Dominican Republic immigration to Puerto Rico
1.8% of Puerto Rico's population (2010)
|Regions with significant populations|
|San Juan, Carolina, Bayamón|
|Christianity, predominantly Catholic|
Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico has risen sharply in recent decades, with tens of thousands of arrivals since 1961, but people have moved from the territory of the Dominican Republic to its eastern neighbor, Puerto Rico, and vice versa since the European colonization of the Americas. Immigrants have come from the various segments of Dominican society, with quite varying levels of contribution at different times. Although the end goal of most of the immigrants is the United States, tens of thousands have remained in Puerto Rico. The recent immigration is further noted for its large undocumented or illegal component, among them Haitians. The tragic outcomes of many of these attempts, and the consequent publicity.
1795 to 1961
Many residents of colonial Santo Domingo, now the Dominican Republic, left for Puerto Rico as a consequence of the cession of Santo Domingo to France in 1795, the Haitian invasions from 1801-1803 and later occupation from 1822-1844. Immigration continued over the next 86 years, although at a comparatively low rate.
The dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo between 1930 and 1961, greatly constrained foreign travel by Dominicans. In 1960 there were 1,812 Dominicans in Puerto Rico, some of whom were the 'returning' descendants of Puerto Ricans who had themselves migrated to the Dominican Republic.
The recent period
Dominican migration increased sharply after 1961 as a result of political events, of which the first was the assassination of Trujillo that year. Many politicians and other members of the conservative former regime, as well as government employees, left the country, many of them for Puerto Rico. The next major political event to drive emigration was the coup d'état against the elected, leftist president Juan Bosch in 1963. There followed the Dominican Civil War in 1965 after a revolt to restore Bosch. The United States invaded the Dominican Republic a few days into the conflict, and one of its policies was to prevent renewed civil war by issuing visas to opponents or potential opponents of the new, elected, conservative, US-backed regime of Joaquín Balaguer (who was, like Bosch, of Puerto Rican ancestry, incidentally). Many of the visaholders travelled to Puerto Rico.
Politics continued to play a role in emigration in succeeding decades, as presidential election years produced emigration peaks whenever Balaguer — a member of the former Trujillo regime — won the presidency, as happened in 1966, 1970, 1974, 1986, and 1990. As a result, most of the Dominican emigration was middle class and skilled, including many managers and professionals.
Although there are substantial upper class and middle class segments in the Dominican Republic, the country also has a high poverty rate, so that since the 1970s economic reasons have rampantly driven emigration. Overall, between 1966 and 2002 119,000 Dominicans were legally admitted to Puerto Rico, while many thousands arrived illegally. Most emigrants, however, have been far from destitute, as they tend to be jobholders in the Dominican Republic, many in skilled occupations such as mechanic, mason, seamstress, and nurse. These migrants have been attracted by Puerto Rico's higher wages, which have generally tended to rise in relation to Dominican wages since the early 1980s, when an era of frequent devaluation of the Dominican peso began. Economic crises that beset the Dominican Republic in the 1980s further increased emigration. Despite strong economic growth, the 1990s marked the peak in Dominican emigration, due to high income inequality. Severe economic crisis hit in 2003-2004, again causing a surge in emigration.
The illegal or undocumented component of the Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico has increased over recent decades, becoming large enough to attract great attention, both in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The first recorded illegal trip took place in 1972, and perhaps 28% of all Dominicans in Puerto Rico were undocumented in 1996, during the peak decade of Dominican immigration to the Commonwealth; many of the documented residents had regularized their originally undocumented status. Illegal immigration has been one of the most recurrent themes in Puerto Rican news media during the first decade of the 21st century.
Illegal trips usually take place in yolas (small wooden boats), usually overcrowded, as trip planners and boat captains seek to realize the greatest profit from the ventures. Most trips begin in cities located on the eastern Dominican coast, particularly in Nagua. A trip on a yola takes 26–28 hours and takes place over the Puerto Rico trench (an underwater crater area), or through the Mona Passage. Accounts by survivors include people being eaten alive by sharks or forced to jump into the sea when there is a danger of sinking. Others tell of seeing their loved ones left behind to drown after a heavy wave has overturned one of these yolas; yet many others tell of corpses left on board. Travelers sometimes die of starvation or dehydration, since these yolas can get lost out at sea for days and many have no type of navigation equipment on board to steer them in the right direction.
Noted tragedies on such trips include a 1989 sinking near Mona Island where as many as 500 perished, and other, comparatively small tragedies where groups of 30 or more passengers have died. Perhaps the most famous of these tragic trips was the Nagua Tragedy, named so because the yola heading to Puerto Rico that time sunk while trying to make its way out of a beach in Nagua. More than one hundred died, including the boat's captain and the trip planner.
In November 2008, a group of 33 illegal Dominican migrants who were en route to Puerto Rico were forced to resort to cannibalism after they were lost at sea for over 15 days before being rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat.
It should be pointed out that not all illegal trips to Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic end in tragedy. These trips are massively scheduled by traffickers, who sometimes travel up to three times each week from Puerto Rico to illegally bring Dominicans. But, because of the large amount of lives that have been lost in many of these trips, both the governments of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have launched mass media campaigns to try to reduce them. In the Dominican Republic, videos of dead bodies on the water are shown on television to try to deter people from travelling to Puerto Rico on yolas. The traffickers face long periods in jail if caught, whereas the travelers are deported to the Dominican Republic, where they do not face criminal charges.
In 2009 an order was given by Governor Luis Fortuño to shut off essential services, such as water and electricity, to Villas del Sol, a shantytown within the municipality of Toa Baja. The shantytown consisted mainly of homes built illegally on flood-prone government-owned land. The Federal Emergency Management Agency bought these homes from the Puerto Rican Government in order to keep them from being used further. In January 2010 the island government began demolishing some of the homes whose residents are both U.S. citizens and undocumented aliens, mainly of Dominican origin.
Dominicans in Puerto Rico are largely disadvantaged politically — in great part because so many are not citizens. They are also disadvantaged economically, and possess on average much lower levels of education than the mainstream of Puerto Ricans on the island. This is in contrast to their situation in the 1970s, when a demographic study considered Dominican immigrants to be "privileged" and an "elite", as a large percentage of Dominican immigrants were professionals and managers. Their present characteristics have made them easy victims for ethnic discrimination, which include accusations of excessive use of government programs. They are often targets of prejudice and racism as well. In response, dozens of organizations have sprouted to increase the group's political participation, although these efforts' full effectiveness is hampered by inadequate coordination.
The group is not ignored by Dominican politicians, however. The main Dominican parties campaign in Puerto Rico during presidential elections and raise important amounts of funds from the Dominican residents. Dominicans in Puerto Rico send millions of dollars per month to their relatives in the Dominican Republic, and are thus also important as a source of foreign currency for the D.R.
The 2010 census estimated a population of 68,036 Dominicans in Puerto Rico, equal to 1.8% of the Commonwealth's population. Data from the 2000 census shows that 55% of this group lived in San Juan municipality, 11% in Carolina, and 7% in Bayamón. San Juan is about 15% Dominican, with a high concentration in the Rio Piedras district, in the southern part of the municipality. The vast majority of Dominican immigrants in Puerto Rico, are black or mulatto/mixed, with very few Dominicans in Puerto Rico self-identifying as white. Most Dominicans that settle in Puerto Rico, have lived in the Dominican Republic for generations prior to immigrating to Puerto Rico. Women form a fairly large majority of the Dominicans in Puerto Rico. Intermarriage rates with Puerto Ricans are also high. Although the Dominican community has largely assimilated into the mainstream Puerto Rican population, due to very similar culture, they still retain traditions that uniquely Dominican. About 67% of Dominicans in Puerto Rico are legal citizens.
Economically, Dominicans contribute most as unskilled and low-paid service workers, as operators, laborers and craftspeople, and they are well represented as small business owners. Their ratio of managers and professionals — 24% in 1970, higher than for mainstream Puerto Ricans at that time — is now much lower. However, Dominicans are employed in all occupations and industrial sectors of Puerto Rico's economy. Many members of the group have attained prominence and fame as entertainers, including musicians, singers, actors, and presenters.
Notable immigrants and descendants
- José Alberto - singer
- Nancy Alvarez - psychologist and talk show host
- Charytín - actress and singer
- Leo Cruz - world champion boxer
- Deevani - reggaeton singer
- Edwin Encarnación - professional baseball player
- Jaime Espinal - Olympic medal-winning wrestler
- Magali Febles - beautician and international beauty pageant expert
- Bartolomé Gamundi - businessman and former government official
- José Luis González - author
- Aideliz Hidalgo - beauty pageant contestant
- Bodine Koehler - beauty pageant contestant
- Miguelito - rapper (Dominican father)
- Amaury Nolasco - actor (born in Puerto Rico to Dominican immigrants)
- Pedro Saúl Pérez - advocate for the rights of Dominicans living in Puerto Rico
- Rafael José - television personality (Dominican father)
- Shalim Ortiz - actor and singer (son of Charytin)
- Jorge Posada - professional baseball player
- Birmania Ríos - television journalist
- Rosangela - singer
- Ludo Vika - actress
- Sandra Zaiter - actress and television host
- Dominican people
- Afro-Dominican (Dominican Republic)
- Demographics of Puerto Rico
- Royal Decree of Graces of 1815
- "HISPANIC OR LATINO ORIGIN BY SPECIFIC ORIGIN - Universe: TOTAL POPULATION". Data Set: 2010 U.S. Census. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
- Duany, Jorge (2005). "Dominican migration to Puerto Rico: A transnational perspective" (PDF). Centro Journal, spring (City University of New York. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños) XVII (001): pp. 242–269. ISSN 1538-6279. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
- Castro, Max J.; Thomas D. Boswell (January 2002). "The Dominican Diaspora Revisited: Dominicans And Dominican-Americans In A New Century" (PDF). North-South Agenda Papers (University of Miami North-South Center) (Fifty–three). ISBN 1-57454-113-7. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
- "Dominicans Saved From Sea Tell of Attacks and Deaths of Thirst". The New York Times. 2004-08-12. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
- Dominican migrant: We ate flesh to survive - A small group turned to cannibalism after being stranded in mid-ocean, MSNBC.com, November 4, 2008
- "2010 Census". Medgar Evers College. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
- (English) Dominican American National Roundtable Advocacy organization for people of Dominican descent in the United States and Puerto Rico