Making New York Dominican: Small Business, Politics, and Everyday Life

Making New York Dominican: Small Business, Politics, and Everyday Life

Making New York Dominican: Small Business, Politics, and Everyday Life

Making New York Dominican: Small Business, Politics, and Everyday Life


Large-scale emigration from the Dominican Republic began in the early 1960s, with most Dominicans settling in New York City. Since then the growth of the city's Dominican population has been staggering, now accounting for around 7 percent of the total populace. How have Dominicans influenced New York City? And, conversely, how has the move to New York affected their lives? In Making New York Dominican, Christian Krohn-Hansen considers these questions through an exploration of Dominican immigrants' economic and political practices and through their constructions of identity and belonging.

Krohn-Hansen focuses especially on Dominicans in the small business sector, in particular the bodega and supermarket and taxi and black car industries. While studies of immigrant business and entrepreneurship have been predominantly quantitative, using survey data or public statistics, this work employs business ethnography to demonstrate how Dominican enterprises work, how people find economic openings, and how Dominicans who own small commercial ventures have formed political associations to promote and defend their interests. The study shows convincingly how Dominican businesses over the past three decades have made a substantial mark on New York neighborhoods and the city's political economy.

Making New York Dominican is not about a Dominican enclave or a parallel sociocultural universe. It is instead about connections--between Dominican New Yorkers' economic and political practices and ways of thinking and the much larger historical, political, economic, and cultural field within which they operate. Throughout, Krohn-Hansen underscores that it is crucial to analyze four sets of processes: the immigrants' forms of work, their everyday life, their modes of participation in political life, and their negotiation and building of identities. Making New York Dominican offers an original and significant contribution to the scholarship on immigration, the Latinization of New York, and contemporary forms of globalization.


It was a hot Tuesday afternoon in late August 2002, and I was in La Nueva España, a small restaurant on 207th Street in Inwood, at the northernmost point of Manhattan. The restaurant, owned and run by a Dominican, served mainly Dominican food, and most of the guests were first- and second- generation Dominican immigrants. The man sitting with me at the table was the reason I had come. These days La Nueva España functioned as his regular café. He was a friend of the owner and lived with a sister in a tenement around the corner. José Delio Marte was a Dominican immigrant who had arrived in New York City in 1965, at eighteen. While his first jobs in New York had been factory jobs in midtown, he had spent most of the last thirty- seven years as an owner and operator of small businesses, mostly bodegas, small, Spanish- speaking Dominican neighborhood or street- corner grocery stores, in Upper Manhattan. During these years, he had seen the city and northern Manhattan change conspicuously: he had seen the Dominican community emerge.

I had met with him for the first time a couple of weeks previously. Then as now, I had asked him to tell me about the Dominican immigration to the city and about the creation and the construction of New York’s Dominican community. I had asked him to tell me why, and how, he and so many other Dominican immigrants had ended up in small businesses— taxicab operations, neighborhood grocery stores, restaurants, travel agencies, beauty parlors, carrepair shops, small and medium- sized supermarkets, and other enterprises.

One of Inwood’s busiest commercial streets is 207th Street. This short stretch on the northern tip of Manhattan has two subway stations, one for the 1 train on Tenth Avenue, and one for the A train on Broadway. Next to La Nueva España was a McDonalds. A few of the businesses on 207th Street were owned by Americans of Arab ancestry, and a couple were Mexican, but the great majority were run by Dominicans. The language on the sidewalks and in the stores was Spanish, and most of the livery cabs that cruised the neighborhood were owned and driven by Dominicans. Inwood was dominated . . .

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