In-Depth Study Finds Most Dominican New Yorkers Embrace Bi-National Identity

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Briana E. Heard

The City University of New York’s Dominican Studies Institute recently conducted the most comprehensive study to date on the lives and perspectives of New Yorkers of Dominican descent. To help us understand the findings better we asked the Director of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, Ramona Hernández, a few questions on the landmark study.

Q. What was the rationale behind undertaking the first comprehensive study of Dominicans in New York?

A. This survey of 636 heads of households, randomly selected, is the first ever telephone survey conducted of Dominicans in Manhattan and the Bronx. The questionnaire contains 40 questions about a wide range of daily life issues and was conducted by the Baruch Survey Research Center in 2008. It has taken us about a year to analyze the very large amount of data generated.

We decided to undertake this survey at this time because the Dominican community is one that is transforming itself from one that was largely immigrant, to one that is increasingly second and third generation. The growth of the Dominican population is no longer driven by immigration but by birth.

We can now say, and this survey confirms, that people of Dominican descent constitute, increasingly so, a rooted/settled community, no longer having one foot here and the other in the Dominican Republic.

We wanted to ask Dominicans the same questions that have been asked of other Latino groups. How do they self-identify; how do they perceive access to public services in the areas where they live; how is that perception influenced by how they self-identify. We are also interested in their views on cultural adaptation and transmission.

Q. What were some of your findings that you found the most important?

A. The study addresses six broad topics regarding the population of Dominican descent that reveal important aspects regarding their level of confidence in the public sector and their cultural and economic assimilation.

Some of the more important findings include:

•       56.8% of the respondents self-identify as “Dominican,” 25% as “Dominican-American,”  1.9% as “American,” and 16.3% as “Hispanic/Latino.”

•       Regarding their children’s sense of identitys: 95.5% of respondents declare that they want their children to learn to read, write, and speak both English and Spanish. And while 94.5% want their children to interact with persons of different ethnicities and cultures, 91.2% want their children to observe the religion of their parents.

•       The study reveals that public services—public education, health, and access to fresh and high quality produce and other foods—provided by the boroughs of Manhattan and The Bronx are better perceived by the Dominican population than those provided by the City of New York.

•       Racial self-identification impacts their perception of access to public service: people who self-identify as “white” are the ones that more favorably perceive the access to public services provided by the City of New York to the boroughs of Manhattan and The Bronx, in contrast to those people who describe themselves as “black,” “indio,” or “other.”

•       Interest in politics of the native country is strongly correlated with U.S. naturalization: Among those who are not naturalized 63.1% pay attention to politics in the Dominican Republic, but this number goes down to 59% among those who are naturalized. 71% of those who are naturalized pay attention to U.S. politics whereas only 56.1% of those who are not naturalized citizens do.

•       Ethnic self-identification impacts their perception of access to public education: People who self-identify ethnically as “Dominican” better perceive access to public schools (69.5%), whereas those who perceive themselves as “Americans” score this lower (57.5%).

•       When evaluating the perceptions and opinions of respondents on the issue of immigration, we found that 81.9% considers that the issue is one of the most important issues facing the United States–the sum of those who consider it  “important” (42.1%) and “very important” (39.8%)–in comparison with 15,1% that declared that the issue is not important

Q. The Dominican Republic still looms large in the collective consciousness of NYC Dominicans, why is that?

A. Dominicans continue to take an interest in their ancestral home, by maintaining ties with relatives back home and even by following with interest political developments there. The survey reveals, however, that on those two measures, and others, the level of interest diminishes among those that are naturalized U.S. citizens. Perhaps one statistic says it best: While 68% percent of respondents say that they send remittances to the Dominican Republic, 75% of respondents say that they are not planning to go back. Dominicans are here to stay.

Beyond the impact of continued interest and connection with the Dominican Republic, there are perhaps more important issues about social, political, and cultural adaptation. We found, for example, that Dominicans of the first generation feel more comfortable with Spanish, but more than 90% of them say that they want their children to be fully bilingual; while they want their children to have friends and contacts with other ethnic groups, they want them to observe the religion of their parents. Yes, Dominican parents want to transmit to their children their native language, religion, music, food, and other cultural values, but I don’t see any contradiction between that and their growing sense of rootedness in their adopted homeland.

Q. What role does Washington Heights play in the Dominican Diaspora?

A. Although the Bronx now has the largest population of Dominicans, Washington Heights continues to be the heart of the Dominican community in New York City, not only because Dominicans are concentrated in a smaller area in Washington Heights but widely dispersed in the Bronx, but also because it is home to the oldest and largest community based organizations, businesses, and civic organizations founded by Dominicans. But Dominicans have a history of putting down roots wherever they are and we can already see growth among Dominicans in the Bronx, because it is where most children of Dominican descent are born, and where most new immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Dominicans from other parts of the city are settling. The dynamism of the Dominican community in the Bronx is evident in many ways, for example the large enrollment of Dominican students at Hostos Community College and the College’s cultural events programming, the Bronx Dominican Day Parade, the many Dominican-owned businesses, and the growing number of civic and social organizations.

For more:

Check out this NY1 article with accompanying video on the study:–survey-finds

Also check out our post on the opening of the Dominican Studies Institute’s Art gallery:

Paul Lomax

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