What Does It Mean to Be a Dominican?

(Photo via Manhattan Times)

(Photo via Manhattan Times)

In the wake of the recent Dominican court ruling that will strip more than 200,000 people, most of them of Haitian descent, of their citizenship, Sherry Mazzocchi of Manhattan Times interviewed numerous individuals to find out what they believe it means to be a Dominican.

People from all walks of life – an artist, a politician, a wellness coach and others – were asked for their views. Recent immigrants, long-time residents of the U.S. and people with continuing connections to the Caribbean nation were interviewed.

We never specified the answers had to be in relation to the court ruling — but it naturally came up. The answers are varied as the people themselves—and they range from political, to personal, to poetic.

Many people born in the U.S. talked about being in Dominican in terms of family, language and visiting the island. Others used a succession of adjectives, including: hardworking, happy and fun. Some dug deep into issues of race, class and sexism. At least one, who railed at moral bankruptcy of elected officials, said from time to time he chooses not to be Dominican.

The Dominican-born artist Reynaldo García Pantaleón, whose work has been displayed in New York galleries, has lived in the U.S. off and on since 1986. He told Manhattan Times that the actions of elected officials in the Dominican Republic make him want to deny his nationality .

“You don’t get to ask where you can be born,” he said. He pointed out that some elected officials in the Dominican Republic have reportedly sent their own pregnant wives to the U.S. to give birth so their children will be American citizens, adding, “Those are the ones voting on taking away the rights of babies.”

“Our politicians are the worst,” he argued. “From conception on, women don’t have rights over their bodies.” While he is pro-choice, in the Dominican Republic, women are not allowed to have abortions. He quoted one elected official who said women may—if they choose—to lose their baby by falling down a staircase.

“So it’s not that you shouldn’t get an abortion—you shouldn’t get it in a clinic by a doctor,” he said. “These are the people making the laws down there. The president and the leaders are no more intelligent than that.”

New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez, who represents Manhattan’s 10th district, said he is proud to have been born in the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez, who came to the U.S, when he was 18, noted that Dominican immigration to New York has a long history.

Rodriguez pointed out that Dominicans are not recent immigrants to New York City. The first Dominican – Juan Rodríguez – came here in 1613. In 1885, more than 5,000 Dominicans came through Ellis Island. It’s no small thing that people from all over the world make New York City their home.

“It’s something we have to celebrate.”

Ellen Z. Fuentes, a wellness coach and human resources manager at New York Presbyterian Hospital, was born and raised in Washington Heights. She noted that perceptions here and in the Dominican Republic vary.

“When I go to the Dominican Republic—they say, ‘Oh, you’re American.’ But when I’m here, they consider me Dominican. And we are almost doing the same thing to the Haitians. So as a group, I think we are all essentially confused.”

Fuentes says Dominicans treat an entire class of people a certain way because they are black.

“But we are black also,” she said. “When I look in the mirror and I look at my family—I look at us as black people who speak Spanish.”

To hear more of Fuentes’ views, watch the video below:

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