D ominican families have resided in Chicago since 1966. These immigrants were mostly devout Roman Catholics from the urban middle class. As New York’s industrial production began to decline after 1970, rising unemployment affected thousands of Dominicans.
The hope of finding better job opportunities in metropolitan Chicago’s bustling economy attracted unskilled workers, self-employed men and women, mostly male technicians, professionals, protestant ministers, and a handful of artists.
Most found jobs in the meatpacking, garment, and electronics industries as well as in the service sectors. Notwithstanding their uncertain command of English, they felt accepted in a city that was already home to thousands of Latinos from Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. With the latter two groups, Dominicans have not only a historical affinity, sharing heroes of nineteenth-century Caribbean liberation struggles, but also a common mixed ethnic ancestry going back even further, in which the Afro-Hispanic element stands out.
Many Dominicans chose to settle among Cubans and Puerto Ricans and blended easily with them in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and in other areas of Chicago’s Northwest Side. Others, mostly professionals, spread to surrounding suburbs, such as Burr Ridge, Downer Grove, and Niles.
Although the 2000 U.S. Census counted only 1,651 permanent residents and second-generation Dominicans living in Chicago, consular registers suggest the presence of some 7,500 Dominicans. During the 1990s a small but influential group of university graduates and community activists revived earlier attempts to unite Dominicans around cultural, social, and educational themes.
Casa Dominicana, founded in 1991, has sought to instill a sense of Dominican pride in culture, national heritage, and ethnic identity. In 1997 the Chicago City Council commemorated the memory of the Dominican of the Dominican physician Ramon Garcia Camilo for his humanitarian services to Humboldt Park residents.
Another organization of professionals emerged under the rubric of Dominican American Midwest Association, whose mission is to address the needs of Dominican Americans in the Midwest on issues concerning education, economics, technology, and culture. It also seeks to monitor and act upon local and national policy issues that affect Dominican Americans.
Dominicans have found a variety of business opportunities in Chicago, including money-transfer agencies, cosmetic stores, beauty salons, car repair shops, household appliance service, nightclubs, restaurants, and construction. The thousands of dollars sent annually to relatives and friends back home help sustain the Dominican Republic’s political and economical stability.