Latino Studies Dominican Americans
by
Ramona Hernández
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0015

Introduction

Massive emigration from the Dominican Republic to the United States began in 1966. A large contingent of Dominicans left their native land between 1963 and 1965 in the wake of political instability. Many of those who left during these years belonged to the elite classes of Dominican society. In 1966, however, Dominican migration changed: it became an enormous exodus of people looking for jobs. In 1960, fewer than 10,000 Dominicans resided in the United States. By 1980, the number of Dominicans in the United States had increased to 170,817, and by 2010, to over 1.4 million, according to the US Census. The majority of Dominicans came between 1990 and 2000. During that decade, almost 300,000 Dominicans obtained permanent residence, and 90 percent of them obtained it through the Family Reunification Act of 1965. Most Dominican migrants settled in New York. In 1980, over 73 percent of Dominicans resided in the state of New York, and New York City housed close to 95 percent of that population in the United States. In 1990, Dominicans were the largest immigrant group in New York City, with a population of 332,713. Their remarkable demographic growth resulted from immigration influxes combined with high fertility rates among Dominican women. The massive arrival of Dominicans coincided with a socioeconomic restructuring in the labor market; more jobs were being created in the service sector than in any other area, and stable, unionized blue-collar manufacturing jobs were rapidly disappearing. In 1990, the growth of the Dominican population in New York City decelerated. But, the Dominican population grew fast in other states across the United States, particularly in the Northeast, California, and Alaska. Such growth created Dominican communities with vibrant businesses, a cultural presence, and an active political life. A Dominican community today shows distress and progress simultaneously. In Florida, Dominican households’ annual income in 2010 was half of the income of non-Hispanic whites; in New York, one-fourth of Dominican families lived below the poverty line, and more Dominicans were deported back than were those to all other Caribbean nations combined. Yet, Hollywood movie star Zoe Saldana became an American household name, Julissa Reynoso served as the youngest US ambassador at that time, Thomas Perez served as Assistant Attorney General for the civil rights division of the US Justice Department in the Obama administration, and Dominicans elect their own to political posts in many of the cities where they now live. The annotations reflect the above descriptions of US Dominicans. They also point out the most salient issues in Dominican scholarship, debates, and what remain unquestionable truths about the character of this group.

Explaining Dominican Migration

For several decades, Dominican New Yorkers filled the imagination of most scholars interested in studying the Dominican experience in the United States. Scholars paid attention to their settlement and adaptation styles, to the ways Dominicans viewed themselves, reproduced a culture, and participated both in the United States as well as in Dominican society. The most contentious debate regarding Dominican migration, however, revolved around three questions: Who were the migrants, why did they come to the United States, and whether migration had been a stepwise decision? This section will address the first two questions; the third is addressed in the section on Women and Migration. One finds that the first two questions appear intertwined in the literature. The pioneering studies of both González 1970 and Hendricks 1974 look at Dominican migrant peasants and the presumed facility with which they found jobs that others did not want in New York City. In the view of these studies, the transformation of the US economy opened new labor markets that demanded low-skilled, low-paid workers. Written in Spanish, De Frank Canelo 1982 presents a society plagued with social and economic problems that pushed impoverished rural Dominicans to migrate. Ugalde, et al. 1979 perceives Dominican migrants as members of the urban and middle class who left home to improve their lifestyle and increase their ability for consumption. The middle-class/urban perspective would prevail in the majority of the works published afterward. Bray 1984 focuses on middle-class landowners whose immigration to the United States affected land tenure and agricultural production in the Dominican Republic. Baez Evertsz and Ramírez 1985, a study published in Spanish, looks at how US Dominican migrant members of the middle-class sectors influence the national development of the Dominican Republic, and Grasmuck and Pessar 1991 emphasizes the migration of urban and middle-class Dominican women and the benefits they obtained through migration to the United States. Hernández 2002 argues that Dominican migration was designed by the Dominican government in complicity with the Dominican elite to eliminate unwanted surplus population produced by capitalist production.

  • Báez Evertsz, Franc, and Frank D’Oleo Ramírez. La Emigración de Dominicanos a los Estados Unidos: Determinantes socio-económicos y consecuencias. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Fundación Friedrich Ebert, 1985.

    E-mail Citation »

    One of the few studies in the Dominican Republic examining migration to the United States, it proposes that remittance from the United States supports laziness among able people; remittances also encourage the Dominican state to be passive in solving the country’s unemployment problem.

  • Bray, David. “Economic Development: The Middle Class and International Migration in the Dominican Republic.” International Migration Review 18.2 (Summer 1984): 217–236.

    DOI: 10.2307/2545948E-mail Citation »

    US Dominican migrants come from the middle-class sectors of Dominican society. Migration resulted from capitalist economic expansion and bottlenecks related to said expansion. Migration to the United States will continue to come from the middle-class groups and not from poor and rural groups.

  • De Frank Canelo, J. Dónde, por qué, de qué y cómo viven los dominicanos en el extranjero: Un informe sociológico sobre el proceso migratorio, 1961–1962. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Alfa y Omega, 1982.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written in Spanish, the article advances six reasons behind Dominican migration to the United States. Among them are limited access to public education, employment shortage, government persecution after the 1965 revolution, and the failure of the agrarian reform undertaken during the 1970s.

  • González, Naniey L. “Peasants’ Progress: Dominicans in New York.” Caribbean Studies 10.3 (October 1970): 154–171.

    E-mail Citation »

    One of the first to describe how easy it was for Dominican immigrants to find jobs in New York City. González adhered to the theoretical view that explains the international migration of workers as a response to a demand for labor in the receiving society.

  • Grasmuck, Sherri, and Patricia Pessar. Between Two Islands: Dominican International Migration. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

    E-mail Citation »

    Builds on several seminal ideas advanced in previous writings by the authors; among them, the view that migration to the United States has generated important gains to Dominican women, specifically employment outside the home and economic independence.

  • Hendricks, Glenn. The Dominican Diaspora: From the Dominican Republic to New York City—Villagers in Transition. New York: Teachers College Press, 1974.

    E-mail Citation »

    An ethnographic study of life in New York City after migration. The first to propose the constant commute of Dominican migrants to the Dominican Republic and the impacts of migration on Dominican men’s sexual behavior and married and unmarried women.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    Proposes a structural analysis of Dominican migration and challenges the theoretical view that suggests Dominicans came to the United States responding to a demand for cheap labor.

  • Ugalde, Antonio, Frank Bean, and Gilbert Cárdenas. “International Migration from the Dominican Republic; Findings from a National Survey.” International Migration Review 13.2 (Summer 1979): 235–254.

    DOI: 10.2307/2545030E-mail Citation »

    This work created a hiatus in Dominican migration studies regarding the perceptions of Dominican migrants, who are introduced by these authors, as members of the urban, middle-class sectors. A view that is diametrically opposed to the belief that portrayed Dominican migrants as members of an impoverished peasantry.

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