Making up one of the largest ethnic groups in the United States, Dominicans have begun to carve out a place for themselves within the American cultural landscape, but this has not come without its struggles. Long a forgotten minority in the shadow of their more “popular” Caribbean neighbors of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, Dominicans have begun to make strides as a community with a distinct cultural identity, finally stepping out of the social shadows they have been in for the last twenty years. Though these strides are important to the overall development of a strong unified Dominican community, we must also note the difficulties faced by many first and second generation Dominicans in the face of the integration or assimilation they face each day. The presence of Dominicans in the United States as a formidable ethnic group has its origins in the migration patterns of the late 1980s, but it is also what Dominicans have done since they have been in the United States, and how they have defined themselves, that separate them from other ethnic communities in the US

The mass migration of Dominicans to the United States began relatively late in comparison to that of Puerto Ricans or Cubans, but this is due in large part to the Dominican Republic’s political and economic situation. Unlike many Cubans who fled to the US after the rise of the communist presence in Cuba, or like Puerto Ricans who enjoy privileged status in the United States as they, since the enacting of the Jones Act of 1917, were natural born American citizens, Dominicans were not allowed to travel under the Rafael Leonidas Trujillo regime. It was only the political and economic elite that was allowed this freedom, and possessed the means to make it to the United States. Those who applied for passports or visas needed to state specific reasons for their travels, and it was a luxury granted to very few. 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 every 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 2004 US census there were 35, 305, 818 American citizens of Hispanic/Latino decent in the United States, of which 1,051,032 were of Dominican descent.

Though the number of Dominican migrants to the US between the early 1970s and mid 1980s was rather low, totaling close to 350,000, it was a migration boom within a ten-year period that consolidated the presence of Dominicans 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 alone the population of Dominicans once again soared, as there was an increase from 692,000 to more than one million registered Dominicans living in the United States. This statistic only accounts for people who label the Dominican Republic as their place of origin, and doesn’t include the children of Dominicans born in the United States. In considering those who are of Dominican ancestry this figure would almost certainly be much higher. And of all registered ethnic groups from Latin America, Dominicans make up the third largest group, after Mexicans and Cubans. (Note: Puerto Ricans, though Latino in origin, are US citizens and therefore aren’t included in this figure.) Also, of these 1,051,032 Dominicans more than half, 500,061, reside in the state of New York. New Jersey also has a large Dominican population with more than 115,000 Dominicans, followed by Florida with 72,000 Dominicans.

But the unfortunate reality of Dominicans in the United States is that they live in abject poverty. According to a recent study from the United Nations Subcommittee on Human Development, Dominicans are statistically the poorest ethnic group in the United States. This statistic sheds light on many of the difficulties that face Dominicans when they arrive in the United States.
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