“When America Sneezes:” A Troubled Dependency
As the old saying goes, when America sneezes, the world catches a cold. Nowhere in the 20th century was the adage more fitting than in the Dominican Republic. Newly independent, first from Spain and then from Haiti, Dominican leaders turned to the United States for loans and investments in order to pay off substantial debts and protect the nation’s sovereignty. Exploiting the relationship, Americans bought up large tracts of land for sugar plantations and controlled all imports and exports, effectively turning the nation into a U.S. colony anchored around growing, milling, and refining sugar. While profitable for American growers, the new plantation economy was very vulnerable to the movement of the sugar market, and created food shortages for Dominicans as farmland was devoted to sugar. American sports like baseball became popular, and connections made between the two nations foreshadowed future immigration to the U.S.
Opening the Gates
Emigration to America was effectively barred under Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo’s rule. Upon his assassination in 1961, visas began to be issued again, and Dominican emigration became possible. When the first free elections in the nation’s history elected a socialist to the Presidency in 1963, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson sent 40,000 marines to the island to quash a potential “Communist takeover.” Fleeing such political unrest, many migrants began to leave. While some were political dissidents, many were laborers fleeing harsh conditions caused by eras of unsustainable economic policies.
At first rural migrants from northern provinces migrated, followed by a bigger wave of urban workers escaping unemployment and crime. Economic instability and interference from the U.S. lasted throughout the 1980’s, as more and more Dominicans left their cities and villages. Pioneering families hosted other migrants in Boston and helped them find jobs. Quietly and quickly, Boston’s Dominican community grew through personal connections. In Boston’s Jamaica Plain, a significant community of Dominicans formed, many originating from villages around the southern city of Bani. Today, “Banilejos” form much of Boston’s Dominican community.
Dominicans in Lawrence
At the same time early Dominican communities moved into Boston, Dominicans settled rapidly in Lawrence, MA. Historically a center of industry and immigration, the city attracted Dominicans from New York because it offered shelter from New York’s urban decay. Lawrence offered decent housing and jobs for immigrants in the past, albeit all white before then. In Lawrence, Dominicans faced tremendous hostility and a lack of community investment from white leadership. Two nights of anti-immigration rioting in 1984 marked a turning point for Dominican representation in Lawrence and in Boston. It became clear that Dominicans needed a stronger voice in the city, and activists organized to strengthen and protect Lawrence’s Dominicans. Today, Dominicans are credited for restoring the population and institutions of a once-dying town, repopulating churches, opening small businesses, and sustaining the manufacturing industry in Lawrence. Lawrence has become a powerful center of political representation for Dominicans in New England as well: Lawrence’s mayor, Dan Rivera, as well as many members of Lawrence City Council, are proudly Dominican.
Please click on the map dots to learn more about each location. They represent many different aspects of the Dominican community. Each location contains a general description as well as additional photos and contact information.
Dominican Community Spotlights