“The Dominican Republic, best known for its beautiful beaches, lavish resorts, and for being the first place that Christopher Columbus and his men settled in the New World, is an island nation in the Caribbean. There is much more to this country, beginning with its people whose optimistic, energetic, and cheerful character is immediately engaging and endearing. Dominicans are a proud people who have withstood innumerable setbacks due to an unstable political history and to physical devastation occasioned by hurricanes and earthquakes,” (Brown xvii).
The Dominican Republic might be seen as a poor country, but in reality it is a country rich in colors, culture and customs. The history of the Dominican Republic is one of many hardships and tragic stories. Unlike the history of many neighboring Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic gained independence from their next-door neighbor, Haiti, rather than Spain. Their history is also “tragically unique because of the brutality of the long dictatorship of Raphael Leonidas Trujillo,” (Brown xvii). This significant yet catastrophic portion of history has had a negative affect on the social mobility of Dominicans in New York City.
As a result of the stock market crash in the late 1920’s in the United States, the economy of the island completely crumbled. “The exterior debt of the country was estimated at $20 million. There was also a floating interior loan of $3 million that had come to due. To make matters worse, the capital was besieged by hurricane Xenon, which leveled the capital city and severely hurt agriculture in the eastern and southern parts of the country (Brown 31). At the time that the Dominican Republic needed a leader desperately, Raphael Trujillo came into office. The Trujillo era is known as a brutal and a savage dictatorship.
The Trujillo era had negative and positive affects on the lives of the people in the Dominican Republic. He came to rule at a time of crisis. However, exports of cacao, sugar and tobacco boomed under the rule of Trujillo. The Dominican government encouraged tourism, built hotels, airports, railways, new roads, and public buildings. By 1938, the economic condition was almost diminished. Dictator Raphael Leonidas Trujillo was able to build a fortune of almost $500 million and “owned companies controlling sixty percent of the nation’s assets and workers.” Although the economy was improving, “Trujillo ran the country as a ruthless dictatorship, freely using torture and murder to suppress possible enemies,” (Rogozinski 236).
Universal poverty very much existed. Only the middle class and Trujillo’s family benefited from Trujillo’s wealth and economic stability. However by the 1940’s, political parties such as the Partido Democratico Revolucionario Dominicano, were formed in order to attempt to overthrow the dictator. Many Dominicans were dissatisfied with Trujillo’s leadership and by the 1960’s, “Trujillo’s downfall was a certainty”. “The government, in order to finance its repression, instituted new and steep taxes including the requirements that each citizen carry an identification card on his person.” Much like the Jewish star the Jews had to wear during the Holocaust. “The economy was doing badly and the foreign debt began to rise…” (Brown 36). On May 30, 1961, Trujillo was assassinated by officers for their own personal reasons (Rogozinski 237).
Before the 1960’s, Dominicans nearly did not exist in the United States (Novas, 224). Their swarm of immigration into the United States did not begin until after the assassination of Raphael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. In her book entitled Everything You Need to Know about Latino History, Himilce Novas states, “the influx of Dominicans was made possible by a complex of factors which included the aftereffects of political turmoil and civil war, the never-ending search for cheaper labor in New York, and the relaxation of Trujillo-era restrictions on emigration.” Immigration was steady through the 1970’s but due to an economic depression; Dominican immigration soared in 1980’s (224).
Isabel Brown states that as the price and market for sugar has plummeted, and as the Dominican Republic learns to cope with globalization, which tends to benefit established economies, living conditions have become almost unbearable for the poorest Dominicans and wages have not kept up with cost-living increases (62). It is only fair for one to assume that the easiest way to get out of this repulsive lifestyle is to flee.
Many Dominicans were so desperate that they have risked their lives “by sailing the treacherous shark- infested Mona passage to Puerto Rico” for a mere $150 (Brown 62). There are many stories told of the harsh conditions and circumstances Dominicans suffer when they get to New York City. The Dominicans that do make it here are from the poorest of the poor, therefore it is much harder for them to adapt to the American standard of living.
According to Davis, Dominicans are on the verge of displacing Puerto Ricans as the poorest major ethnic group in the city with thirty-six percent in poverty and only nine percent self-employed (128). As a community, the Dominicans have struggled greatly in New York City. They usually immigrate with the little money that they have in their pockets. How can anyone expect the Dominicans to be as successful as other Latinos, such as the Cubans in Florida, if they have nothing to begin their new lives with? For instance the Cubans were given government dollars in order for them to escape the communist lifestyle in Cuba and begin a whole new life in Florida. When the Cubans came in swarms of thousands in the early 1960’s, the U.S. government welcomed them as political refugees. This is why most Cubans have achieved such great success in America (Novas 217). The United States did not do the same after the Trujillo era for the Dominicans.
In Dominican New Yorkers: A Socioeconomic Profile, 1990, Ramona Hernandez states that “the income of the Dominican population is one of the lowest in New York City”. She then goes on to say that in 1989, the per capita income was $6,336 for the average Dominican family. “Over thirty-six percent of the Dominican population in New York City lives in households which are under the poverty line; this is one of the highest poverty rates in the city, much higher than the overall poverty rate of 17.2 percent.” And in that thirty-six percent, forty-seven percent of Dominican children live in these households that are under the poverty line (1).
The transfer from the Dominican Republic can be very devastating to the entire family, especially the children. They must become accustomed to their new lives. There is a new environment and new settings. Most of them come not speaking a word of English. For any child of any race this can be very intricate. Hernandez reported that “as much as 65.5 percent of Dominicans in New York who were twenty-five years or older did not have a high school diploma or equivalent…” (2).
Education is very important in any country but it is especially important in the United States. In our culture, if you have no education it is very likely that it will be difficult to find a job. With the difficulty to adapt to the new life style, many Dominicans drop out of high school. They are left with nothing to look forward to. In 1996, the unemployment rate of Dominicans was more than twice as much as the unemployment rate of New York overall; it was at a high percentage of eight- teen. Unfortunately, these statistics have not improved. “Unemployment increased, poverty rates failed to drop, the proportion of children in poor households did not decline, and the relatively unskilled population fared worse in 1990 than in 1989,” ( Hernandez 3,4).
Thus the Dominicans have been overlooked because of Trujillo’s dictatorship and the outcome, which has extended to the twenty first century. It is tragic to know that after suffering so much in the Dominican Republic, the Dominicans still struggle in the land of the free and of opportunities. Although there is that small percentage of Dominicans that have been very successful in the United States, it is not enough. We must all work together in order to provide the future that the Dominicans have been anticipating. If we do nothing to dig the Dominicans out of this hole Raphael Leonidas Trujillo has dug for them, the Dominican community will become something feared by many minorities in New York City; insignificant.
Brown, Isabel Zakrzewski. Culture and Customs of the Dominican Republic. Conneticut:
Green Wood Press, 1999
Hernandez, Ramona. Dominican New Yorkers: A Socioeconomic Profile, 1990.
Dominican Research Monographs. New York: CUNY Dominican Studies
Novas, Himilce. Everything You Need to Know About Latino History. United States of
America: First Printing, Oct.1994: (233-241).
Rogozinski, Jan. A Brief History of the Caribbean from the Arawak and the Carib to the
Present. New York: Meridian Printing, Sept. 1994: (227-247).