Modern Immigration

Dominican Republic Table of Contents

Although almost all migrants were assimilated into Dominican society (often with surprising speed and thoroughness), immigration had a pervasive influence on the ethnic and the racial configurations of the country. Within a generation or two, most immigrants were considered Dominican even though the family might well continue to maintain contact with relatives in the country of origin. Both the elite and the middle segments of society recruited new members with each economic expansion. The main impetus to immigration was the rise of sugar production in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, some groups had earlier antecedents, while others arrived as late as the 1970s.

Nineteenth-century immigrants came from a number of places. Roughly 5,000 to 10,000 North American freedmen, principally Methodists, came in response to an offer of free land made during the period of Haitian domination (1822-44). Most, however, were city dwellers, and they quickly returned to the United States. A few small settlements remained around Santiago, Puerto Plata, and Samaná. They eventually were assimilated, although English was still widely used in the region of Samaná. Sephardic Jews arrived from Curaçao in the late eighteenth century and, in greater numbers, following independence from Haiti in 1844. They were assimilated rapidly; both their economic assets and their white ancestry made them desirable additions from the point of view of the Dominican criollos. Canary Islanders arrived during the late colonial period as well, in response to the improved economic conditions of the 1880s. Spaniards settled during the period of renewed Spanish occupation (1861-65); many Spanish soldiers stayed after the War of Restoration. Germans established themselves--principally in Puerto Plata--primarily in the tobacco trade.

The expansion of the sugar industry in the late nineteenth century drew migrants from every social stratum. Cubans and Puerto Ricans, who began arriving in the 1870s, aided in the evolution of the sugar industry as well as in the country's intellectual development. In addition, significant numbers of laborers came from the British, the Dutch, and the Danish islands of the Caribbean. They also worked in railroad construction and on the docks. Initial reaction to their presence was negative, but their educational background (which was superior to that of most of the rural populace), their ability to speak English (which gave them an advantage in dealing with North American plantation owners), and their industriousness eventually won them a measure of acceptance. They founded Protestant churches, Masonic lodges, mutual aid societies, and a variety of other cultural organizations. Their descendants enjoyed a considerable measure of upward mobility through education and religion. They were well represented in the technical trades (especially those associated with the sugar industry) and on professional baseball teams.

Arabs--Lebanese and lesser numbers of Palestinians and Syrians--first arrived in the late nineteenth century, and they prospered. Their assimilation was slower, however, and many still maintained contacts with relatives in the Middle East. Italians also arrived during this period and were assimilated rapidly, as did a few immigrants from diverse South American countries. A few Chinese came from other Caribbean islands and established a reputation for diligence and industriousness. More followed with the United States occupation of the island (1916-24). They began as cooks and domestic servants; a number of their descendants were restaurateurs and hotel owners.

The most recent trickle of immigrants entered the country from the 1930s to the 1980s. Many founded agricultural colonies that suffered a high rate of attrition. Among the groups were German Jews (1930s), Japanese (after World War II), and Hungarians and Spaniards (both in the 1950s). More Chinese came from Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1970s; by the 1980s, they were the second fastest growing immigrant group (Haitians being the first). Many had sufficient capital to set up manufacturing firms in the country's industrial free zones.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress