Dominican Americans

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
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Dominican Americans

Sean T. Buffington


Dominican Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, a nation that occupies the eastern portion of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic takes up approximately two-thirds of the island, while the nation of Haiti occupies the western portion. Hispaniola is part of the Greater Antilles, one of two island groups in the Caribbean Sea. The Greater Antilles also include Cuba and Jamaica, located to the west of Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico, Hispaniola's eastern neighbor. The four highest peaks in the Caribbean are located in the Dominican Republic's Cordillera Central, or Central Mountain Range. The Dominican Republic is the second largest Caribbean nation. At 18,704 square miles (48,442 square kilometers), the country is roughly the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined.

According to a 2010 census conducted by the country's Office of National Statistics, the Dominican Republic has a population of approximately 9.4 million. A 2010 report on international religious freedom conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) indicated that, although the Dominican Republic has traditionally been a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, with 68.9 percent of the population still declaring that as their religion, other religious denominations have seen a significant increase in followers. Evangelical Protestant groups account for close to 18 percent of the population, while the country maintains small but growing Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities. An indeterminable portion of the population practices a syncretic version of Catholicism and Afro-Caribbean beliefs. Due to the country's colonial history, 74 percent of the Dominican Republic's population is multiracial, with many inhabitants possessing both European and African ancestry. The U.S. State Department ranks the Dominican Republic's as the second largest economy in the Central America and Caribbean region; it relies primarily on tourism and agriculture.

Following the assassination of dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961, Dominicans immigrated to the United States in unprecedented numbers, settling predominantly in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Florida. Many of the first wave of male immigrants worked in unskilled or semiskilled labor in the manufacturing industry. Female immigrants worked primarily in the service industry or in garment shops. As they became more established, Dominican Americans branched out into the service industry and a variety of small businesses, including grocery stores, travel agencies, and beauty shops. During the 1990s the majority of Dominicans who immigrated to the United States were in pursuit of employment and educational opportunities. This trend continued throughout the last decade of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century as Dominicans continued to immigrate to the United States with hopes of securing higher wages and stable employment.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 1.4 million people claiming Dominican ancestry were living in the United States as of 2010. These Dominican American communities are predominantly urban. For example, most Dominican Americans in New York and New Jersey live in either New York City (the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan is one prominent location) or the New Jersey suburbs of New York City. Similarly, Dominican Americans in Massachusetts tend to live in Boston, while those in Florida reside mostly in Miami. Since the early 2000s, sizeable communities have emerged throughout the United States, including in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; New Orleans; Philadelphia and Allentown, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Oregon.


Early History The nation now called the Dominican Republic was colonized by the Spanish in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The island of Hispaniola's previous inhabitants, known as the Taínos, were decimated primarily by diseases carried by the Spanish, but also through war, enslavement, and intermarriage. To replenish the population and provide workers for the plantations, the Spanish brought African slaves to the island in the early sixteenth century. In the late seventeenth century, France occupied and colonized the western third of the island, a region then called Saint-Domingue, which would later become the nation of Haiti.

Like the other Spanish Caribbean colonies at that time, the region of Hispaniola under Spanish Page 16  |  Top of Articlerule was sparsely populated, mainly by those of Spanish descent (including Spanish “creoles,” a term for people of Spanish descent born in the Americas) and relatively small numbers of African and African-descended slaves. Isolated from a distant Spanish monarch, underpopulated, and with little investment from the outside, the region languished, particularly in comparison to its French and British West Indian neighbors, Barbados and Saint-Domingue. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, respectively, those regions became centers of sugar production based on slavery and generated great wealth for the British and French planters who owned the land. It was not until the nineteenth century that the region of Hispaniola now known as the Dominican Republic developed into a central presence in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1822 the newly founded nation of Haiti, which had won its independence from France at the turn of the century and become the first black sovereign nation in the Americas, invaded and occupied the Spanish portion of Hispaniola. For the remainder of the century, the Spanish portion of Hispaniola—including its capital city, Santo Domingo—passed into and out of sovereignty, winning independence from Haiti in 1844 and then voluntarily resubmit-ting to Spanish colonial rule in 1861. After regaining independence in 1865, the Dominican government discussed the possibilities of annexation with U.S. officials.

At the same time that the government was discussing new political directions, the Dominican economy began to experience new growth after centuries of slow progress. Cuban immigrants, along with others from North America and Europe, brought new capital into the country. They invested heavily in the sugar industry, which soon became the most important productive industry in the nation.

Modern Era The Dominican Republic's claims to sovereignty did not go unchallenged in the twentieth century. The United States invaded and occupied the Caribbean island twice, first in 1916 (in an occupation that lasted until 1924), and again in 1965. The second invasion played a significant role in launching the most recent migration of Dominicans to the United States. The assassination of military ruler Rafael Trujillo in 1961 marked the start of a period of political uncertainty in the Dominican Republic that ended when U.S. paratroops intervened by order of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The U.S. intervention brought to a close a civil war between supporters of democratically elected President Juan Bosch and his right-wing opponents in the Dominican military and oversaw the election of former Trujillo aide Joaquin Balaguer to the presidency.

That civil war and subsequent intervention by the United States on the side of the conservative military led to an outflux of Bosch supporters and other like-minded political activists from the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. Most of those emigrants relocated to the United States and became the first of many Dominicans to arrive in the country over the next several decades.

In 1965 the United States sent additional forces to the Dominican Republic to prevent what President Johnson perceived to be a communist threat in the region and to monitor the transition of power from Bosch to Joaquin Balaguer. Between 1966 and 1978, President Balaguer and the Reformist Party established a repressive regime, which was challenged by Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidate Antonio Guzmán. Balaguer resisted Guzmán's election and attempted to retain his political power until external pressure from the United States forced him to yield his presidency to Guzmán. Guzmán remained in power until 1982, and PRD candidate Salvador Jorge Blanco won the presidential election that same year. With the Dominican Republic facing considerable debt and a struggling economy, Blanco enrolled the country in an austerity program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Despite Blanco's efforts, the Dominican Republic faced growing economic instability that increased the cost of food and led to massive riots in 1984.

Balaguer returned to power in 1986 and attempted to revitalize the economy through a variety of public works efforts. However, the country continued to face severe economic depression, and by 1989 the government was unable to supply people with basic services, leading to violent protests and a nationwide strike in the summer of 1989. The violence increased leading up to the 1990 elections. Although Balaguer secured his reelection, the elections were tainted by suspicions of fraud. In response to the increasing economic and political turmoil, Balaguer sought an agreement with the IMF, which helped to bring a period of stability to the country's economy. Balaguer won reelection in 1994, but observers of the election as well as the opposition questioned the legitimacy of the electoral process. The United States pressured Balaguer to hold new elections in 1996. Balaguer agreed to withhold his name from the ballot, but his vice president failed to garner sufficient popular support, forcing Balaguer to lend his support to PLD candidate Leonel Fernández. The so-called Patriotic Front between Balaguer and Fernández insured the latter's victory against the PRD candidate, José Francisco Peña Gómez.

Under Fernández's leadership, the Dominican Republic was a more active participant in regional affairs and organizations, including the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Summit of the Americas. Fernández's efforts helped to bring relative political stability to the country and sparked an extended period of considerable economic growth. The PRD regained control when Hipólito Mejía was elected in 2000. Mejía broadened the Dominican Republic's international involvement by signing the

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CENGAGE LEARNING, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED U.S. Census Bureau, 2009–2011 American Community Survey

Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) between the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as by committing troops for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mejía presided over a tumultuous era of domestic and economic problems during which the country was plagued by bank fraud and power shortages. Fernández defeated Mejía and regained the presidency in 2004, broadening the Dominican Republic's international relationships and working closely with the United Nations, the OAS, and the United States to strengthen the country's security, law enforcement, and immigration policies. Fernández served as president until 2012, when he was succeeded by Danilo Medina.


Although Dominicans established small immigrant communities in the United States in the early twentieth century, greater numbers began arriving in the 1950s. Close to 10,000 Dominicans, mostly political exiles, fled their home country over the course of the 1950s. The numbers increased dramatically following the assassination of Trujillo in 1961. Immigration numbers averaged close to 9,330 Dominicans per year between 1961 and 1965. As the political situation in the Dominican Republic stabilized, Dominicans continued to emigrate because of limited employment opportunities and poor economic conditions in their country. Studies have shown that Dominicans who emigrated in the 1960s were better educated than those who continued to live on the island and were more likely to have been employed when they left the Dominican Republic. Up to the end of the 1960s, these urban and usually professional migrants left the Caribbean to find better opportunities elsewhere.

At the end of the 1960s, the United States instituted a series of measures to curb the rising tide of Caribbean immigrants. The numbers for Dominican immigrants, however, continued to rise over the next few decades. Of the 169,147 Dominican-born persons residing in the United States at the time of the 1980 U.S. Census, only 6.1 percent had come to the United States before 1960. More than one-third had emigrated during the 1960s, the Dominican Republic's decade of political instability, and 56 percent had arrived in the 1970s. During the 1980s, Dominican immigration soared once again. In those ten years, more than 250,000 Dominicans were legally admitted to the United States. The number of new immigrants in that ten-year period was 50 percent greater than the entire Dominican-born population of the United States at the start of the decade. The 1990 U.S. Census reported that of the 506,000 persons of Dominican descent living in the United States, the vast majority were Dominican-born. Thus, the Dominican American community at that time was comprised primarily of recent immigrants.

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According to the 2010 U.S. Census, most Dominican immigrants, or 86.3 percent, have settled in the northeast. Although the greatest number reside in New York and New Jersey (nearly 873,000), there are significantly sized Dominican communities in Massachusetts (103,292) and Florida (172,451).

No reliable figures exist on the number of undocumented Dominican immigrants in the United States. However, many who have studied Dominican immigration believe the number to be quite high. One scholar writing in 1986 suggested that there were some 300,000 undocumented Dominicans in the United States at that time. Although that number seems high given the statistics collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1990, it does suggest the significance of undocumented immigrants in the Dominican American community.

Many Dominican migrants return to the Dominican Republic to visit or to resettle permanently. Again, no recent or reliable statistics show exactly how many Dominicans have returned to the Caribbean or for how long. Some indicators, however, suggest that the return movement is significant. For example, the tourism secretariat in the Dominican Republic reported in 1985 that 20 percent of visitors to the island from abroad were Dominicans who had previously emigrated. Moreover, certain businesses and institutions—including schools, apartment buildings, and discos—have been opened in the Caribbean nation to cater specifically to returning emigrants.

Dominicans who settle in the United States maintain a strong interest in their country of origin. Many emigrants and retornados, or returned migrants, have invested heavily in the Dominican Republic, establishing real estate brokerages and grocery stores, among other businesses, on the island. Even those who do not start businesses contribute vitally to the economic life of the Dominican Republic. Remittances, monies sent back to family members still resident on the island, bring more foreign currency into the Dominican economy than any industry except tourism.

According to the results of the 2010 U.S. Census, the largest Dominican populations live in New York (674,787), New Jersey (197,922), Florida (172,451), Massachusetts (103,292), and Pennsylvania (62,348). Additionally, Dominican communities have emerged in the Midwest, with the 2010 Census reporting over 25,000, out of which 5,600 were reported for Chicago alone with the rest distributed through Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Grand Rapids, Michigan; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Indianapolis, Indiana. Similar to much of the country, Dominicans and other Hispanic immigrants are altering many regional demographics, such as in Alaska, where military bases and seasonal fishing have attracted immigrant communities, including Dominicans. Of the more than 39,000 people in Alaska who identified as Hispanic, close to 2,000 claimed Dominican ancestry.


Dominican migrants are primarily Spanish speakers. The 2010 U.S. Census showed that close to 92 percent of Dominican American homes listed Spanish as their primary language, although approximately 55 percent of those homes reported that they speak English well or very well. Given the propensity of immigrants to speak their native tongue, second-generation Dominicans typically live in bilingual environments. As with many immigrant populations, however, the dominance of U.S. culture has led many Dominicans to accept English as a first language. Similarly, due to interactions with their fellow students, employees, and neighbors, approximately 70 percent of third generation children speak mainly English.


Similar to Dominicans in their native country, more than 90 percent of Dominican Americans identify themselves as Roman Catholic. Some Dominicans also participate in an Afro-Catholic religion known as Santería, but in the United States this religion is primarily associated with Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrant communities and there are no reliable statistics showing how many Dominican Americans practice it. Santería combines certain aspects of Catholic belief with aspects of West African, chiefly Yoruba, belief and practice. Participating in Santería rites does not preclude belonging to a Catholic church and practicing that religion. The UNHCR's 2010 study found that while a majority of Dominican Americans identify themselves as religious and nearly half reported that they attend religious services three or more times per month, approximately one-third stated that they do not attend a religious service.


The Dominican Republic has an ongoing and often contentious relationship with the United States, its culture, and its citizens. Because of U.S. cultural and political hegemony in the Caribbean basin and extended periods of U.S. occupation, Dominicans are familiar with the United States and its culture. American movies and television programs are shown regularly in the Dominican Republic, baseball is the most popular sport in the country, and U.S. values are admired and emulated by many Dominicans. Thus, Dominicans who immigrate to the United States often have more than a passing familiarity with the country. However, those migrants who return home to the Dominican Republic are often disparaged for the degree to which they have adopted U.S. cultural forms.

The available evidence suggests that Dominican migrants do not have a simple and wholly positive relationship with Americans and U.S. culture. Most Dominican Americans work in nonunionized workplaces for wages that most “established” Americans would refuse. Many Dominican Americans have also Page 19  |  Top of Articleencountered racial prejudice in the United States. The mixed Afro-Hispanic heritage of many Dominicans has led them to be categorized by white Americans as black, making them susceptible to the same racial prejudice that African Americans have experienced for centuries. Despite their compatriots' accusations of assimilation into U.S. culture, Dominican Americans tend to be viewed by other Americans as especially committed to their country, culture, and language of origin and particularly resistant to assimilation.

Dominican Americans are one of the newer national-cultural communities in the United States and are thus still in the process of creating a unique place for themselves in their adopted country. The relationships Dominican Americans have with the United States, the Dominican Republic, and those respective cultures are still evolving, and the character of the space the community carves out for itself still remains to be seen.

The evidence so far does suggest, however, that Dominicans in the United States have neither abandoned their country and culture of origin nor wholly embraced the culture of their adopted land. The accusations from nonmigrant Dominicans that migrants are too “American” clearly indicate that migrants have adopted certain highly visible characteristics of U.S. culture. Dominicans residing in the Caribbean who criticize Dominican migrants point to several aspects of Dominican American culture as “foreign” or “un-Dominican.” According to Luis E. Guarnizo, “Migrants' style of living, their tastes, and their manners, especially those of youngsters and the most prosperous … are judged as tasteless and revolting especially by the upper classes.” This may suggest that the children of migrants are abandoning traditional children's roles and adopting distinctly “American” models of proper behavior and attitudes for children. At least one young Dominican migrant has noted that young people in the United States behave differently than Dominican youngsters, that they are “too ‘liberal’—so preoccupied with boyfriends, clothes, and the latest fads”. Studies have also shown that the occupational profile of a migrant is different from that of an islander. Additionally, Dominican American women are more likely to find steady employment than their male counterparts, which positions the mother or daughter as the primary wage earner in the household. Nevertheless, certain behaviors among Dominican Americans—such as their regular return to the Caribbean and their tendency to settle in mostly Dominican communities in the United States—suggest that they retain a strong connection to their homeland, its customs, and its people.

Like many other immigrant groups, Dominican migrants have been regarded by many Americans as coming from the poorest, least educated segment of their country of origin. They have also been accused of placing a substantial burden on federal and state social

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A buen hambre no hay pan duro.

When you are really hungry, no bread is too hard to eat.

Creerse que el maco es peje por estar en el agua.

To believe that a frog is a fish because it lives in the water (meaning that appearances can be deceiving).

Después de la excusa, nadie queda mal.

After the excuses were given, everybody got along fine.

El que anda con perro a ladrar aprende.

He who hangs out with a dog will learn how to bark.

El que quiere moños bonitos tiene que aguantar halones.

If you want nice hair, you have to pull it tight (meaning that if you want something, you need to work hard for it).

Entrar a comer ojos.

Between a rock and a hard place.

Es mejor andar solo que mal acompañado.

Better to go alone than to keep bad company.

Lo agarraron asando batatas.

He got caught with his pants down.

Lo que va, viene.

What goes around, comes around.

Si la vaca la venden por libras, por qué comprar la vaca entera?

If you can buy the cow by the pound, why buy the entire cow?

services. Research conducted in the 1980s showed both of these ideas to be false at the time. That research indicated that the proportion of highly educated Dominicans was greater among the migrant community than among island Dominicans. In the group of Dominicans who entered the United States between 1986 and 1991, there were 15,000 professionals. As a group, Dominican migrants were also shown to have more schooling than island Dominicans. Likewise, 99 percent of undocumented Hispanic immigrants and 85.9 percent of documented Hispanic immigrants surveyed in 1981 reported that they had never received welfare payments in the United States. A majority of both groups also reported that they had never received unemployment compensation or food stamps.

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By the late 1990s, however, these statistics had changed, with poverty among Dominican Americans on the rise. As a whole, the American family was changing, reflected in the growth of single-parent households headed by women, up 8.6 percent in New York City between 1989 and 1997. Consequently, more families were relying on public assistance, including Dominican Americans. In 1997 a survey conducted by City College of New York (CCNY) and Columbia University showed that 50 percent of Dominican American households in New York City had a woman at their head, while the poverty rate among those households was 45.7 percent. This trend toward poverty was not sudden. In 1990 the only immigrants in New York City receiving more public assistance than Dominicans were those from the former Soviet Union.

As with many immigrant groups, second-generation Dominican Americans experience greater financial and professional success than the first generation of immigrants. According to multiple studies, second generation Dominican Americans are fluent in English and have made great strides in assimilating to the larger culture. While such assimilation assists second generation Dominican Americans in achieving financial success, those populations still face marked racism and social stigmas that inhibit their upward movement.

Cuisine Dominican dishes are similar to those in other Latin American countries. Many traditional dishes, such as arepa, sancocho, and chapea, rely on rice, beans, and meat or seafood. Due to the Dominican Republic's colonial heritage, some dishes also have African influences, including mangu (boiled, mashed plantains) and a variety of stews. Little specific information about the Dominican American diet is available. However, many Dominican Americans operate small independent grocery stores, or bodegas, in Dominican neighborhoods. These grocery stores, in addition to selling toiletries and American food products, sell Caribbean and Latin American products and ingredients commonly used in Dominican cooking. The presence of these stores indicates that Dominicans in the United States continue to prepare traditional Dominican dishes with some frequency.

Holidays Although it is not an official Dominican American holiday, the annual Dominican Day Parade in New York City is one of the best places to witness the growth of the Dominican American population. An annual event held every August since 1981, the parade has grown from a small festival confined to one avenue in the Washington Heights neighborhood to a much larger affair. The parade now includes merengue music, food delicacies like plantains, and rituals like the gaga ceremony (a rite for the sugar cane harvest). In 2012 the parade attracted more than 500,000 people.

Many Dominican Americans observe traditional Roman Catholic holidays, such as Easter and Christmas. It is difficult to ascertain what percentage of the Dominican American population continues to observe Dominican holidays, such as Restoration Day

At the Antillana Meat Warehouse, a Dominican supermarket in the Washington Heights Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan, the butcher stands with a whole, suckling pig.

At the Antillana Meat Warehouse, a Dominican supermarket in the Washington Heights Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan, the butcher stands with a whole, suckling pig. FRANCES ROBERTS / ALAMY

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(August 16), which commemorates the restoration of Dominican sovereignty following the 1863–1865 war with Spain, and Dominican Independence Day (February 27). On both days, however, Dominican communities throughout the United States, including in New York, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Providence, hold events to mark the day. Celebrations include the raising of the Dominican flag and galas that focus on Dominican cuisine, music, and dance.

Health Issues No reliable sources address in a systematic and complete way the topic of the state of Dominican Americans' health. Reports by the American Medical Association (AMA) that focus on the health of Hispanic people in the United States do not generally distinguish Dominican Americans from the group. Some targeted studies, however, have used Dominican Americans as a control group. In a 2006 National Institute of Health (NIH) study titled “Immigration and HIV/AIDS in the New York Metropolitan Area,” researchers found that Dominican Americans, like other Caribbean groups, were more likely to have HIV/AIDs than their white counterparts. Another study, titled “Access Barriers to Health Care for Latino Children,” found that Latino parents encountered a variety of barriers—including language problems, poverty, lack of health insurance, and transportation difficulties—that could lead to poor medical care, including misdiagnosis and incorrect medication.


The Dominican family in the United States is a different institution than the family unit in the Dominican Republic. Although kin relationships continue to be important to Dominican migrants in the United States, their families become smaller and more nuclear the longer they remain in the country. In contrast, Dominican families in the Caribbean are more likely to be large and nonnuclear. In contrast, Dominican migrants tend to marry after some period of residence in the United States and that, after marrying, they tend to live in smaller, less nuclear families. Other studies have shown that Dominican women in the United States tend to have fewer children than women in the Dominican Republic.

Gender roles within the Dominican American family also seem to transform through emigration. The Dominican family tends to be patriarchal. Male heads of household exercise control over household budgets and have final authority over family members. Women in Dominican households are responsible for domestic tasks and maintenance. Among Dominican migrants, however, these roles seem to be changing. Dominican women in the United States have demanded greater control over budgets and have wrested some authority from their husbands. Their new role as co-breadwinners has empowered Dominican American women to challenge male authority in the household more effectively.

These changes in the structure and organization of the Dominican family in the United States suggest that the process of courting and the institution of marriage have changed. While there are no authoritative or specific treatments of these topics, it seems reasonable to conclude from the noted studies concerning gender relations within marriages that gender relations among dating couples in the Dominican American community may be changing as well.

By the late 1990s, researchers had identified a trend toward single-parent households headed by women among Dominican Americans in New York City. A 2004 survey found that nearly 40 percent of Dominican American households were helmed by a woman. Almost the same percentage of households lived in poverty. Some experts blame the immigration process for the long-term separation of families. Others point to economic pressures in the United States and the lack of formal marriages among many Dominican Americans, claiming that men who fail to fulfill their role as providers tend to abandon their families, often leaving them destitute. Many of the abandoned women are left with no job skills, do not speak English, and are forced to use public assistance to help support themselves and their children. Seeing that their children get an education in the United States is often seen as these women's only hope.

Education seems to occupy a place of importance in the Dominican migrant worldview. Dominican migrants as a group are better educated than Dominicans who remain in their home country, and Dominicans in the United States have fought some of their most significant political battles over education. In the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, Dominican Americans organized to gain a voice on the local school board. The board at that time was dominated by non-Dominicans, even though Dominicans represented a majority of school-aged children in the district. Dominican residents of the neighborhood campaigned for and succeeded in putting representatives of their community on the board. This political mobilization around education marked one of the New York City Dominican American community's early forays into city politics, and at least one Dominican city leader began his political career on the Washington Heights board of education.

Prior to 2000 the U.S. Census Bureau classified Dominican Americans as “Central/South Americans.” These groups are not comparable—their forebears came from radically different cultures, and they inhabit very different socioeconomic “worlds” in the United States. Since 2000, however, statistics on the level of education of native-born Dominican Americans have been easier to find, because the Census Bureau has provided additional space for respondents

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Dominican women perform at the Hispanic Parade.

Dominican women perform at the Hispanic Parade. DAVID GROSSMAN / ALAMY

to indicate their exact country of origin (for example, “Dominican” or “Salvadoran”). The 1990 U.S. Census found that 62 percent of Americans of Central or South American origin had graduated from high school and that 13 percent had graduated from college. The 2010 census showed that, of the respondents who identified themselves as Dominican immigrants, 21 percent were college graduates.

Besides education, baseball is another important institution in the Dominican American community. It is far more than a sport or recreational activity to Dominicans in both the Caribbean and the United States. Scholars who study baseball in the Dominican Republic have noted that becoming a professional baseball player is the dream of many Dominicans. Baseball represents a way out of poverty for the largely poor population of the Caribbean nation. As the national pastime, baseball also represents a way for Dominicans to demonstrate the pride they have in their nation. Between 1990 and 2010, Major League Baseball (MLB) experienced an influx of Dominicans and Dominican Americans into its ranks. The promise of high salaries and potential celebrity status has led many Dominican American and Dominican children to pursue baseball as a means to alleviate their financial hardships. Due to the Dominican Republic's large talent pool and the country's passion for the sport, almost every MLB team maintains a scouting academy on the island. As the academies attempt to foster talent on the island, scouts comb the inner cities of the United States hoping to find the next star. According to multiple sources, these international academies have taken a significant toll on youth baseball in the United States, with participation dropping by 25 percent. However, Dominicans and other Latin Americans continue to play baseball in the United States in organized leagues and in pick-up games. Once signed to a major-league team, Dominicans are often sent to small towns in states across the United States, including Iowa, Montana, and Kansas. The increase of Dominican and Latino players in these towns has not only created small Latino communities in unlikely places, but has also transformed the makeup of the game, as entire teams might now consist of players born in Latin American and the Caribbean.


While significant numbers of those who emigrate from the Dominican Republic to the United States were professionals in their home country, most are employed in low-wage, low-prestige jobs once they are in the United States. The 1980 U.S. Census showed that, among foreign-born Dominicans, only 6.9 percent occupied “upper white-collar” Page 23  |  Top of Articlepositions, while 33.5 percent occupied “lower blue-collar” positions. Rates among the U.S. population as a whole were quite different, with 22.7 percent in upper white-collar positions and 18.3 percent in lower blue-collar positions. Similarly, 22.1 percent of foreign-born Dominican families were living in poverty, compared with 9.6 percent of the total U.S. population. In New York City in 1997, those numbers were considerably higher, with approximately 45.7 percent of Dominicans living in poverty, compared to a city-wide rate of 23.8 percent. Between 2000 and 2008, however, researchers noted that employment rates stabilized for Dominican Americans. Following a steep decline in male employment between 1998 and 2000, a steady increase in employment occurred, with nearly two-thirds of the Dominican population maintaining a position in the workforce in 2008.

A study conducted around the same time provides more detailed information about Dominican migrants. That study showed that the proportion of professionals among migrants decreased markedly as migrants moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States. At the same time, the proportion of laborers increased dramatically. The study also showed that among those employed as laborers, the majority worked in manufacturing, with a sizable number of men also working in restaurants and hotels. These laborers worked primarily for smaller firms, with 40 percent earning less than $150 a week and 45 percent working in nonunionized workplaces. In other words, Dominican Americans earned less and were less protected at their workplaces than the general U.S. population. The reasons for the economic position of Dominican Americans are easy to guess—the language barrier, discrimination, the illegal status of many in the community, and the lower level of education of the Dominican American community as a whole relative to the average level of education of the U.S. population.

The garment industry employs the greatest number of Dominican women in the New York City area. Many of these Dominican garment workers are employed in what is called the “informal sector” of the garment industry, in small firms that are not regulated or unionized. Women who work for these firms are paid low wages and enjoy little job security or protection while on the job. Many other Dominican American women clean houses and do other odd jobs outside the organized labor market.

Despite the fact that most in the Dominican American community work in low-paid, low-status jobs, a significant number own businesses that draw many customers from the immigrant and ethnic communities. In 1992 the New York City grocery store chain C-Town Group said that half of its stores were owned and operated by Dominican Americans. Other similar associations in New York report high levels of Dominican ownership as well. The Dominican involvement in the groceries trade goes even further, with many Dominicans owning and operating bodegas in their neighborhoods that are not affiliated with any grocery association.


The Dominican American community has taken up several important political issues in the United States and in the Dominican Republic. The most important of these issues have been education, the status of undocumented migrants in the United States, citizenship status, and police violence against Dominicans. In the 1970s a union of several Dominican associations called Concilio de Organizaciones Dominicanas (Council of Dominican Organizations) began to push for greater rights for undocumented Dominicans in the United States. In the same decade, a group called Asociación Nacional de Dominicanos Ausentes (National Association of Absent Dominicans) lobbied the Dominican government for the right of migrants in the United States to vote in Dominican elections. More recently, Dominican migrants have pushed the Dominican Republic to permit Dominicans in the United States to retain their Dominican citizenship so that they will be considered citizens when they return home to visit or to live, as many do.

The Union of Young Dominicans, has sought to address issues faced by Dominican immigrants. The Dominican Women's Development Center promotes self-sufficiency and helps Dominican American women organize around critical issues in their community. Dominican Americans have also made impressive strides in politics on the national and local levels. The 1990s saw the election of New York City's first Dominican American city councilman, Guillermo Linares. In 2009 President Barack Obama appointed Thomas E. Perez, a Dominican American, to Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. In 2011 Angel Taveras, also a Dominican American, became the first Hispanic mayor of Providence, Rhode Island.


Academia Elsa Gomez (1938–) served as president of Kean College of New Jersey between 1989 and 1994. Born in 1938 in New York City, Gomez catapulted into the national spotlight when Jewish students at Kean College expressed outrage over a Nation of Islam speaker who made remarks that many regarded as anti-Semitic. Anthony Stevens-Acevedo is one of the founders of the City College of New York (CUNY) Dominican Studies Institute and as of 2012 served as assistant director of the institute along with fellow founding member and director Ramona Hernández.

Fashion Oscar de la Renta, born in 1932 in the Dominican Republic, is a world-renowned fashion designer and creator of a line of high-end women's clothing.

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Fashion designer and Dominican American, Oscar de la Renta ©, with models on the runway after his fall 2013 show.

Fashion designer and Dominican American, Oscar de la Renta ©, with models on the runway after his fall 2013 show. FAIRCHILD PHOTO SERVICE

Journalism and Literature Born in 1950 in the United States and raised in part in the Dominican Republic, Julia Alvarez is a prominent and critically acclaimed writer and poet. Alvarez is the author of several novels, including the much-lauded How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Much of her work explores the experience of growing up in two cultures. Tony Marcano (1960–) has served as a reporter for several nationally known newspapers during his career as a journalist. Marcano was born in 1960 in New York City and is former editor of the “City Times” section of the Los Angeles Times. In 2008 Junot Díaz (1968–) became the first Dominican American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to New Jersey as a child. By focusing on how immigrants adjust to their new lives in the United States, Díaz's work illuminates the joys and disappointments that many Dominicans experience when they pursue the American dream. In addition to his literary work, Díaz is a prominent advocate for young Latinos in the United States.

Politics Guillermo Linares, born in 1950 in the Dominican Republic, was the first Dominican American city councilman in New York City, serving from 1992 to 2001. Linares has since enjoyed a distinguished career as a politician. In 2004 he was appointed New York City Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, and in 2010 Linares was elected State Assemblyman for the 72nd District of Manhattan.

In 2005 Grace Diaz, born in 1957, was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives, making her the first Dominican American woman to be elected to state office.

In 1996 Adriano Espaillat, born in 1954, became the first Dominican American to be elected to the New York State Assembly. In 2011 Espaillat was elected to the New York State Senate.

Sports Mary Joe Fernández, born in 1971 in the Dominican Republic, is a former professional tennis player. Fernández played in her first Grand Slam tennis tournament at the age of fourteen and went on to win two Grand Slam women's doubles titles. She also won Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1996.

Juan Marichal, born in 1937 in the Dominican Republic, is a baseball Hall of Famer and a former pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, the Boston Red Sox, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Marichal served as a scout for the Oakland Athletics for twelve years.

Since the 1990s numerous Dominicans have found success in Major League Baseball (MLB), including perennial all-stars José Bautista (1980–), Adrián Beltré (1979–), Robinson Canó (1982–), Pedro Martínez (1971–), David Ortiz (1975–), Albert Pujols (1980–), Hanley Ramírez (1983–), Alex Rodriguez (1975–), and Sammy Sosa (1968–). Dominicans have also made headway in other sports, such as Francisco García (1981–) and Al Horford (1986–) in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Stage and Screen Agustin Rodriguez, born in 1967 in New York City, is frequently seen on network television and in movies. He has had small roles in the movies Final Analysis and Falling Down and has guest-starred on the television series Street Justice and Sirens. He was also a regular on the TV series Moon Over Miami.

Michelle Rodríguez, born in 1978 in San Antonio, Texas, played a high-profile role in the television series Lost and starred in the movies The Fast and the Furious, S.W.A.T., and Resident Evil. Dania Ramirez, born in 1979 in the Dominican Republic, is known for her Page 25  |  Top of Articleappearances in the TV series The Sopranos, Entourage, and Heroes and for starring in the movies X-Men: The Last Stand and Quarantine. Zoe Saldaña, born in 1978 in Passaic, New Jersey, of Dominican and Puerto Rican parents, has been featured in significant roles as Anamaría in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, as the alien Neytiri in Avatar, and as Uhura in the 2009 film Star Trek.

In 2003 Susie Castillo, born in 1979 in Methuen, Massachusetts, was named Miss USA, while that same year Dominican Amelia Vega (1984–) was crowned Miss Universe.


Online newspapers published for Dominican Americans include the following:

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Listín Diario

Oldest newspaper published in the Dominican Republic. Founded in 1889 by Arturo Pellerano Alfau and Julian Atiles, the newspaper is published daily.

El Viajero Digital

Online publication that maintains daily updated content.


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Dominican-American National Foundation (DANF)

Established in 1989, the DANF assists Dominican Americans with immigration assistance, educational and employment training, and access to a variety of social services.

2885 NW 36 Street
Miami, Florida 33142

Dominican American National Roundtable (DANR)

Founded in 1999, the DANR provides a national forum for analysis, planning, and action to advance the educational, economic, legal, social, cultural, and political interests of Dominican Americans.

1050 17th Street, N.W., Suite 600
Washington, D.C. 20036

Dominican Women's Development Center (DWDC)

Founded in 1988, the DWDC seeks to empower Dominican American women by supporting them in education, employment, and health issues.

519 West 189th Street, Ground Floor
New York, New York 10040


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The Dominican Studies Institute of the City University of New York (CUNY DSI)

Founded in 1992, CUNY DSI provides a multidisciplinary approach to research and scholarship devoted to people of Dominican descent.

The City College of New York
North Academic Center (NAC) 4/107160
Convent Avenue at 138th Street
New York, New York 10031
Phone: Institute Main Office: (212) 650-7496
Archives and Library: (212) 650-7170


Aparicio, Ana. Dominican-Americans and the Politics of Empowerment. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2009.

Del Castillo, José, and Martin F. Murphy. “Migration, National Identity and Cultural Policy in the Dominican Republic.” Journal of Ethnic Studies 15, no. 3 (1987): 49–69.

Garcia, John A. “Caribbean Migration to the Mainland: A Review of Adaptive Experiences,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 487 (1986): 114–125.

Gonzalez, David. “New Country Is Like Prison to Asenhat, 18,” New York Times, April 20 (1993): A1.

Grasmuck, Sherri. “Immigration, Ethnic Stratification, and Native Working Class Discipline: Comparisons of Documented and Undocumented Dominicans,” International Migration Review, vol. 18, no. 3, (1984): 692–713.

Guarnizo, Luis E. “Los Dominicanyorks: The Making of a Binational Society,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 533 (1994): 70–86.

Hernández, Ramona. The Mobility of Workers under Advanced Capitalism: Dominican Migration to the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Itzigsohn, José. Encountering American Faultlines: Race, Class, and Dominican Experience in Providence. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2009.

Kasinitz, Philip, John H. Mollenkopf, Mary Waters, and Jennifer Holdaway. Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008.

Klein, Alan M. Sugarball: The American Game, the Dominican Dream. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Ojito, Mirta. “Dominicans, Scrambling for Hope.” New York Times, December 16, 1997.

Stepan, Alfred, ed. Americas: New Interpretive Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Sutton, Constance R., and Elsa M. Chaney, eds. Caribbean Life in New York City: Sociocultural Dimensions. New York: Center for Migration Studies of New York, 1992.

Torres-Saillant, Silvio, and Ramona Hernández. The Dominican Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300063