Dominican Immigrant Experience
By Caroline O’Keefe and Alysa Cirelli
Wagner College ’16
“Coming here was a little scary, but exciting at the same time,” commented Jose Gonzalez, a thirty- year old immigrant from the Dominican Republic (Jose Interview). During an interview about his immigrant experience, Jose shared many experiences and thoughts on his journey to the United States. Jose migrated from the Dominican Republic when he was just sixteen years old. He came by himself, and settled with his aunt in New York. Migrating was scary for Jose because he had never been on a long trip like this before, never mind to a new country and home. Jose says, “The most I had been was on a bus or a car, but actually having to be on a plane for the first time, by myself, was a lot of things – a lot of emotions. But I would say I was definitely looking forward to it” (Jose interview). This feeling is similar to that of most immigrants, who also come to the United States looking for better opportunity.
In a country full of hope and endless possibility, immigrants are able to seek out higher education and well-paying jobs. At home in the Dominican Republic Jose went to school, and he decided to continue his education upon arriving in America. After settling in with his Aunt in New York City, Jose enrolled in high school. He then earned his GED at Kingsborough Community College, and after that he continued on to City Tech, where he did not complete his schooling but earned his associates degree. Education was very important to Jose because it was the start to making his journey all worth the while. Although he was personally motivated, not all Dominican immigrants feel the same way. In total Dominicans represent about 576,701 of the New York City population. In a study of socioeconomic inequality among young adults ages 18 to 34, it was found that among first generation Dominican immigrants, the number of college graduates was only 12 percent. This number increased among the second generation which has 27 percent who graduated college. Although this number increased, drop out rates remain very high, (about 1 in 4 students) (Rumbaut 54). Education is lacking and is one of the lead contributing factors as to why Dominicans still obtain such low-wage jobs.
Luckily Jose was motivated enough to go to school and managed to find decent paying jobs without trouble. He spoke English, which opens a whole new land of opportunities as far as jobs come. Jose said, “If I did not speak the little bit of English that I knew then, it definitely would have been a lot harder” (Jose Interview). He first took up a job in the flooring business, and then worked in construction. These jobs allowed for Jose to work and earn decent pay, but he eventually came into the position he now holds as the manager of a grocery store in Brooklyn, New York. All of the hard work he has put in so far has contributed to Jose’s success as a citizen of the United States, which is an achievement Jose is very proud of.
Another aspect of life that Jose is proud of is his culture and the way he remains tied to it even though he is in a different country. He places high value on maintaining traditions through elements such as food and religion. He says, “The food is first and foremost. There is the staple of rice and plátanos” (Jose Interview). He also tries his best to follow his Catholic religion, and says that if the time comes when he has children, he will teach them the culture and traditions through the language, food and religion. Transnational ties are also maintained through political involvement. On his first trip to New York City as President of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez Reyna actually urged Dominicans to pursue dual citizenship (Foner 181). Dual citizenship is encouraged because it encourages citizens to not only embrace America as their new country, but to remember and stay connected to the Dominican Republic.
The question of what it means to be Dominican and what it means to be American is open to interpretation. Depending on their varying aspirations, experiences, and ties to their country of origin, immigrants’ answers to this question will differ. In Jose’s opinion, being Dominican means being very loud and prideful. One Dominican woman answered that what makes her American are the rights of an American citizen, and what makes her Dominican is the food at her mother’s house, and the Dominican accent – “The way we speak Spanish” (Itzigsohn 274). The combination of aspects such as these create such strong identities for immigrants, and the best way for immigrants to feel comfortable in a new place is to incorporate values from both the new and old worlds in order to maintain their culture as well as relate to and experience a new one.
The struggle of immigration remains difficult to understand still to this day. It is hard for people to understand what the migration experience is like if they have not personally been through it. For some the task is made easier with the help of family, education, job opportunity, and ties to home. Jose is an example of one Dominican who got it right, and was able to make a stable life for himself in the United States. His life in New York is much more fulfilling than the party life available at home. He has remained strong and dedicated to his future, and is lucky because many immigrants have not ended up in the same fortunate situation. Despite the trouble and hard work involved in migrating, people continue to do so because of hope. “For Dominicans migration represents hope and the possibility of improving their material life,” says author Tyler Anbinder (Itzigsohn 273). Hope will never fade and will continue to bring countless numbers of immigrants to America, making this country open to even more possibilities.
Foner, Nancy. From Ellis Island to JFK: New York’s Two Great Waves of Immigration. New Haven CT: Yale University, 2000.
Gonzalez, Jose, interviewed by Caroline O’Keefe and Alysa Cirelli. March 7, 3013.
Itzigsohn, José. The Dominican Immigration Experience. Centro Journal, 2005.
Rumbaut, Ruben G., and Golnaz Komaie. Immigration and Adult Transitions: The Future of Children. 2010.