The paradoxical interdependence of US Dominicans and their fellow citizens in the Dominican Republic has elicited different ways to describe this population: Dominican Americans, transnationals, as well as diasporic. Through its emergence as an ethnic population in the United States, the Dominican diaspora has witnessed and/or participated in the efforts of Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans to achieve economic empowerment, political representation, and cultural citizenship. During the decades of the 1980s to 2000s, Dominicans represent one of the largest Latino immigrant groups in the United States and the fastest growing immigrant Latino population in New York City. Dominicans began arriving in the United States as early as 1613 but it was not until the early 20th century that they began forming noticeable communities. The greatest Dominican exodus that began in the 1960s was marked by the assassination of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who had kept a tight grip on emigration. Trujillo’s fall removed a major barrier for people who wished to leave the Dominican Republic. Though the greatest number of people of Dominican ancestry resides in New York and New Jersey, there are significant Dominican communities in Florida, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. These communities are predominantly urban: most Dominicans in the New York and New Jersey Metropolitan Areas live in New York City and its New Jersey suburbs, while Florida and Massachusetts Dominicans tend to reside in Miami and Boston. As stated above, Dominicans began leaving their homeland and settling in the United States, especially in New York, very early. The Bronx is currently home to the largest Dominican population in the United States but Washington Heights/Inwood is still the most populous Dominican neighborhood in the city. The Dominican presence in the United States embodies the predicament of most new Latino immigrants who are struggling with issues of adaptation, language barrier, low income, limited English instruction opportunities, cost of higher education, employment discrimination, and legal status. Increasingly, the published scholarship so far produced about the Dominican diaspora includes data, case studies, testimonies, ethnographies, and approaches that expand, diversify, and sharpen the boundaries that have traditionally informed the study of Dominican history and culture in the United States. Yet there is still a scarcity of scholarship on certain topics in particular that makes it evident that more needs to be done to fully capture this population in its many manifestations.
Historical and General Overview
A number of works have been published that cover the migratory experience and the life of Dominicans outside the Dominican Republic, especially in the United States. Torres-Saillant and Hernández 1998 provides the first comprehensive historical overview written by Dominican scholars; while Hendricks 1974 is the first published ethnography about the Dominican diaspora. As stated by Stevens-Acevedo, et al. 2013, contrary to popular belief, Dominicans have been arriving in the United States since as early as 1613, when Juan Rodríguez, a mulatto or black from Santo Domingo and the first recorded non-native person to reside on the Hudson Bay, settled in the area. Hernández and Stevens-Acevedo 2011 also traces the thousands of documented Dominican immigrants that entered through New York’s Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924. The heart of the Dominican diaspora in the United States lies in New York City, and Ricourt 2002 provides an overview of the population throughout the different boroughs. The Dominican population continued to increase steadily until in the mid-1960s it experienced a massive growth, and since then Dominican immigration has continued unabated. Hoffnung-Garskof 2008 describes the emergence of a Dominican diasporic population after the 1950s and Rodríguez de León 1998 provides an account of the early presence of Dominicans and their contribution to the arts, political, and sociocultural fields. Torres-Saillant 1999 aims at democratizing standard definitions of Dominicanness and the prevalent discourse on national identity.
Hendricks, Glenn. The Dominican Diaspora: From the Dominican Republic to New York City-Villagers in Transaction. New York: Teachers College, 1974.
The first ethnographic research published that studies the residents of a Dominican village, their emigration patterns to New York, and their adjustment to the foreign culture. One of the pioneering works that identified Dominican immigrants as poor, mostly of rural origin, and uneducated.
Hernández, Ramona, and Anthony Stevens-Acevedo. “Dominican Immigrants.” In Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the Newest American. Vol. 4. Edited by Ron Bayor, 471–532. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2011.
A general overview with a useful historical chronology tracing the development of the Dominican people since the encounter in 1492 to 2009. Includes statistical and demographic information of Dominicans in the United States as well as biographical notes of notable Dominican Americans.
Hoffnung-Garskof, Jesse E. A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.
A well-documented history of Dominican immigration using personal collections and interviews never revealed before. An in-depth analysis of the Dominican diaspora’s contribution to the local political and educational agendas in New York City and Santo Domingo.
Ricourt, Milagros. Dominicans in New York: Power from the Margins. New York: Routledge, 2002.
This book analyzes the reasons behind Dominican migration and the formation of Dominican communities in New York City. An ethnographic approach to the political and cultural activism of Dominican community-based organizations in neighborhoods throughout Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.
Rodríguez, María Elizabeth, and Ramona Hernández, eds. Building Strategic Partnerships for Development: Dominican Republic - New York State. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo; Global Foundation for Democracy and Development; CUNY Dominican Studies Institute at City College, 2004.
A series of essays discussing the political, educational, cultural, and socioeconomic status of the Dominican population in the United States. Concluding thoughts provide an action plan to strengthen and promote partnerships between the Dominican diaspora and the Dominican Republic state agencies.
Rodríguez de León, Francisco. El Furioso Merengue del Norte: Una historia de la comunidad dominicana en los Estados Unidos. New York: s.n., 1998.
This book chronicles the relationship and interaction between the United States and the Dominican Republic dating back to the 19th century. It examines the contribution of the Dominican diaspora to the arts, business, popular culture, literature, politics, and education in the United States (especially New York) through the use of primary sources and the voices of the early migrants.
Stevens-Acevedo, Anthony, Tom Weterings, and Leonor Alvarez Francés. Juan Rodríguez and the Beginnings of New York City. New York: CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, 2013.
The story of Juan Rodríguez, a black or mulatto from Santo Domingo, whose arrival in the Hudson’s Harbor on a Dutch ship in 1613 challenges the concept of Dominicans as new immigrants in the United States. A critical bibliographical analysis of the beginnings of New York City.
Torres-Saillant, Silvio. El retorno de las yolas: Ensayos sobre diáspora, democracia y dominicanidad. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Ediciones Librería La Trinitaria y Editora Manatí, 1999.
This is a collection of essays that redefines and revaluates the concepts of “Dominicanness” and the diasporic experience affecting Dominican identity. The impact of the Dominican diaspora in the social, economic, and political dynamics of the Dominican Republic is analyzed claiming a well-deserved recognition.
Torres-Saillant, Silvio, and Ramona Hernández. The Dominican Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.
The first comprehensive and exhaustive overview of the Dominican diaspora in the United States written by Dominican scholars and published by a major publisher. It traces the strong Dominican connection to the United States since the 19th century to the late 1990s and discusses the development of established Dominican communities in the United States.
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