Dominicanos en Nueva York
EARLY PRESENCE: CHALLENGING THE “NEW IMMIGRANT” LABEL
New York City has traditionally been the main hub of the Dominican American population in the United States. The earliest known connection with incoming non-Native American people in the history of the city happens to be with Juan Rodriguez, also known as Jan Rodrigues, a man from the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo or La Española (today’s Dominican Republic) who arrived in the Hudson’s Harbor on board a Dutch ship in 1613. Rodriguez stayed at least until 1614 in what would later become New Amsterdam.
Historical records identify him as a black or mixed-race male. Juan Rodriguez’s story is important insofar as it creates a precedent to the contemporary Dominican experience in the United States and challenges the notion of Dominicans as newcomers and recent immigrants to the United States. Another historical instance that similarly questions this notion is the documented arrival of more than five thousand individuals who declared to be Dominicans when they passed through the classic immigration port of Ellis Island in New York, between 1892 and 1924. Many of these Dominican immigrants became US citizens and established themselves in the United States.
At the turn of the twentieth century there was a substantial Dominican community living and working in New York City. Dominicans were part of a vibrant Hispanic/Latino presence that included cultural and literary circles. One concrete example of this Dominican presence is that from 1914 to 1918 Dominicans owned and were editors of the weekly newspaper Las Novedades: España y los pueblos hispano-americanos (The News: Spain and Spanish American Children), which provided in-depth analyses of international relations and conflicts involving Latin America and covered New York local events as well.
At 1.9 million, Dominicans represent one of the largest Latino immigrant groups in the United States and during recent decades have been the fastest growing population group in New York City. Although the largest numbers of residents are in the states of New York and New Jersey, there are significant Dominican communities in Florida, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. These communities are predominantly urban; they can be found in metropolitan areas such as the southern borough of the Bronx and the northern borough of Manhattan in New York City and in the New Jersey suburbs, while in Florida and Massachusetts they tend to reside in Miami and Boston.
The Bronx is currently home to the largest Dominican population in the United States (338,450), while Washington Heights/Inwood is still the most populous Dominican neighborhood in the country.
MASS MIGRATION AND COMMUNITY FORMATION
During the twentieth century, prior to the 1960s, the Dominican population in New York, especially in Corona (Queens) and Washington Heights (Manhattan), became a center for numerous politically based Dominican activities in which many opposed the thirty-year dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The increase in the freedom to travel after the fall Trujillo’s regime in 1961, coupled with the passage of the Hart–Cellar Immigration Act in 1965 in the United States, triggered the largest exodus of Dominicans to the United States. This was then followed by the turmoil of the Dominican Republic’s Civil War of 1965, the second US military invasion of the country in the twentieth century, and ensuing economic hardships that, combined with the Dominican government’s easy issuing of passports, further intensified many Dominicans’ desire to leave home. Since then Dominican immigration continued unabated for decades, and this phenomenon led to the emergence of Dominicans as a visible Latino presence in the United States.
CULTURAL AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM
While some Dominican civic groups began to be formed in the 1960s, during the 1980s church organizations and social welfare groups sprang up to meet the needs of this growing community. Many Dominican voluntary associations and community based organizations emerged during this decade, most notably in the Washington Heights/Inwood neighborhoods of New York City. As the population continued to grow, the Dominican community became visible: Spanish signs advertised the businesses of a hardworking community. With the establishment, in 1991, of a New York City Council district in northern Manhattan with a heavy Dominican population and of a somewhat overlapping New York State Assembly district where Dominicans also constituted a sizable constituency, Dominicans began to acquire a visible political presence in New York City politics. During the 1990s and up to 2010 their visibility increased, as more Dominican Americans were elected to seats in the New York City Council, the New York State Assembly, and the New York Senate. In 2012, a candidate of Dominican ancestry was for the first time a serious contender for a US Congress seat in a district that encompassed northern Manhattan and the southwest Bronx winning the seat in 2017. The states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts have also seen Dominicans elected to similar positions. And there are Dominican city mayors in the states of Rhode Island and New Jersey.
In New York City Dominicans are widely represented among small business owners. In Washington Heights/Inwood, stores owned or operated by Dominicans stand out as one of the most significant economic phenomena in the area. Distinctively Dominican signs and symbols such as the Dominican flag, images of revered historical figures, or names of historic battles, provinces, and towns adorn the myriad storefronts along Broadway, Saint Nicholas, Audubon, and Amsterdam Avenues in northern Manhattan. The majority of these businesses are commercial activities such as grocery stores and restaurants; personal and business services such as beauty parlors and insurance or travel agencies; and finance firms that cash checks or transfer remittances.
Particularly noticeable has been the development of Dominican supermarket ownership in New York City, which has expanded, like Dominican entrepreneurship in general, to many of the states where Dominicans are present. Dominican ownership in the local livery-cab industry is considerable as well.Source: This is a slighted updated version of the essay by Aponte, Sarah and Anthony Stevens-Acevedo. “Dominican Americans.” In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism. Edited by John Stone, R. Dennis, P. Rizova, A. Smith and X. Hou. Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.
“The story of Dominican immigration to Upper Manhattan began in early to mid 1980s, and continues to be written today. Walking around Upper Manhattan can often feel like walking through the streets of a town in the Dominican Republic. As you walk down Broadway, you will find bodegas on every corner; barber shops, salons, taxi bases, and restaurants in between; older gentlemen playing dominoes all along Amsterdam and Broadway; and of course, Spanish spoken fluently by an entire community of hundreds of thousands of Dominicans. I am proud to be able to designate Washington Heights and Inwood as the historic district of Little Dominican Republic. We can finally hold a claim over the incredible contributions Dominicans have made to Upper Manhattan and all of New York City.”— Senator Marisol Alcántara
“For decades Washington Heights has been the home away from home for immigrants from the Dominican Republic. As one of the the fastest growing immigrant communities in our state, We are proud to recognize the invaluable contributions of the Dominican community through the official designation of Little DR as a district.” — Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa
"Whether it be through cuisine, literature, music, fashion or business, the significant contributions that Dominicans and Dominican-Americans have made to New York City and American culture cannot be overstated. Designating Washington Heights and Inwood as the Historic District of Little Dominican Republic is a logical next step in consideration of the area’s rich architecture and the ties that it has to the significant cultural history of Dominican-Americans who inhabit these architectural spaces. The neighborhood designation of Little Quisqueya would establish an important anchor for the legacy of our immigrant community, which will in turn attract both economic and cultural activity as people travel to visit, connect and engage in a myriad of ways with our historic neighborhood." — Angela Fernandez, Esq, Executive Director and Supervising Attorney of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights