President Nestor Montilla, Sr. Delivers the First “State of Dominicans in the US Address” from Walt Disney World Live Broadcast Over the Internet
Washington, DC – DANR President Nestor Montilla delivered the first “State of Dominicans in the US Address” from Walt Disney World live on Saturday, December 5th, 2009, during the DANR 12th Annual Conference.
Following is a transcription of the speech.
Distinguished dignitaries, elected officials, conference speakers and panelists, students, special guests, conference participants, Dominicans.
We are convened today at the 12th Dominican American National Roundtable Conference to consider and discuss the State of Dominicans in the US and to set the direction of the Dominican community for the next ten years.
It is opportune and appropriate that we review why, how, and when we got here, where we are, and where we are going.
We can say that, since their arrival, Dominicans have carved out a place for themselves within the American cultural landscape.
As one of the largest ethnic groups in the United States, Dominicans have made strides as a community with a distinct cultural identity, and a substantial and meaningful contribution to this society.
The presence of Dominicans in the United States as a formidable ethnic group has its origins in the migration patterns of the late 1980s, relatively late in comparison to that of Puerto Ricans and Cubans.
Unlike Cubans, who fled to the US after the rise of the communist presence in Cuba or like Puerto Ricans who were born American citizens after the enacting of the Jones Act of 1917, Dominicans were not allowed to travel under the regime of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Only the political and economic elite were allowed this freedom, and possessed the means to make it to the United States.
After Trujillo was assassinated, and the power structure on the island changed, travel amongst Dominicans became a possibility, and in some cases a necessity. Eventually, under Joaquin Balaguer, all who chose to leave the Dominican Republic in search of better lives were given the opportunity to go.
Due to an almost continuous decline of the country’s economic and political stability in the mid to late 1980s, and due in part to a long recession after the so- called “Dominican Economic Miracle”, Dominicans were part of one of the largest migratory booms of the late 20th century. This migratory boom is made evident not just by the presence of Dominicans as an ethnic group, but from the Hispanic/Latino community in general.
According to the 2000 US census, there are 40 million Hispanic/Latinos in the United States, of which over 1 million are of Dominican descent.
The number of Dominican migrants to the US in the early 1970s and mid 1980s was rather low, totaling close to 350,000.
The migration boom of the following ten years, however, consolidated their presence in the United States.
Between 1990 and 2000 the population of Dominicans increased from 348,000 to 692,000. From the years 2000 to 2004 the population of Dominicans once again soared, as there was an increase from 692,000 to more than one million Dominicans living in the United States.
Today, as the upcoming US Census 2010 will surely reflect, there are over 2 million Dominicans in the United States. Adding the children of Dominicans born in the US would make this figure much higher.
Of all registered ethnic groups from Latin America, Dominicans make up the third largest group, after Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.
More than half of Dominicans in the United States reside in the State of New York. The State of New Jersey has the second largest Dominican population with more than 153,000 Dominicans (unofficial estimates put that figure at 250,000); followed by the State of Florida (132,000), Massachusetts (69,000), Pennsylvania (66,000), Puerto Rico (57,000), Rhode Island(40,000), Connecticut (28,000), Maryland (16,000), and Alaska (2,000); unofficial estimates indicate there are over 4,000 Dominicans residing there.
There are Dominicans living in each of the 435 congressional districts in the US.
Dominicans are different from other ethnic communities by what they have done since their arrival to the United States and how they have defined themselves in three aspects: family connection, integration pattern and race.
Most Dominicans arriving in the US have some family connection here, and easily enter into small businesses like bodegas, international phone calling centers, restaurants, remittance wiring, taxi companies, barbershops, beauty parlors, and travel agencies as means to make a living.
In the state of New York alone, Dominicans own close to 25,000 small businesses, which revitalizes the city’s economy.
Unlike other groups that have come to the US, Dominicans keep a strong bond with their homeland; both with their remittances, which amount to an estimated 2 billion dollars a year, and their active participation in Dominican politics.
Another characteristic of Dominicans is that they, unlike other ethnic groups, refer to themselves as Dominicans, and not Dominican-Americans.
Cubans, whether born in the US or not, call themselves Cuban-Americans. Puerto Ricans are referred to as Puerto Rican or Americans (or Neuyoricans in some cases), and Mexicans born in the United States are referred to as Chicanos, which reflects a joint level of pride for both heritages.
Dominicans have yet to embrace this as part of their identity. They are ultimately very nationalistic, inherently tied to their roots, and hold an overwhelming level of pride towards their culture and customs, which they aren’t willing to give up easily. Spanish is still the language of choice for most Dominicans in the US.
Stigmatization has added another challenge to the integration of Dominicans to the US cultural and social landscape.
The US society, influenced by the media, which almost always portray Dominicans in a negative light, associates Dominicans with the vices of poverty, crime, violence, and lawlessness.
Aside from the fact that Dominicans have made strides in sports, which too has come at the price of stereotyping young Dominicans as only baseball players, they are often labeled as menaces.
Ultimately, the racial aspect has differentiated Dominicans in another way: Dominicans are not white and they are not black.
Dominicans often shun the strict rules of racial classification in accordance with the American model, and rely on the Dominican model as the default concept with which to classify themselves.
In the United States there are specific categories for classification. It seems almost impossible to be something other than “white” or “black”. But Dominicans refuse these narrow classifications as they prefer to label themselves as racially mixed, neither black nor white, but everything in between.
Because the American model for racial classification doesn’t capture the spirit of multiracial people, Dominicans have contested this country’s limited view on race. They have expanded the racial possibilities and have made it critical for the public to recognize that Dominicans do not fit into a conventional mold. This is why a stand-alone check box for Dominicans to identify themselves is needed in the 2010 Census questionnaire.
And Now, Dominicans in the United States are writing our story on our own terms and shaping the role we play in this society.
With the growth of a more educated and skilled second generation, and an emphasis from within the Dominican community to integrate, we are becoming a prominent part of American society.
In this process, the Dominican community must address and come to terms with four components that are the secret to our success and stability as an ethnic group in the United States: Education, Economic Advancement, Political Representation, and the Media.
Dominicans have made progress in educational attainment – graduating college and obtaining graduate degrees – as we believe education is the cornerstone of our advancement. We still suffer, however, one of the highest drop-out rates among major Latino communities. Therefore, the DANR is committed to measures that address our challenges in this area, such as lobbying for, and supporting programs focused on school retention; supporting legislation and programs that foster recruitment, retention and graduation of Dominican students from college; supporting processes that facilitate the entrance of Dominican education professionals in administrative positions; and promoting access to Higher Education.
Dominicans own and operate a significant percentage of small businesses in communities where we live and work, and are thus the backbone of their economy. We are established in Washington Heights in New York, Perth Amboy and Paterson in New Jersey, Lawrence and Boston in Massachusetts, Providence in Rhode Island, Allentown in Pennsylvania; Miami and Orlando in Florida, in Puerto Rico and other communities. Seeing our strength and needs in this area, DANR will establish a mechanism to advocate, represent and assist the small business community with technical assistance, small business loans, accounting and legal representation. Engaging the pro-bono contribution of professionals such as accountants, lawyers and business strategists to this mechanism is essential and attainable.
Dominicans must achieve the degree of representation in both elected and appointed roles in the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government commensurate with our numbers and contributions. To this end, we are committed to an empowerment plan designed to aggressively build our political power including the following priorities: -The Development of community based and institutionalized leadership from our communities and organizations to ensure that we, and not the political parties, select our leaders. -A permanent voter registration, voter education, and citizenship drive to increase the political awareness, knowledge, and participation of Dominican voters. -The development of a Political Action Committee named DANR-PAC to identify and support candidates aligned with our interests. -The election of the first Dominican to Congress of the United States of America. -To strengthen our bond with Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans, and the other groups in our Latino family, and to build coalitions with our friends in the Haitian, African-American, Jewish, Indian, Asian-American communities, the labor movement, faith-based organizations and other groups, that may partner with us on issues of common interest. -The establishment of a formal lobbying effort to ensure our inclusion in the three branches of government.
Last but not least is the media.
Cognizant of the power of the media in influencing opinion and treatment of a group in this society, we must play an active role in how we are portrayed.
During the past decade, DANR has changed the conversation about Dominicans in the US from the maids, drug dealers and undocumented, the media makes front pages of, to that a thriving community whose presence is felt in every profession: US Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez and Prosecutor Camelia Valdes in the legal profession; Dr. Rafael Lantigua and Dr. Aritmedes Restituyo in medicine; Prof. Feniosky Peña-Mora and Dr. Rosario Espinal in the sciences; Julia Alvarez and Junot Díaz in literature; Dr. Sylvio Torres-Saillant, Dr. Ramona Hernández, Daisy Cocco De Fillippis and Santiago Taveras in education; and over 40 elected officials nationwide, ranging from board of education commissioners to a state senator.
We must however, establish a mechanism that will serve as both “watchdog” and “promoter” of an accurate image of Dominicans in the media.
Similar to other groups before us, a formal and concerted effort will be made to be included in major national and international media outlets and editorial boards to shape their message about us.
Finally, defining our role and occupying our place in this society at this time in history, as others did before us, requires tesón, ingenuity and courage. Dominicans know about tesón, ingenuity and courage.
Our history tells of men and women of tesón, ingenuity and courage, who at every challenging juncture came through, as the moment required that they do, and in doing so, defined who we are as a people.
They have made their mark in history, from Salome Ureña de Henríquez, establishing our educational system in the 1800s, to Florinda Soriano Muñoz (Mama Tingó) organizing field workers, to Los Panfleteros de Santiago defying a dictator, and every defining moment in between. Gregorio Luperón at the Restauración, Ulises Espaillat and the independence from Spain; Desiderio Arias and the dictator, Juan Bosch and the 1962 constitution; and Manolo Tavares Justo and the14 de Junio Movement.
It is not surprising then, that here, and now, in a foreign country, Dominicans of every age, creed, professional background, and political affiliation are going about making their contribution and mark, and in doing so they define us as a people in the US.
Individuals like Tom Almonte in Grand Rapids and Rafael Núñez in Chicago, Michigan (stand up Dominicans from Michigan); Claribel Martínez Marmolejos and Dr. José Feliu Sababino in Puerto Rico (stand up Dominicans from Puerto Rico); Christian Mendoza and Jocelyn Melnick in Maryland (stand up Dominicans from Maryland); Denise Nolasco and Annie Minguez in Washington, DC (stand up Dominicans from Washington); Víctor Díaz, Magdalena Campos, Amado Vargas, Yolanda Mojica in Connecticut (stand up Dominicans from Connecticut); Julio Guridy, Facundo Knight, and Monica Lockward in Allentown, Pennsylvania (stand up Dominicans from Pennsylvania); Radhames Peguero, América Tavarez, and Jaime Matos in Florida (stand up Dominicans from Florida); María Moreno, William Lantigua, Frank Moran, Oneida Aquino, Daniel Rivera, and Modesto Maldonado in Lawrence Massachusetts (stand up Dominicans from Massachusetts); Juan Pichardo, Víctor Capellán, Gracie Díaz, Everin Pérez, and Jovanna García in Providence, Rhode Island (stand up Dominicans from Rhode Island); Manuel Segura, María Teresa Feliciano, Luis Guzman, Yessenia Frías, Julio Tavarez, Rigo Rodriguez, Amaris Guzman, Cid Wilson, and Dr. Alex Blanco in New Jersey (stand up Dominicans from New Jersey); Adriano Espaillat, Hugo Morales, Nelson Valdez, Julissa Ferreras, Rosita Romero, Ydanis Rodríguez, Guillermo Linares, Hector Ramirez, Aneiry Batista, Daiana Reyna, Moises Perez, Fathima Torres, Ana Garcia Reyes, Josephine Infante, Francesca Peña, Ana Garcia Reyes, Jose Peralta, Oscar Herasme, Fernando Cabrera, Wilson Terrero, Ofelia Rodriguez in New York (stand up Dominicans from New York).
We are the stars of our own story. We are defining the role we play. We are occupying our place in the American Society. We are the Dominicans in the United States!
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