Washington Heights has long been the cultural heartland of the Dominican community in New York City and more broadly, the United States. Since the 1960s, the neighborhood has been a hub for Dominican activity, bustling with the combined sounds of mostly Spanish-only business transactions, merengue music that spills from passing cars, and not to be forgotten, the screeches of halting subway trains.
From a stroll through the Upper Manhattan neighborhood, the effort Dominicans have made to carve out a space for themselves and mark their presence is evident. Storefronts boast their Dominican origins with names like “Quisqueya” and “Santo Domingo”; Dominican flags adorn many of the streets, representing a non-timid appropriation of space; and on cool nights, Dominicans of all ages claim the streets as their own by sitting outside and chatting, playing dominoes, and listening to bachata.
Not even completing his first term, U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) moved to designate Washington Heights, as well as the adjacent neighborhoods of Hamilton Heights and Inwood, “Quisqueya Heights” with the introduction of House Resolution 1042 to Congress. This proposed federal legislation sought to honor the historic and significant presence of Dominicans in the area. It also aimed to acknowledge the contributions Dominicans made to transform Washington Heights, in particular, from an undesirable and quasi-rejected neighborhood, into one that was vibrant and coveted, and that attracted the affluent, the college educated, and the up-and-coming social classes that were moving into New York City from elsewhere. Later, other elected officials, community activists, and members of the community at large would adhere themselves to the initiative, emphasizing the cultural and commercial advantages of such a designation (Krisel 2018).
In recognition of Dominicans’ long-standing historical presence and an impressive list of concrete contributions to the life of Washington Heights, the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute is joining Representative Espaillat’s efforts and seeks to advance his congressional resolution by proposing to designate a portion of Washington Heights as a Dominican Historic District in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Such a designation will acknowledge the following:
To support the proposal, CUNY DSI has prepared an interactive digital map that shows a high level of incidence of things Dominican within Washington Heights. The geographic boundaries of the proposed historic district have been designed taking into account longevity, or that Dominicans have indeed resided in the proposed district for over 50 years, as required by the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The demarcated area also takes into account Dominicans’ material visibility in Washington Heights, leading to a composite whose proportion contains, block by block, more things Dominican than any other area in Washington Heights, or any other Dominican neighborhood in the United States for that matter. The borders of the proposed Dominican Historic District in Washington Heights extend from South to North, from 155th street to Dyckman street (200th), and from East to West, from the Harlem River Drive Parkway to Riverside Drive, stopping at 169th street, crossing over to Broadway. There are approximately 45 blocks in this proposed district.
This map provides information on a variety of markers that document the presence, actions, and contributions of people of Dominican descent in Washington Heights. In particular, they provide a narrative of what exactly Dominicans perceive as worthy of their attention as well as what they value and how they value it. The events and sites included here mark trajectories and reveal actions taken with the clear intention to preserve a memory and celebrate a cultural legacy. These markers represent turning points; they have become traditions; occasions repeated from place to place and preserved physically, orally, or in the abstract; they are transmitted and passed on from parents to children, from one Dominican to another, and from Dominicans to others.
Among the most notable Dominican representations in the map are the iconic Juan Rodriguez Boulevard, a street named after the Dominican who became the first immigrant to settle in what is today Manhattan; a cluster of buildings where Dominicans, who came through the famous port of Ellis Island, resided; Casa Dominicana, an organization created in 1954 to do politics against dictator Rafael L. Trujillo; the apartment building where the nationally-recognized singing trio, the Malagon Sisters lived; and the six public schools that have been named after Dominican historical figures and local community leaders.
Using the Interactive Dominican Map:
Dominican representations are identified and marked on the map with icons, each one belonging to a certain category on a legend located on the upper right corner of the map. Clicking on an icon will trigger a pop-up window, which contains a description and accompanying image of the representation selected, along with brief information about its significance. The Dominican map currently contains 75 representations. The idea is that people will help us identify other representations that though perhaps not officially registered, are recorded in people’s memory and are, therefore, integral parts of both, the history of Washington Heights and the Dominican people.
Methodology and Criteria:
Research for Dominican Historic District was conducted in New York City. The research team (1) reviewed a relevant bibliography regarding representation; (2) double-checked names of cultural and community-based organizations listed in CUNY DSI’s database; (3) conducted searches via the internet to update information; (4) called places to verify current addresses; (5) consulted with senior members of particular representations; and (6) prepared descriptive paragraphs providing vital information about each representation.
The interactive map was designed using ArcGIS, under a license granted to the City College of New York.
Defining a Dominican Representation:
A Dominican representation is defined in this project as a place, object, or event that has a cultural or historical significance for the Dominican people. Such a definition led the research team to a diverse group of representations that include parks, streets, schools, memorials, statues, cultural parades, carnivals, celebrations and religious processions, among others. Though a few of the representations included fall into the category of community-based organizations, we decided to include them because such organizations were the first to provide services targeting the Dominican people or because their names have historical or cultural meaning for Dominicans.
The team was composed of Waldemar Morety and Jhensen Ortiz, who conducted the research and wrote the entries for the representations. The map was created by Matthew Santana. Dr. Paul Austerlitz, Norma Guzman, Vivian Guerrero Aquino, Dr. Seth Jacobowitz, Sarah Marrara, and Javier Pichardo designed the website and provided input on the map. While Dr. Ramona Hernandez developed the methodology and oversaw the project, the rationale for the introduction was developed in collaboration with Mariela Pichardo, who proofread and edited the entire rendition. Ashley Santos provided a final review and final edits.
Dominican Landmarks. 2013. Revised in 2020. CUNY Dominican Studies Institute.
The City College of New York. CUNY
Krisel, Brendan. (2018, September 7). Upper Manhattan Designated First ‘Little Dominican Republic’.
The Patch. Retrieved from https://patch.com/new-york/washington-heights-inwood/upper-manhattan-designated-first-little-dominican-republic
Recognizing the Dominican community’s presence and contributions to Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights, and Inwood.
H.R. 1042, 115th Cong. (2018). https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-resolution/1042/text
About CUNY DSI:
The City University of New York Dominican Studies Institute (CUNY DSI) was founded in 1992 and formally approved by the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York in 1994. The City College of New York is the home of CUNY DSI. CUNY DSI is the nation's first university-based research institute devoted to the study of people of Dominican descent in the United States and other parts of the world. Its mission is to produce and disseminate research and scholarly knowledge about people who trace their ancestry to the Dominican Republic. CUNY DSI is the hub for a community of mature and in the-making scholars that includes from high school students to doctoral fellows and seasoned researchers working in the field of Dominican Studies.
To learn more about the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute please contact us.