By: Dinahlee Pena
This summer I have had the opportunity to be part of the SYEP program at Dominicanos USA. On August 1st we visited the Manhattan Borough president’s office. Deputy Borough President Aldrin Bonilla welcomed us and gave us a tour of the office. One of the very first things that stood out to me was the diversity of the team at the Manhattan Borough President’s office. The atmosphere gave us all a sense of both hope and inspiration for the future. Mr. Bonilla educated us on the importance of community, civic engagement and political involvement, all of which are part of DUSA’s mission.
Not only were we able to engage with an influential Dominican-American like Mr. Bonilla, but we also learned about ways to play a more active role in the community. For example, anyone can apply to become a community board member at just 16 years of age. In other words, even if an individual is not allowed to vote due to their young age, they are still able to influence community decisions by becoming a community board member. Furthermore, Mr. Bonilla stressed the importance of giving back to the community. This helped me realize that as the future voices of our community, we must remember to strive for success but never forget the needs of the community that saw us grow.
** This is a guest post by one of our Young Voices participants. Dinahlee Pena is a student at Hunter College studying English and Geography.**
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On Saturday June 10th , Dominicanos USA along with Citizenship Works and the Carnegie Corporation hosted its Citizenship Assistance Workshop at our Bronx headquarters. The response from the community was wonderful and the stories behind each participant were special. Our DUSA team, partners, and group of volunteers dedicated the day to assisting residents on their citizenship application. It’s always great to see the progress being made in the Dominican and overall Latino community and we’re looking forward to our next event next month.
On Monday, May 23 rd 2017, Dominicanos USA (DUSA) collaborated with AJC (American Jewish Committee) to host a summit that featured DUSA, the Consul General of the Dominican Republic, the Consul General of Mexico, and the Consul of Israel in hopes of developing meaningful connections with their heritage and country of origin. The summit was aimed to connect with organizations that can strengthen bilateral relations between the United States and Dominican Republic among other nations. DUSA took the initiative to bring together representatives from the different organizations and people like Congressman Adriano Espaillat, the first Dominican descended person to be elected to U.S. Congress, among some prominent leaders. We believe making connections with organizations like the American Jewish Committee can benefit from several initiatives that Dominicanos USA can model. The four groups that participated in the summit, Dominican, Israel, Jewish, and Mexican, are examples of immigrant groups in the United States that are growing rapidly. Thus, the collaboration of these four groups for this event is monumental in bridging bonds not only within our Dominican community but also with other groups who share similar plights. This can lead to more global trade, more capital opportunities, and future projects between these groups.
Dominicanos USA advocates for the socio-economic and civic development of people of Dominican descent. One of our goals is also empower our participants to become advocates in advancing U.S. – Dominican relations and this is possible through a series of political empowerment workshops. This summit was vital to continuing the conversation with government officials, media figures, and other influential thinkers who have aligning interests in bettering the Dominican community at the global level. The summit marks the first-step forward in building bridges of cooperation between Dominicans, Dominican-Descended people, and non– Dominicans interested in the well-being of the Dominican community at large.
The May 23 rd summit was highlighted by the president of Dominicanos USA Manuel Matos and was joined by moderator Dina Siegel Vann (Director, Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs), Dani Dayan (Consul General of Israel), Diego Gomez Pickering (Consulate General of Mexico in New York), and Carlos A. Castillo (Consulate General of Dominican Republic in New York). The honorary keynote address was presented by Dominican New York Congressman Adriano Espaillat. The event highlights the potential bonds Dominicans can utilize which can further the agendas or needs of the Dominican community and overall Latino/a diaspora. Therefore, a lot can be learned from communicating with different cultures to help identify the best practices for building stronger ties between individuals and their country of birth.
We typically associate Black History Month with African-Americans. Since this is commonly the case, what does Black History have to do with the Latinx community? There is a tendency to view “black” and “Latinx” as separate entities, as if they have nothing to do with each other. However, there are significant populations of Latinxs throughout the countries of Latin America who are of African descent. These African- descended Latinxs are commonly referred to or self-identify, primarily in the U.S., as “Afro-Latinxs”. With that said, what do African-Americans and Afro-Latinxs have in common? We are black! Yet there is not nearly enough mention of the Afro-Latinx experience in the U.S. during this commemorative month. Looking back into our history, African-Americans and Afro-Latinxs share a common lineage. The conversation about the
Seen at the 54th annual Puerto Rican Day Parade along Fifth Avenue Sunday, June 12, 2011 in Manhattan, New York.
history of the transatlantic slave trade and the experience of enslaved people is typically focused on those who came to the U.S.,especially in the South. However, only approximately 400,000 out of the 10.7 million of the enslaved Africans who survived the Middle Passage came to the U.S. over the course of the transatlantic slave trade. Thus, the majority of the Africans who survived the voyage to the Americas arrived in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The Africans who arrived in the U.S. and Latin America left a significant impact on the African-American, Afro-Latinx, and broader communities. Their descendants continue to preserve, shape, and maintain the influence left behind by their ancestors. From the music to the food, from literature and the arts to religion, there is a notable African presence that exists in both cultures. Now, what does this all mean?
“Essentially, what differs us from each other is where our African ancestors landed during the transatlantic slave trade.”
So, why should Latinxs be included in the celebration of Black History Month? Firstly, we should honor the achievements and sacrifices of the African-American community and acknowledge the horrors they endured to fight for the rights that not only African- Americans have the freedom to exercise today, but rights that continue to benefit all groups, including the Latinx community.
Secondly, Black History Month should be a celebration of all African descendants and the contributions they have made to the U.S.; there are also notable Afro-Latinx figures that made their mark in American history who deserve recognition as well. Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a Puerto Rican of African and German descent, was a historian, writer, and activist during the Harlem Renaissance who raised awareness pertinent to the contributions African-Americans and Afro-Latinxs made in society.
Schomburg’s collection of African artifacts, art, literature, and narratives of enslaved people became the basis for the construction of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, housed in the New York Public library. Roberto Clemente, who was a Puerto Rican of African descent, became the first Latino player inducted into the Hall of Fame. Afro-Dominican Junot Diaz, writer and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and MacArthur Fellow. Celia Cruz, who was Afro-Cuban, is recognized as the one of the most popular and renowned Latin artists of all time. She is known internationally as “The Queen of Salsa.”
These influences are a few of the many examples of Afro-Latinxs making history in the United States of America. Let us proudly celebrate Black History Month. Let us celebrate our African roots. We need to stop differentiating ourselves from the African-American community, because we are all part of the black community. It does not matter if we speak a different language. That just shows how truly diverse we—the people of the African Diaspora— are. As we move forward, let us work on sharing our narrative as Afro-Latinxs during this month, because Black History Month is OUR month too; because black history is also OUR history. And we deserve a seat at the table.
DUSA held its fourth DUSA Citizenship workshop January 28th, Eighteen-year-old participant Carolina discusses her reasons for deciding to naturalize, and the importance of this milestone.This citizenship initiative is possible thanks to support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York
by Brigid Bergin
On a steamy Thursday in August, Alexandra Alma, 15, stood poised on the corner of 145th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, armed with a clipboard full of voter registration forms. Her goal was to convince people stop and fill one out.
Her trick: a charm offensive.
“You just have to work your magic,” said Alma, who had already convinced four people to register in under an hour. “You have to look happy. You have to speak to people polite. That’s all.”
Her partner David Simon, also 15, landed his first customer in Ernesto Ortiz. The 77-year-old completed the registration form, and then ranted about the last time he tried to vote. He remembered casting a ballot for President Barack Obama — but then it went downhill.
“My name does not appear no place,” complained Ortiz. “Next election, ‘No you are not here.’ I say, forget it. I never vote again.”
That’s the kind of experience that breeds mistrust — a sense the system is rigged — that has become a theme of this election cycle. The mission of the non-profit group Dominicanos USA is to find people who have had those experiences — people like Ortiz — and bring them into the political process or restore their faith in it.
Over the past three years, the organization has spent roughly $3 million on a voter registration campaign, collecting nearly 130,000 voter registration forms, primarily in New York City and also in Providence, R.I., which like New York has a large Dominican American population.
In fact, Dominican Americans are the largest immigrant group in New York, with a population of more than 673,000, according to the 2014 American Community Survey. That includes both foreign-born and native-born residents.
In the weeks before this year’s general election, WNYC is taking a magnifying glass to our democracy to explore what it takes to participate as a voter. It’s part of a project we’re calling Electionland – with our partners at ProPublica and Google News. This will culminate in a nationwide examination of how our electoral system performs on election day.
To harness the political power of this population, the group’s founders started crunching the numbers at the end of 2013.
“Basically we started out of my apartment, looking at models that have worked in the past,” said Eddie Cuesta, Dominicanos USA’s national director. One of those models is Atrévete Con Tu Voto, a campaign that registered and mobilized voters in New York City’s Puerto Rican community in the early 1990s.
Nydia Velázquez, then the director of the Office of Puerto Rico in New York, launched the campaign to increase Latino political participation though community organizing and voter registration. She was elected to the United States Congress in 1992 as the first Puerto Rican woman from New York, and she’s held the seat ever since.
The Atrévete campaign is cited in a book called Latino Politics in Massachusetts: Struggles, Strategies and Prospects. The authors said the strategy challenges the stereotype that large numbers of immigrants are more interested in politics back home than they are here. In fact, Cuesta says, immigrants who follow politics at home are more easily engaged here.
Cuesta said they hired a data firm out of Washington D.C. called Catalist to help them create a Dominican model, which allowed them to target voter registration efforts in territories where they knew there were large populations of Dominican Americans. The group’s initial funding came from the Vicini family, wealthy Dominican sugar tycoons. But the group has recruited new funders in the last year, including other businesses from the Dominican Republic and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Experts in voter registration credit Dominicanos USA with running a meticulous, state-of-the–art operation that also illustrates just how much work it takes to turn a completed registration form into an active voter on the rolls. “Dominicanos USA really sets a gold standard for what citizen groups can do in terms of voter engagement and voter registration,” said Art Chang, chairman of the Campaign Finance Board’s Voter Assistance Committee, which aims to improve New York City elections.
Omar Suarez, the group’s New York director, said each form they collect is scanned for their records and the information is entered into a database. Domincanos USA tries to make it easier on the Board of Elections by thoroughly checking the forms it collects. If a piece of information is missing, or if the handwriting makes it unclear, they will reach out to the individual before submitting the form.
“We also call some of these people, 25 percent of them, to make sure they are who they say they are, and the information is correct,” said Suarez.
The data company Catalist also helps Dominicanos manage this trove of information and track the progress of their registration efforts.
Suarez brings bundles of these forms to the city Board of Elections office on a regular basis. He said they also do quality control: When the final voter rolls come out, Dominicanos matches them against its own records. Suarez says about 80 percent of the registration forms they send in come out on the rolls at the other end.
For that other 20 percent, he said they follow up with the Board of Elections.
The process on the Board of Elections side is similar. Forms are time-stamped and checked against the voter rolls to prevent duplication. Then they are scanned to create an electronic record. From there, staff must type each piece of information correctly in the official voter registration system. But the Board of Elections staff say deciphering people’s handwriting is often the hardest part.
Seeing their community represented
In 2015, Dominicanos USA registered more than 35,000 voters in New York, according to data from Catalist. That’s 15 percent of all new registrations processed by the city Board of Elections, according to the board’s annual report.
Cuesta, the group’s national director, said they don’t favor individual candidates. “We are nonpartisan,” Cuesta said.
But the organization’s leaders do want to see their community represented. And representation is exactly what they got this year.
In June, State Senator Adriano Espaillat won the Democratic primary in the 13th Congressional District by 1,200 votes. Next month, he is expected to become the first Dominican American ever elected to Congress. The district is the historic Harlem seat and has been held by an African American since it was created in 1944. But data shows Dominicanos USA registered 32,500 voters in CD 13 since 2013. It’s likely many of them voted for Espaillat.
Dominicanos USA, though, is also focused on civic engagement at its foundation. It’s organizers conduct voter registration drives outside naturalization ceremonies for any new citizen willing to complete the form. They’ve also recently started to conduct naturalization workshops to help people navigate the process of becoming a new citizen.
“It’s like we’re building something up that’s bigger than all of us. Not just one vote,” said Suarez. “We’re making a huge cultural change, a generational shift, and I want to be part of that.”