of New York, Inc., and Phipps Community Development Corporation, and the community advisory board of El Diario/La Prensa.
He has received numerous awards for community service, including recognition for excellence in education from the New York State Senate and Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Latino Caucus in 2002 and special recognition from the New York City Council during Hispanic Heritage Month in 2003.
Dr. Matos Rodríguez is married to Dr. Liliana M. Arabia, a dentist, and they have two sons: Lucas, 7, and Juan Carlos, 5.
Hurry! Book your sleeping room at the Coronado Springs Resort in Walt Disney. Special early birth lodging rate for conference attendees before November 15, 2009:$135 plus tax per night.
CONFERENCE REGULAR FULL ACCESS RATE (until December 3, 2009):$179 per adult person for full access, including meals, dinner concert, and conference events between Friday, December 4 through Sunday, December 6, 2009.
To register and reserve your sleeping rooms click here Dominican American National Roundtablewww.danr.orgemail: email@example.com: (202) 238-0097
To register for the conference and make your hotel reservation.
CONFERENCE REGULAR FULL ACCESS RATE (until December 3rd, 2009):$179 per adult person for full access, including meals, dinner concert and all conference events taking place between Friday, December 4th through Sunday, December 6th, 2009.
Dominican American National Roundtable www.danr.org email: firstname.lastname@example.org: (202) 238-0097
To register for the conference and make your hotel reservation.