Friday, December 18, 2015

Impressive Dominican Immigrants

Yeah We're OK, Thank You

This summer, sports commentator Colin Cowherd caused a firestorm when he insulted the intelligence of those from the Dominican Republic. He said:

Baseball’s just too complex.’ Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic has not been known in my lifetime as having world class academic abilities. A lot of those kids come from rough backgrounds and have not had opportunities academically that other kids from other countries have.’’

Cowherd later apologized for the remark, but he ended up losing his job. I am currently in the Dominican Republic now, so I figured its worth pointing out that Dominican immigrants, contrary what one would expect based on Cowherd's remark, have been quite impressive in the United States. There are barely over one million Dominicans in America,  but they have an outsized effect on our culture. 

Let's start with an area where even Cowherd would readily admit Dominicans have been astonishingly successful: baseball. Alex Rodriguez, was born in New York, to Dominican parents. Albert Pujols was in and out of the Dominican and the U.S. as a child. David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Edinson Volquez, and Jose Bautista (granted he has made his name in Canada) are all Dominican born. Basically Dominicans now dominate America's sport. They are getting into other sports as well; NBA All Star Al Horford is Dominican born and rookie monster Karl-Anthony Towns is Dominican American.

Dominicans have also been incredibly successful in the arts. They seem to have mastered the tough, cool girl role. Hollywood's two go-to starlets for such roles, Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Michel Rodriguez (Avatar, Fast & Furious series), are each half Dominican, half Puerto-Rican. Two of the most popular singers in Latin America (who also sell out arenas in the U.S.) are Bronx-born Dominican-Americans Prince Royce and Romeo Santos

OK fair enough- you may say, but this doesn't necessarily disprove Cowherd's point. What about some academic studs?

Junot Diaz recently won a MacArthur Genius grant following his 2008 Pulitzer Prize victory for his incredible novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  It's hip and modern, heartfelt and historical. Oscar Wao is a coming-of-age tale worthy of Salinger, an immigrant's story on par with Willa Cather, and it features a dash of magical realism worthy of Garcia Marquez. His most recent output, This is How You Lose Her, is also a deeply moving account of immigration, but even more so a lament for men who are too horny for their own good. Julia Alvarez is also excellent; Before We Were Free is one of my favorite young adult books and In the Time of Butterflies is a top-notch historical novel.

Angel Taveras (B.A. Harvard, JD Georgetown) is the mayor of Providence, and Thomas Perez (B.A. Brown, J.D/M.P.P Harvard) is the current Secretary of Labor. Here he is on the Daily show last week. Juan Manuel Taveras Rodriguez, born in the DR, was a professor at Harvard Medicine and known as the father of neuroadiology, which uses neuroimaging techniques to diagnose abnormalities of central and peripheral nervous systems. 

Finally, its worth noting that Dominicans are primarily (1) recent immigrants (2) from lower class roots. Whereas a large percentage of the Cuban immigrants in the U.S. came from an elite background and have had several generations to assimilate, Dominicans arriving in the U.S. were largely leaving for a lack of education and economic opportunities in their native land. 

Considering where they started, I'd say Dominican Americans are doing more than fine. 

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