This summer I 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.
We 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.
Some information about the Jerome Avenue rezoning: The City of New York is proposing a rezoning plan for Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, which encompasses all of Jerome Avenue between E 165th Street to the south and 184th street to the north; and also includes sections of Edward L. Grant Highway, E 170th Street, Mount Eden Avenue, Tremont Avenue, Burnside Avenue and E 183rd Street. All areas where a high population of Dominicans reside. In total this plan constitutes more than 70 blocks in the Jerome Avenue area. As of right now, the NYC Department of City Planning’s proposal consists of building a great deal of new residential units, but does not have any measures to protect current Bronx residents, most of whom are Dominican, from rising rent, displacement, or increased harassment from landlords that will most likely occur as a result the rezoning; neither does it outline how the resulting construction jobs will be regulated to make sure they are safe, well-paid, and for local residents; the proposal also doesn’t address the multitude of auto shop business that will be displaced and the hundreds of jobs that will be lost in the auto industry as a result of the rezoning.
Why should Dominicans care? The Jerome Avenue rezoning would affect District 4 and 5 in the Bronx, a major residential area for Dominicans in New York. This proposal would not only give incentive for increased landlord harassment, it will most likely lead to increased rental prices in the area for residents and small business owners. In addition, the proposed rezoning forces the majority of Jerome Avenue auto shops–many of which are owned and operated by Dominican immigrant men–to leave without anywhere to go; therefore taking away a primary source of income for many Dominican men in the Bronx. All of these factors would make it even harder for Dominicans to live in the Bronx.
In response to NYC Department of City Planning’s Jerome Avenue rezoning plan, the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision was formed. This Coalition aims to make the Jerome Avenue rezoning planning process a collaborative effort between the City government and the thousands of residents and business owners affected by this proposal and hold our government officials accountable to policies and regulations around the Jerome Avenue rezoning. Through extensive surveys and multiple community meetings, the Bronx Coalition has highlighted key issues for the Jerome Avenue rezoning:
Anti-displacement strategies for current residential and commercial tenants. Current tenants and small business owners will not benefit from the rezoning if the rezoning increases rents, speculation, and the forces of displacement. The City should take steps to ensure that the people and businesses that are here now are protected and are able to stay.
Real affordable housing. All of the new housing built in the community should be at rent levels that reflect the need in the community.
Good jobs and local hire. New construction and businesses will mean a lot of new jobs in the area and the City should guarantee that those jobs create career opportunities for local residents. Also, developers should not be allowed to build unless they commit to using contractors that are part of State Department of Labor Registered and Approved Apprenticeship programs.
Safety and training. There recently has been an alarming increase in construction worker fatalities and life changing injuries in New York City. 18 construction workers died in the field from the beginning of 2015 to date. The City must mandate provisions for worker safety and training to ensure our most vulnerable workers are protected.
Real community engagement. Residents need to have a say over what happens in the community, and the City should have long-term tools to ensure accountability for implementing commitments made during rezoning approval process, including a role for community in overseeing progress. The community needs this to ensure that the rezoning is actually part of a community plan that is effective and fully implemented.
As a prominent Latino community, we need to make sure that the Jerome Avenue rezoning plan benefits both long-term Bronx residents and newcomers. Get involved:
Attend monthly rezoning campaign meetings on the first Thursday of every month, from 6PM-8PM at 1501 Jerome Avenue, Bronx. There is food, childcare, and interpretation (English and Spanish). The next meeting on March 2nd will be a Town Hall on the state of the Jerome Avenue rezoning with elected officials, Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera.
Sign this petition online and encourage others to do so.
Attend Bronx Voices: Empowering Community in the Face of Rezoning, a community event showcasing Bronx visual and performing artists, as well as an open mic session for anyone to sign up and express themselves through song, story-telling, poetry, etc. The event will take place on February 25th at 5PM at 1501 Jerome Ave, Bronx.
Keep up to date on the NYC Department of City Planning’s Jerome Avenue rezoning plan by visiting their website, along with events and ralliesorganized by the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision.
Together we need to find a way..
to move forward with the Jerome Avenue rezoning plan without displacement, exploitation, and harassment in the Bronx–a plan that benefits both current Bronx residents and new residents. Otherwise, we risk losing one of the last neighborhoods where low-income New Yorkers can afford to live and we risk losing the diversity and vibrancy of our City.
Katie Milagros Duarte
Dominicanos USA Guest Blogger
Bronx resident and graduate of Vassar College. Katie is a member of Bronx Rising, a group that aims to get Bronxites to re-engage with their communities by creating spaces, dialogues, and events to re-awaken the love for their communities and focus on celebrations and issues that affect the people of the Bronx.
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.
Volunteer Daily Guerrero is interviewed by renowned journalist Cesar Romero. On Saturday, November 19, 2016, Dominicanos USA (DUSA) helped U.S. residents complete the naturalization application to become United States citizens. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and please share the info that our next citizenship workshop will be held in January 2017. We thank our staff, volunteers, and attorneys who made this event possible.
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.”