With Dominican Republic Elections Set for Sunday, NY Dominicans are Caught Up in Campaign Fever

Posters in Washington Heights for candidates in the Dominican Republic

Posters in Washington Heights for candidates in the Dominican Republic. (Photo: Gerardo Romo/El Diario La Prensa)

The Dominican Republic holds presidential and congressional elections on Sunday.  Under Dominican law, citizens who live outside the country are eligible to vote.  New York’s large Dominican immigrant community could play a major role in determining the election’s outcome.

This story was written by Jose Acosta for El Diario/La Prensa and published on May 15, 2012. Translated from the Spanish by Maibe Ponet.

NEW YORK — Dominicans dance to the beat of merengue, savor the flavor of plantains, have a passion for baseball and avidly follow politics.

That’s why they are fervently and fanatically interested in Dominican politics from New York, even if they have lived outside the island for decades.

Luis Cuello, 58, who identifies himself as a fierce supporter of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) , said he inherited his interest in politics from his father, Menso Cuello. When Antonio Guzmán won the presidency in 1978, Cuello’s father painted a horse white, the PRD’s color, to celebrate the victory.

“The poor horse, which was honey-colored, even shed its skin because of the white paint. But I caught my dad’s craziness for politics and have it in my blood, so much that a day doesn’t pass when I don’t look for information in the newspapers or call a relative in Santo Domingo, to keep up to date,” said Cuello, who revealed he plans to vote for Hipólito Mejía. “On the island, I painted lamp posts and sidewalks white. Here, I’ve distributed PRD ads, not because I get paid but because I like it,” he said.

Cuello, who has lived in Upper Manhattan for 23 years, thinks the most important issue for the Dominican community in New York is jobs.

“Because of unemployment, I’ve seen many people become homeless because they can’t pay the rent. I think as a community, we should fight to create more jobs so we don’t have to leave,” said Cuello.

Claudia Sanchez with a Dominican Republic flag in New York. (Photo: Gerardo Romo/El Diario La Prensa)

Although Miladys Santiago has lived in New York for 35 years, she said that when she sees a political demonstration on St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan, her hands tingle with anticipation, and she longs to grab a flag of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the party currently in power, and go out on the streets to wave it, as she used to do in her native town of La Vega.

“Every day, I look for information about my country’s elections online, in newspapers and TV, and by calling my family,” said Santiago. “I’m voting for Danilo and Margarita because I support Leonel, who is a progressive president and has turned Santo Domingo into a mini New York, with a metro system and large squares and avenues,” she said.

Santiago thinks the most important issue for her community in New York is education, “because it is the gateway to progress.”

Amir Santiago, 48, supporter of the Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC), considers politics “my main course.”

“I keep my eyes on Dominican politics, even though I’ve lived in New York for 26 years, because most of my family lives there and I want all of them and all Dominicans to do well,” said Santiago. “I’m voting for the PRSC, which is allied with the PLD,” he said.

Santiago said the Dominican community needs to become more united to gain more political power, and that it’s time for the community to elect one of their own to the U.S. Congress.

Political analyst Néstor Montilla, chairman of the National Dominican American Council, said the interest Dominicans have in the politics of Dominican Republic is partly due to the fact they have not allowed themselves to become assimilated into this country, as has happened with other immigrants, and that they live in one community, where they maintain a culture and lifestyle that keeps them connected to the island.

“Also, the Dominican government has always tried to attract the attention of Dominicans. During election time, the presence of Dominican leaders, who come here to do fundraising in the neighborhoods where Dominicans live, is very noticeable,” said Montilla.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

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