Caribbean in the City - Dominicans in NYC

Seen from the George Washington Bridge, right off the Hudson River, there is a neighborhood called Washington Heights, also known as Little Dominican Republic, but before it came to be known as la Pequeña Quisqueya, Washington Heights was home to the Irish, the Germans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans. 

"The 60’s was defiantly the beginning of a larger immigration pattern. Many know that in 1965, the U.S. occupied the Dominican Republic and soon after that, many Dominicans started moving to the United States," said Angie Cruz, author of the novel Dominicana.

Today there are close to one million Dominicans in New York City, the majority live in the heights. "You still find large networks of families and friends and neighbors that have known each other for 40 and 50 years and I think that is unique, in NYC," says Cruz.

Dominican culture is a mixture of cultures of Spaniard colonists, African slaves and Taino natives.

They are a humble, hardworking community. "We are innovative, we believe in the American dream. We are passionate people. We are people of traditions." Said Laura Acosta, of the Juan Pablo Duarte Foundation.

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Those traditions are much alive in Washington Heights.

Congressman Adriano Espaillat is a proud Dominicano. He was born in Santiago de Los Caballeros. He came to Washington Heights in 1964. He was 9-years-old.

"When I graduated college I came back to the neighborhood and saw the kind of problems it had back in the ’80s and ’90s with the drug issue, crack was dominating the city and almost took this city down, and so I got involved in public safety," said Congressman Espaillat. 

Serving the public became his mission. He became an assembly member and then a state senator, and today is a member of congress. He was the first Dominican to hold that seat. 

"It’s exciting, it’s an unreal trip every day. every day I go down to the capital I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s happening and for that reason, I take every vote seriously, I thank everyone back home who gave me this opportunity," said Espaillat.

He hasn't forgotten his roots or people. He has presented a resolution to call Washington Heights "Quisqueya Heights.

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Dr. Ramon Tallaj is also a proud Dominicano. Born in Santiago, he began his career in medicine back at home. In 1991, he came to the United States. 

"Health care is a right for human beings." Says Dr. Tallaj.

After graduating in internal medicine, he worked at St. Clare's hospital during the aids epidemic.

In 1997, he opened his first practice in Washington Heights, and in 2014, he founded SOMOS Community Care.

SOMOS has a network of more than 2500 primary care doctors. Serving communities of color.

During the pandemic, SOMOS was at the forefront. It opened a number of testing and vaccination sites across the city all in low-income neighborhoods where the COVID rates were high, testing over 1 million New Yorkers.

Doctor Tallaj says he has always been a man of service, serving those in need. He says his mission here in the U.S. has been to help his people, something he did back at home. 

"I believe Dominicans have come to New York to show the good of what they are." Dr. Tallaj said.

Meanwhile, you can feel that sense of community in the neighborhood. The bodegas and salons play a huge part.

Dominicans are known for their Sancocho, Mofongo, carne guisada, arroz y habichuelas. El Malecon has been on the corner 175th Street and Broadway for more than 34 years.

"So many Dominicans here in Washington Heights that we support one another and our businesses continue to grow. There are a lot of opportunities," said Javier Gomez, owner of Malecon.

We can’t forget el Biscocho Dominicano. Angela's cake has been in business for more than 20 years. The owner Angela started baking cakes from her apartment. She gets orders from across the country.

Next time you are in the area stop by Angela's cake, a bodega, salon or simple enjoy a morir soñando,  a famous Dominican drink.

One thing is certain about Dominicans they are very welcoming, they love their culture, and are proud to show it off.