1. Students will examine the myths or stereotypes about the Hispanic immigrants/migrants from Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
2. Students will acquire information about three immigrant/migrant groups: the Cubans, the Dominicans, and the Puerto Ricans in order to challenge the myths and stereotypes.
3. Students will analyze literature and view films by immigrants and explore the themes of nostalgia, the United States, language, identity, race, and brotherhood.
4 .Students will listen to music by immigrants/ migrants, identify the musical instruments and the different musical genres of
salsa, guaguancó, merengue,
, and make oral presentations.
5. Students will develop listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in Spanish and will improve their vocabulary in Spanish.
6. Students will use Spanish to communicate effectively in real-life situations such as interviews of Hispanic guest speakers and Hispanics in the community.
An Introductory Note
Although this unit is about the recent Hispanic immigrants from Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, the students might benefit from first discussing the earlier immigrants to the United States. This provides the students with a historical framework and a structure for analyzing the recent immigrants. Questions posed by the teacher could include the reasons for the groups migrating, the immigration experience, and the languages they spoke. Also, the Spanish teacher could provide the class with the general vocabulary they need to discuss these issues. (
los grupos, los países, la migración, las razones, la experiencia, los idiomas, las nacionalidades, los grupos étnicos, las culturas, las familias,
Immigration and Racism
At some point in this unit, the class needs to address the issue of racism in the United States and how it impacts on the group of immigrants. This could be introduced after the historical overview of the earlier immigrants or after the section of myths and stereotypes. One poem that succinctly describes the African-american perspective is the poem by Langston Hughes:
Let America be America Again.
This poem could be juxtaposed with the famous quote by Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” An excellent poem in Spanish about the contributions of Africans to the United States is entitled
by Adalberto Ortiz. This poem describes the odyssey from Africa
“tierra grande, verde, y sol”
to this country and extols the beauty and strength of the Africans that made the difficult crossing, became slaves, and contributed richly to this country’s heritage.
Racism in this country is an obstacle to many immigrants or migrants who dream the American dream. At times, racism makes the dream appear unattainable. The three groups of immigrants covered in this unit are people of color: the Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans are a
of Spanish, Native American (Siboney, Taino-Arawak) and African. As such, these recent immigrants have not received a warm welcome in comparison to earlier immigrants. As will be developed below, other factors besides race have affected the welcome received by the Cubans, the Dominicans, and the Puerto Ricans. (socioeconomic status, language, and political relationship with the United States.)
Myths and Stereotypes about the Hispanic immigrants
Before studying about the immigrant groups in depth, the students should generate a list of their opinions about these three immigrant groups. The objective is to explore the myths and stereotypes about these groups. Last year, I did a modified version of this activity before Hispanic Heritage Week, and found out that students had many stereotypes about Puerto Ricans, but little information of any kind about Cubans and Dominicans. A corollary goal of this activity is to enable the students to work through any negative stereotypes they might have and to realize that stereotypes are hurtful and dangerous. Facts help dispel some of the myths; understanding and compassion help as well.
The information the teacher wants to elicit is geographical, statistical, cultural, and linguistic. Sample questions are:
1. ¿Dónde se encuentran los cubanos? los dominicanos? los puertor rique–os?
2. ¿Cuántos cubanos hay en total en el pa’s? dominicanos? puertorriqu–os?
3. ¿En qué se parecen?
4. ¿Qué idioma hablan?
5. ¿De qué región vienen?
6. ¿En qué formas son diferentes los tres grupos?
7. ¿En qué forma pol’tica son diferentes los puertor rique–os?
8. ¿Por qué vinieron a este pais?
9. ¿Qué son las comidas t’picas?
10. ¿Qué son sus contribuciones art’sticas, literarias, pol’ticas, etc.?
Challenging the Stereotypes
After students have shared their prior knowledge, and displayed it in the room under the phrase:
Lo que sabemos,
each student should select one of the stereotypes discussed and challenge it. Each student is responsible for researching the facts. Part of the ensuing discussion should contain the following elements: the differences between facts and opinions, the definition of a stereotypes, the actual facts, and the realization that a group is made up of individuals and stereotyping is inaccurate and negative.
After students have done their own research, whether in encyclopedias, interviews with students, teachers, and community people, or in social studies and history books, the teacher will dedicate some class time for dissemination of information about the following:
1. facts about Cubans in the United States
2. facts about Dominicans in the United States
3. facts about Puerto Ricans in the United States
Some of this material may be found in the Spanish textbooks.
includes information about Hispanics in the United States and
includes further information about Puerto Ricans and Cubans. The alternative series, being piloted at James Hillhouse High School this year, includes
for Spanish IV.
includes an entire section about Hispanics in the United States and provides much helpful information in Spanish about the three groups: Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans, not only as to their presence in the United States, but as to their countries of origin as well.
Other sources include books and videos available at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University, through its library at PIER (Programs in International Educational Resources.) Materials include books and articles about immigration and a video library. Specifically, I found useful the following material:
Puerto Rican Poverty and Migration,
by Julio Morales, and a curriculum unit for grades 6-10, entitled
Why do People Move? (Migration from Latin America)
which covers, inter alia, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The Cuban materials include interviews with
, graphs about the
and role-playing activities about the
The Dominican Republic materials include a copy of the song
Visapara un Sue–o,
an audiocassette of the song, and newspaper articles from the New York Times.
Las voces/the voices
It is the intent of this unit to provide the reader with background information, literature by immigrants, and music about the immigrant experience. Furthermore, the unit intends to answer the question: What is the voice of these immigrants? The voice of these immigrants is heard not only in the written literature but in the music. Some commentators have noted that the first immigrants are not a presence in their adopted country in the sense that they are without a voice. Albert Hirschman noted in his book, entitled
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty,
that “for the most part, the first foreign-born generation lacks voice.” This is a common dilemma since the newcomers are a minority in number, entering an established community, and at times linguistically and racially different. Also, the passage to the new country is at times dangerous and the ensuing arrival may be less than welcoming if the newcomer’s papers are not in order. In the midst of this turmoil, there are many reasons why the new group, or immigrants, would lack a voice. Researchers, anthropologists, and other scholars are looking for this “voice.” The voice is there, but we need to listen very carefully to hear it. The immigrants are speaking, writing and singing. We need to pay attention to their words, their music, their “voice.”
In this unit, the students will hear the voices of these three Hispanic immigrant groups via poems, passages from books, and music. The poetry of Tato Laviera has as a central theme the anguish of the Puerto Rican who speaks English, Spanish, perhaps Spanglish, and is asking where he would be more comfortable: New York, or Puerto Rico? The chapters by Esmeralda Santiago trace a Puerto Rican woman’s migration from the
to the mainland United States. Esmeralda struggles to find her voice amidst these changes and cultural onslaughts. The music by Juan Luis Guerra is explicitly about the Dominican dream to come to this country. The chapters by Julia Alvarez portray the voice of a young woman who is struggling to keep her traditional values from her island yet at the same time is developing a strong voice in her adopted country. Gloria Estefan sings with nostalgia and love about her island, Cuba, and at the same time urges all Latinos to unite and be brothers. The films and videos mentioned in this unit provide more factual and visual information so that the students may acquire authentic cultural information about these Hispanic immigrants that have reshaped and redefined this country.
Background information: The Puerto Ricans
The largest group of immigrants are not even immigrants at all. The Puerto Ricans are more numerous in this country than the Cubans or the Dominicans but are, in fact, migrants from the island commonwealth:
Estado Libre Asociado.
Since 1917, Puerto Ricans have had United States citizenship. That citizenship entails certain federal benefits, the right to vote when residing in the mainland, and travel to the mainland United States without the need for a visa or a passport. The singular status sets Puerto Rico apart from all other immigrant groups and permeates the political, cultural, and artistic reality of its people.
Why did Puerto Ricans migrate to the United States? Generally speaking, they came out of economic necessity, fleeing unemployment and poverty in their island and pushed by a government that used migration as a safety valve for its economic problems. Julio Morales included in the title of his book about Puerto Rican migration the phrase “I just had to try elsewhere.” This phrase is explained in the foreword; it is part of an interview wherein the persons, Do–a Lila and José, are asked why they left Puerto Rico. Do–a Lila answers that it does not matter, “the thing was to leave Puerto Rico and try elsewhere.” José answers in a similar fashion, “I just had to try elsewhere.”
My students know that there are many Puerto Ricans in New Haven, Bridgeport, and New York. Many students in New Haven are in fact Puerto Rican. Some Puerto Rican students, however,are unaware of their cultural and historical background and would benefit from this unit. Puerto Ricans in Connecticut may also be found in Hartford, New Britain, Willimantic, Meridian, and Waterbury. There are specific reasons for the migration of Puerto Ricans to these cities. For example, many Puerto Ricans came to Meriden to work for International Silver, and stayed.
An excellent resource on the Puerto Ricans in Connecticut and their reasons for migrating here is the video
Puerto Rican Passages
broadcast in April 1995 on CPTV. Some local heroes profiled include Chico of Chico’s Fruit Store; Cesar Batalla, a local activist from Bridgeport; and John Soto, self-made millionaire. In addition to spotlighting Connecticut people, the video is instructional in describing the waves of migration from Puerto Rico and in interweaving some history, culture, and politics. The video also points out that Puerto Ricans have fought in several wars in the United States Army, and have contributed, as U. S. citizens, to the heritage and legacy of this country.
Another invaluable resource is the Yale Puerto Rican Cultural Center, or
La Casa Cultural Julia de Burgos,
located on Crown Street in New Haven. This cultural center provides cultural events and speakers throughout the academic year and has included such luminaries as the poet Tato Laviera, the songwriter Roy Brown, and many others. They celebrate
and view many films and documentaries of note. They also spotlight artists in their gallery. Teachers may request to be put on their mailing list and may contact the President of
Valeriano Ramos, who is also a Dean at Yale University. Last year I was able to view the film
A Dream Ensnared,
about the Dominican migration, and participate in a discussion with the producer, Sonia Fritz. I was also able to attend a poetry recital by Tato Laviera of a selection of his poems.
publishes a monthly newsletter with all upcoming events, which is another handy resource for New Haven teachers.
Teachers are also advised to take field trips, not only into the local Puerto Rican communities in New Haven, but to such places as
El Museo del Barrio,
located in New York City. The museum is receptive to student field trips and has the definitive exhibit about the Puerto Rican diaspora. It also contains an impressive collection of
are the indigenous people from Puerto Rico.
Origins and Destinies
by Silvia Pedraza and Ruben G. Rumbaut, we learn that Puerto Ricans started migrating soon after Puerto Rico became a United States colony in 1898. In 1899, after hurricane San Ciriaco destroyed the agricultural sector and the United States changed the many-crop economy to one-crop (sugar cane), Puerto Ricans migrated to San Francisco, New Orleans, and Honolulu. Plantation owners recruited them for cheap labor. In 1903, more than 500 Puerto Rican students were enrolled in schools in Hawaii. After the legislation, entitled the Jones Act, was passed in 1917, Puerto Ricans were citizens of the United States and thus travel to the United States became more of an option. The next wave from Puerto Rico, in the first two decades of this century, sought jobs in manufacturing, restaurants, and domestic services. During that time, unemployment in Puerto Rico was high and the population was growing. Puerto Ricans came here seeking jobs and a better life. This so-called diaspora resulted in a concentration of Puerto Ricans in New York City. The following are statistics published by researcher Luis Falcón in 1993 and cited in
Origins and Destinies
on page 102: in 1940 70,000 Puerto Ricans lived in the United States, and by 1950 over 300,000 lived in the United States. In 1990, 2.7 million Puerto Ricans lived in the United States and 3.5 million Puerto Ricans lived in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Ricans in the United States
As a result of sheer numbers, geographical proximity, and their status as citizens, Puerto Ricans became a real presence in the United States. Famous Puerto Ricans may be found in all areas: politics (the U.S. Surgeon General) sports, (Roberto Clemente), education (Hernan LaFontaine) and entertainment. (Raul Julia, Rosie Perez). Many Puerto Ricans have achieved fame and success: the American dream. At the same time, many Puerto Ricans in the United States are poor, unemployed, and suffering. This range is explored in the video:
Puerto Rican Passages,
cited above, which is highly recommended as a classroom activity.
The themes to be examined in this unit are: the homeland, nostalgia, the United States, identity, race, and brotherhood. The poems have in common that they are either written about migrants or the migrant experience or are by migrants. The key poet to be discussed in this unit is Tato Laviera, author of
American, Mainstream Ethics,
La Carreta made a U-turn.
This Nuyorican poet will be examined in depth, as an example of Puerto Rican poetry that describes the Puerto Rican migrant experience, identity issues of the Puerto Rican, and racial issues of the Puerto Rican. Spanish teachers may supplement this poetry component of the unit by introducing the following Puerto Rican poets: José de Diego, Aurora Levins Morales, Julia de Burgos, and Sandra Maria Esteves. They articulate issues central to the Puerto Rican people: identity and pride in being Puerto Rican, the complexity of defining Puerto Rican, the feminist aspect of being Puerto Rican, and the difficulty in reclaiming the Taino ancestry of Puerto Ricans. I chose Tato Laviera because his voice is new and strong. He himself, however, both as a poet and as a Puerto Rican, would enjoy the collegiality of being accompanied by his
mentioned above. Studied together, we would reclaim the past of the Tainos and redefine the Puerto Rican today, especially within the context of the diaspora or migration.
The key narrative author to be discussed in this unit is Esmeralda Santiago, author of
When I was Puerto Rican.
This Puerto Rican author has written an autobiographical book about her childhood in el campo of Puerto Rico and her family’s subsequent migration to the United States, and has written it with a great sense of humor and irony. As noted in the bibliography, an added benefit to teachers is that each chapter in the book is preceded by proverbs or saying, called
in Spanish. These lend themselves very well to classroom activities in a Spanish class. The book may be used in many ways besides a source of refranes; students may read excerpts in Spanish as authentic literature about Puerto Rico, to discuss and analyze in class. Furthermore, students may read excerpts in Spanish to prompt discussions about such issues as acculturation, assimilation, and nostalgia for the homeland.
The authors that could be used to supplement this unit include: Clara E. Rodriguez,” Lydia Vélez-Román and Alfredo Villanueva-Collado. Clara Rodriguez adroitly pinpoints the difference between racism in the United States and racism in Puerto Rico in her writings, selections of which may be found in
listed in the bibliography of this unit. She refers to Puerto Ricans as the “unmeltables” in much the same way other immigrants of color are. This is a repudiation of the melting pot theory and more in sync with the mosaic theory or cultural salad theory. Clara Rodriguez has also authored another book which is recommended as a teacher source:
Puerto Ricans in the U.S.A.,
published by Westview Press. Lydia Vélez Román Alfredo Villanueva-Collado are Puerto Ricans who write about events in their lives. They are both migrants to the United States and both hold academic positions as professors in New York City. Selections of these two authors may be found in the book entitled
Cuentos Hispanos de los Estados Unidos,
which is listed in the bibliography. This book includes Hispanic authors from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, who are now living in the United States. It is an excellent resource for the classroom of high-quality reading materials for the advanced Spanish class. All stories are in Spanish.
One common thread through these Puerto Rican writers is the issue of identity; what is a Puerto Rican? Words have been suggested, such as
boricua, borinque–o, caribe–o, jibaro, hispano, latino,
etc. The reason this is such an ubiquitous theme is that literature reflects the political reality. Puerto Ricans have been grappling with this issue for decades. When at a loss for words, I suggest to my students to research what the word experts have said: that is, the poets and authors. Willie Colón, in his music, says
Roberto Santiago, in editing his anthology, says he is
Tato Laviera gives birth to a new word: American, with an accent over the i.
Music as a component in the unit
The last component of this section of the curriculum unit is the music. My students enjoyed a similar class activity this year. They listened to a wide range of Spanish, Caribbean, and Latin American music, identified musical instruments, and presented individual oral reports on their favorite selections.As I stated to my class, we could not possibly study the music of Latin America without listening to it. My class enthusiastically agreed. On the same note, I think if we listen to the music, we should also dance to it. I integrated these ideas and variations into this unit. Students will listen to music, identify and hopefully see the musical instruments, and dance to the music. They will be dancing
among other dance forms. I chose these two dance forms because they are contemporary, easy to find at local music stores, and are representative of the music and spirit of Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans. In Cuba,
is sometimes referred to as
In the Dominican Republic, the
has been transformed by the likes of Juan Luis Guerra, Victor Victor, and others into a
which is a new music form with elements of the
and political elements added to it. Finally, these music forms have another educational use: the lyrics may be examined in Spanish class. Students will learn authentic modern vocabulary as well as Caribbean culture.
Background Information: the Cubans
The second largest group of Hispanic Caribbean immigrants in this unit are the Cubans. By 1990, Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador, and The Dominican Republic were, in order, the four largest immigrant communities from Latin America and the Caribbean living in the United States.(See
Origins and Destinies
pg 281, in an article by Sherri Grasmuk and Patricia Pessar) Although Cuba is in many ways similar to Puerto Rico in history and culture, the immigration experience is different. Geographically, Cuba is the largest of the three islands and the closest to the United States mainland; it is less than 60 miles south of the Florida island of Key West. Cuba is not a commonwealth of the United States, as Puerto Rico is, and therefore does not enjoy the same ease of travel and benefits of citizenship that the Puerto Ricans do. Cubans are in a different category, however, than Dominicans or many other migrant groups to this country in that they are classified as political refugees. This political reality colors their migration experience on all points: the passage itself, the welcome in the United States, the ensuing struggle to get papers and to succeed in the mainstream culture, and the view of the homeland.
My students know very little about Cubans as a group. In New Haven, there are not a significant number of Cubans. However, in Connecticut Cubans are found in the cities of Bridgeport and Hartford. Some New Haven teachers, local leaders, politicians, and artists are Cuban, and could be invited to speak to the students about their culture and experiences. In Bridgeport, there is a Cuban cultural club which could also be contacted for guest speakers and presentations. Yale University could also be contacted for resources, including but not limited to cultural events, guest speakers, and library materials. The Yale Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University has its Programs in International Educational Resources (hereinafter cited as PIER) for further programs, services, and resources.
On a national level, Cubans have a more visible profile than in Connecticut. They are mostly concentrated in New York City, parts of New Jersey, and parts of Florida. In some areas of Florida they have changed the overall ambiance. For example, a section of Miami is now called Little Havana, Spanish is the prevalent language, and the Cuban influence is pervasive. Famous Cubans, such as Cristina, have their television shows based in Miami. Beyond the present situation of numbers and influence, what is the story of the Cuban immigration? How is it similar to and how is it different from the Puerto Rican migration experience?
Origins and Destinies,
cited above, the following facts are presented in Chapter 20, pages 263-279, entitled
Cuba’s Refugees: Manifold Migrations,
by Silvia Pedraza. The Cuban immigration is described as encompassing several waves of immigrants which have in common the rejection of Fidel’s Cuba. These waves of immigrants differed in many ways. The reason for these differences is historical: what was going on in the Cuban revolution and what was going on economically and politically in the United States? The first wave was Cuba’s elite. They were middle class and upper class Cubans who might have originally sympathized with Fidel Castro but became disenchanted with him for economic and/or political reasons. They were executives, landowners, and professionals, who probably already enjoyed some prior contact with the United States whether through business ventures or political experiences here or in Cuba. Many of these exiles thought Castro would be soon overthrown, with military aid from the United States, and thought their stay in the United States would be temporary. After Castro disclosed his pronounced Communist credo, more Cubans fled. These included the same class of Cubans as in the first wave, and some middle-level professionals, as well as skilled workers. The Cuban revolution was in 1959; this first wave continued through 1964.
The second wave of Cuban immigrants responded to President Johnson’s open door policy and consisted of eight years of flights from Cuba, organized by the United States government:
los Vuelos de La Libertad,
or Freedom Flights to Miami. This second wave is characterized by Silvia Pedraza, on page 266, as the
of Cuba: the employees, craftsmen, small merchants, skilled and semiskilled workers, the working class. The third wave, in 1980, was known as the
were very different from the first two waves of Cubans who fled their homeland. They were the political prisoners from Cuba that Castro released to the United States. It resulted in 150,000 more Cubans arriving. (The total number of Cubans immigrating from 1960 to 1990 is more than a million, according to Pedraza, on page 267) Although the
received very negative press and were called
or scum by the Cuban government, the reality was quite different. A 1980 study by Robert Bach, quoted in the Pedraza article cited, shows that the
were not scum; they were mostly young, male, and working class. However they were viewed, they were in fact different than the first two waves of immigrants. The fourth wave of immigrants, post-1980, were mostly illegal immigrants. Stricter immigration laws and an economic crisis in Cuba resulted in the desperate measures by Cubans; Cubans have left their island on rafts or
Hence, the name of this last wave:
The PIER library at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies has an excellent curriculum unit entitled
Why Do People Move?
that includes much factual information, interviews, and articles about the
The last three years have seen abrupt changes in policy for Cuban immigrants. At this point, however, Cubans are a definite presence in the United States and are touted as a success story.
Cubans in the United States
The Cubans in the United States have prospered in their adopted country. Some say the reason for their success is their ability to network and to help each other out during the difficult transitions. Others say the reason is their hard-working and entrepreneurial nature. Others state the reason is in the class of Cubans who emigrated: successful, affluent, mostly middle-class and professional. Whatever the reason, the result is impressive. Cubans have transformed cities such as Union City, New Jersey, and Miami, Florida.
If a visitor arrived in Miami, Florida, he would think he were in a Spanish-speaking country, due to the prevalence of the Spanish language and the Cuban influence. As one reporter noted, “Cubans are probably the only people who really do feel comfortable in Dade County these days . . . Miami is their town now.” (
Going to Miami: Exiles, Tourists, and Refugees in the New America,
by David Rieff, 1987, at 284.)
A section of Miami is referred to as Little Havana or
La Peque–a Habana.
Some individual success stories follow. In 1985, the city of Miami elected as its mayor Xavier Suarez, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba when he was eleven years old. Florida also elected its first Hispanic woman to Congress in 1989: Ileana Ros-Letinen. Literati include Oscar Hijuelos, author
of Los reyes del mambo tocan canciones de amor,
later brought to the movie screen as
The Mambo Kings,
and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1990; and movie stars such as Andy Garcia, known for his roles in
The Godfather, Part III,
When a Man Loves a Woman;
Jon Secada and Gloria Estefan, both prior singers of
and now independent singers in their own right. Gloria Estefan will be featured in this Curriculum Unit. Also mentioned will be Cristina Saralegui, the Cuban Oprah Winfrey, whose show on
reaches millions of Spanish-speaking viewers daily. Her television show may be taped by the teachers for classroom viewing.
As in the Puerto Rican section, this section will discuss and develop the following themes: homeland, nostalgia, the United States, identity, and brotherhood. They will be examined via the songs and music of Gloria Estefan and other
and the videos of
El Show de Cristina.
The relationship between Cubans and their homeland is complex. The first generation of the first wave of migrants were vehemently anti-Castro. This recent generation is not so vehement and not so anti-Communist in its politics. When the Cubans envision Cuba, some see the
Cuba de ayer,
or Cuba of yesterday. Others want to see the
Cuba de hoy,
or Cuba of today. Gloria Estefan is very poetic and nostalgic in her songs from the album entitled, appropriately,
(My Homeland). She sings of the
of Cuban music and culture, and of
Mi Cubita Linda.
In contrast, Cristina uses a different medium: a talk show, to convey her feelings. She is definitely proud of being Cuban; she loves her pueblo. Her vision of Cuba, however, is tempered by realism. She acknowledges the difficulty of being accepted as a minority Hispanic in this country, and the ensuing identity complex. In the video that accompanies the textbook
she invites discussion on such issues as identity conflict and assimilation.
Background Information: the Dominicans
This third group of Dominicans are rapidly growing in New York City.Thus far, this pattern has not extended to Connecticut. There are, however, several teachers and counselors who are Dominican and who might be guest speakers for the students. For a complete list, readers might contact the Bilingual Supervisor of New Haven, Lisette McGowan-Bernier, and the Foreign Language Supervisor of New Haven, Dr. Kay Hill. They are also wonderful resource people for those teachers seeking textbooks, materials, and other resources on the three groups of immigrants: Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican.
For those teachers seeking to familiarize themselves with the Dominican immigration experience, I recommend the following two books:
Visa for a Dream,
by Patricia R. Pessar, and
Origins and Destinies: Immigration, Race, and Ethnicity in America,
by Silvia Pedraza and Rubén Rumbaut, chapter 21, entitled
Dominicans in the United States: First-and Second-Generation Settlement, 1960-1990,
by Sherri Grasmuck and Patricia Pessar, pages 280-292. Both are available at local bookstores, including the Yale Co-Op. An excellent film depicting the Dominican migrant experiences is
A Dream Ensnared,
by Sonia Fritz.
The Dominican Emigration: Buscando Mejor Vida
The Dominicans did not emigrate as political refugees fleeing a communist country and fearful of reprisals, as did the Cubans. The Dominicans did not migrate as full United States citizens with concomitant rights and benefits, as did the Puerto Ricans. Their story is different but at times sounds faintly similar to the stories of the Cubans and the Puerto Ricans. This kind of comparison and contrast lends itself nicely to classroom discussions, student analysis, and Venn diagrams.
The Dominicans are a recent migrant group but fast-growing and tenacious. They started arriving since the 1960’s, mostly from urban areas, mostly from the middle socio-economic strata of Donunican society, and mostly looking for jobs or economic advantages. They relied on networks of families and close friends who were defined loosely as extended family to ease the passage and transition to the mainstream culture. This network or chain of people was called
Visa for a Dream
by Patricia Pessar, on page 11.) They settled mostly in New York City and obtained jobs mostly in the following areas: manufacturing, retail sales, and service industries. The area of Washington Heights in New York City has been dubbed “
Heights,” due to the huge number of Dominicans.
refers to the indigenous name for the Dominican Republic. This kind of physical enclave is similar to Little Havana in Miami or
in New York City.
What motivated these people to come to the United States? What was the push and what was the pull? Grasmuck and Pessar, in their chapter in
Origins and Destinies,
summarize the motivational pulls nicely by tracking the Molina family and their immigration experiences from 1965 to 1981 via two generations: “The range of motivations. . . include fear of political persecution, desire for marital reunification, greater economic opportunity, provision of child care for relatives, and opportunities for higher education.” Pessar summarizes the reasons in
Visa for a Dream
on page 33:
Buscando mejor vida:
In search of a better life.
This Dominican migration also resulted in deep ties to the homeland and a phenomenon called transnationalism: the ability to maintain a presence both in the United States and in the country of origin. Dominicans emigrated to the United States, set up businesses or obtained employment, but kept social and economic contacts with their homeland. In that sense, the experience is similar to that of the Puerto Ricans, who migrated back and forth and keep contacts both here and
en la isla.
Also similar to the Puerto Ricans, the main pull from this country was economics.
Unlike Puerto Ricans, who have been migrating since the early 1900’s and were United States citizens since 1917, the Dominicans began emigrating from their island in the 1960’s. The push for these early immigrants was political: the island politics were characterized by upheavals: assassinations, coups, and unrest. Let us take a closer look at the different waves of emigration.
The first wave was due to island politics. After Trujillo’s death in 1961, Juan Bosch, the president, took power but lost it again to a military coup in 1963. The United States intervened militarily. During this time of unrest, the group of Dominicans emigrating were middle-class, fleeing Bosch or fleeing the post-Bosch period of political uncertainty. Also, due to the United States intervention, the Dominicans could get visas, especially members of certain political groups. At this time, migration was viewed by United States officials as a political safety valve to mitigate further unrest.
The next wave emigrated after becoming disenchanted with the island government’s promises of economic growth that never fully materialized. Immigration to the United States became a safety valve in much the same way the Puerto Rican government encouraged migration to the United States mainland for those Puerto Ricans disenchanted with the promises of Operation Bootstrap and unable to find employment on the island. President Joaquin Balaguer was elected in 1966 and encouraged immigration as a safety valve and a government assisted plan of economic development. The middle class expanded under his time in power. This middle class faced unemployment and low salaries, and thus emigrated.
The next wave of immigration was in the 1980’s and 1990’s and was due to economic problems in the Dominican Republic: soaring oil prices, a large foreign debt, and a wage freeze for two years. The middle class, that had recently expanded, now shrank. The salaries in the Dominican Republic were low in comparison with those in the United States. As a result of these waves of immigration, the Dominicans constitute a sizable minority community in New York City. In Manhattan’s upper West Side, an area called Washington Heights has been renamed
Heights due to the large concentration of Dominicans. Washington Heights has a Dominican flavor in the same way Miami acquired a Cuban flavor and many areas of New York City and Connecticut acquired a Puerto Rican flavor. Washington Heights now boasts a Dominican Day Parade and CUNY has formed a Dominican Studies Center.
A final factor must be examined.Gender plays a role in the Dominican experience in many ways. Women tend to find employment in the manufacturing areas, such as the garment industry in New York. Women, no matter what jobs they find, face discrimination based on gender. Dominican women, due to their immigrant status and language problems, face more severe problems. Furthermore, migration studies have shown that the Dominican family often is disrupted by the migration experience itself, and as a result, many families dissolve. Although these facts point to a grim picture, it has been noted that Dominican women enjoy increased authority and autonomy in their new country and are heard to say this refrain,
La República Dominicana es un pa’s para los hombres; los Estados Unidos es un pa’s para las mujeres.
Translated, that means the Dominican Republic is a country for men; the United States is a country for women. These gender issues would be appropriate ones for students to research by reading
Visa for a Dream,
pages 79-86, and by interviewing Dominicans living in New Haven and Dominican guest speakers.
Classroom activities: La mujer
The students could develop these gender issues into a lively debate entitled,
Los Estados Unidos es un pa’s para mujeres,
Los Estados Unidos es un pa’s que oprime a las mujeres.
After exposure to Dominican (or any Hispanic) culture via this unit or via life experience, the students could debate and write about the status of women in that targeted country. Some of my students have taken advantage of the school-sponsored trips to Nicaragua, Africa, etc. They could write about their travel experiences:
Las mujeres en Nicaragua y las mujeres en los Estados Unidos.
If the teacher is fortunate enough to have students who have traveled extensively or lived in Hispanic countries (or any foreign country where the status of women is different than in this country) or who are Hispanic, these students could be useful resources for the rest of the class and could prepare the class for guest speakers or field trips. Some of my Puerto Rican students have grown up in New Haven, but their parents or older relatives could be guest speakers and share their cultural values and traditions. The students benefit most from these guest speakers when they carefully prepare questions for their visitors, in Spanish, and ask the questions to the visitors, thus using Spanish to communicate in a culturally authentic situation.
Last year, my students in my Spanish 3 classes wrote in Spanish about women in general, and the best three
were published. The theme of women is well-received and students are highly motivated to write about women or to choose a particular woman to write about. For this unit, students could choose a woman, famous or not, and write a short description. The next step would be to research a famous Hispanic woman and write a 3-5 page biography, to present to class. April is Women’s History Month and is a good time to introduce these writing assignments. Students could also be responsible for creating a bulletin board display to commemorate Women’s month, called:
Abril; El Mes de la Mujer.
More classroom activities are included in the Lesson Plans in this unit.
Dominicans in the United States
Dominicans are at this point a Hispanic presence in the United States, especially in New York City. They come mostly for economic advantages. Some are successful in obtaining a visa, even though they must wait in what appear to be interminable lines, as quoted in Juan Luis Guerra’s song,
Visapara un sue–o.
Some are undocumented migrants. Some make the perilous trip to Puerto Rico by boat. The documentary by Sonia Fritz, entitled
includes Dominicans who are successful business-owners as well as Dominicans who spent their family savings on a boat trip to Puerto Rico, to no avail. Upon arrival, some attain the American dream; others never do. Statistically speaking, Dominicans are “the single largest immigrant group residing in New York.” according to Pessar’s book on page xi.
Although some students might know Dominicans only as baseball players, such stereotypes have some basis in truth. Many famous ball players are Dominican, such as Juan Marichal or José Rijo. José Rijo is profiled in
on page 181.He is in fact the son-in-law of Marichal and credits his father-in-law with inspiring him to play ball. If the students are interested in this sport, they could easily choose one of these famous ball players for their research project on famous Hispanics and for their oral presentation.
The two Dominicans profiled will be the singer Juan Luis Guerra and the author Julia Alvarez.On page 189,
refers to Juan Luis Guerra as “
el poeta que canta al mundo,”
or the poet who sings to the world. His upbringing included music in many forms; he is quoted on the same page as saying that his childhood house “era tan musical que hasta los aguacates cantaban,” or so musical that even the avocados used to sing habitually. I recommend for my Spanish 4 classes two of his songs:
Visapara un sue–o
Ojalá que llueva café.
Visa para un sue–o
is an example of the immigrant experience. It describes a Dominican’s interminable wait at a government office. He is waiting to get his papers in order but the entire day goes by without success:
Eran las cinco en la ma–ana, . . .
Eran las siete en la ma–ana, . . .
Eran las nueve en la ma–ana, . . .
con la paciencia que se acaba
pues, ya no hay visa para un sue–o.
He hints at other options available for him if he is unable to get a visa: he might need to make a boat trip and perhaps be shipwrecked.
Buscando visa, que más puedo hacer,
Buscando visa, para naufragar,
Buscando visa, tarde de la mar.
In fact, the song ends with the sound of a helicopter and a voice commanding everyone to get out of the water. This popular song depicts a typical dilemma for many Dominicans who emigrate to this country: attempt to get papers or face the dangerous perils of a boat trip.
In contrast to Juan Luis Guerra, Julia Alvarez has authored a book about a fictional family, at times resembling her own, that migrates from the Dominican Republic. Rather than asking my students to read the entire book, I choose selected chapters. The ones I recommend are: Chapter 1, entitled
or Cravings, and Chapter 6, entitled
refers to the narrator’s (Yolanda) cravings for guava, which she has come to associate with her homeland and her traditions. Ironically, in her quest at her aunts’ house for the nostalgic fruit, she realizes she has become so Americanized that her fellow countrymen do not recognize her as a
The rest of the book develops this theme of an identity struggle. Yolanda and her sisters want to go out without chaperones; they want to iron their curly hair; they want to lose their accents. They want to assimilate. At the same time, their values and ways of thinking remain Dominican and they yearn for their homeland.
The Chapter entitled
is a poignant retelling of Yolanda’s first week in her new school in the United States. The chapter begins, “In the summer of 1960 my family immigrated to the United States, fleeing the tyrant Trujillo.” Yolanda did not speak English and is the only immigrant in the class. When she first sees snow, she confuses it with a possible bomb falling, due to the recent hype about the Cuban missile crisis. As a result, she is embarrassed, the classmates are scared, and the teacher is shocked then amused.
My students last year enjoyed reading this chapter during
El Mes de La Herencia Hispana:
el 15 de septiembre—el 15 de octubre (Hispanic Heritage Month) because of the ensuing discussion about being the new kid and doing something embarrassing in school. For the Spanish teacher, this easy-to-read and brief reading passage may easily segue into a
about being new and a writing exercise or
about their first day in school. Some of my students could talk about their first day in this state or in this country. Some have “migrated” from such states as California or North Carolina. Some have immigrated from such countries as Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
I have selected various authors and songwriters who in differing ways represent their country and touch upon the immigration experience. From Puerto Rico, Tato Laviera speaks of the anguish and complexity of being Puerto Rican and American at the same time. From Cuba, Gloria Estefan speaks of the joy and struggles of Cubans who yearn for their distant
From the Dominican Republic, two voices are heard. Juan Luis Guerra sings of the labyrinth of the immigration process and the dangers of the passage; Julia Alvarez speaks of the arduous path that immigrants face upon reaching this country and of the concomitant identity struggles. I have also pointed out additional resources, including textbooks, films, other poets, and local resources in New Haven and at Yale, so that teachers may adjust this unit to fit the needs of their students. Most of these materials are available in English as well as Spanish and may be used in History or Social Studies classes.
Immigration is central to the study of United States History. Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans are changing America. They are remaking and redefining America. They are becoming America. As Oscar Handlin wrote in
the study of America is the study of the immigrant: “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants
Outline of Student Activities
I. Students will examine their own background and interview members of their families.
A. What countries did their families come from?
B. What were their reasons for migrating?
C. What languages did they speak?
D. How many years have they lived in Connecticut?
Why do People Move?
II. Students will discuss the Statue of Liberty and research the Lady’s welcome to different immigrant groups.
A Discuss the poem by Adalberto Ortiz,
and Langston Hughes’ poem,
Let America be America Again
and discuss the American Dream from the point of view of African-Americans. View the video that accompanies
the section on Cristina’s show of Latino poets and write
¿Quién fui, quién soy, quién seré?
B. View the film
and discuss the American Dream from the point of view of immigrants from Guatemala.
C. View the film
and discuss the American Dream from the point of view of Dominican immigrants in New York City. (Alternative: students will view the documentary
by Sonia Fritz and discuss.)
D. View the video
Puerto Rican Passages
and discuss the American Dream from the point of view of Puerto Ricans in Connecticut.
III. Students will examine their opinions about Hispanic immigrants/migrants from Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
A. Students will finish the sentences:
Todos los hispanos son _____ etc.
B. Students will compare and contrast the different Hispanic groups.
C. Students will estimate the population and location of each Hispanic group. D. Students will identify famous Hispanics at the local and national level.
Students and their life experiences.
IV. Students will challenge the stereotypes about Hispanics by acquiring facts about their countries of origin and their contributions to this country.
A. Students will discuss the negative consequences of stereotyping and the different ways to address this problem.
B. Students will acquire facts about Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans in this country and in their countries of origin.
newspapers, interviews, films mentioned above, teacher-made materials.
V. Students will research a famous person from one of the three Hispanic groups and write a
to present to the class.
films viewed in this unit, student-generated list,
The Puerto Ricans in America,
newspapers in Spanish, especially during September 15-October 15, Hispanic Heritage Month. See
magazine issues during those dates. Channel One often has shows profiling Hispanics during those dates.
VI. Students will listen to music from Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans; identify musical instruments
(los timbales, el tambor, la guitarra, el guiro,
etc.) and Caribbean rhythms
(salsa, merengue, bachata, son, guaguancó,
etc.); dance the
and discuss the lyrics or
of the songs.
Music by Gloria Estefan, Celia Cruz, Juan Luis Guerra, Tito Puente, Willie Colón, etc. Lyrics by Gloria Estefan,
and Juan Luis Guerra,
Ojalá que Llueva Café.
VII. Students will read poems and selected passages by Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican authors; identify the themes of the homeland, migration, language, identity, and brotherhood; and write
Poems by Tato Laviera,
Mainstream Ethics, Amer’can,
La carreta made a u-turn.
Selected passages by Julia Alvarez,
How the Garc’a Girls Lost their Accent,
and Esmeralda Santiago,
When I was Puerto Rican.
See Bibliography for supplementary poets and materials.
After reading the overview, the reader might want to examine the following sample lesson plans. It is my hope that different teachers of different disciplines, whether they teach Spanish, Spanish for Spanish Speakers, English, or Social Studies, might find something useful in this unit and adapt it to meet the needs of their students. I do not have a personal file of films or videos or materials but they are available commercially or may be rented at PIER or may be available within a school building or at Gateway. Most of the books mentioned may be purchased at the Yale Co-op or loaned from the Yale University Libraries or the New Haven Public Libraries. The textbooks are available to those Spanish teachers presently teaching and piloting Spanish courses at various middle schools and high schools in New Haven. All the music I purchased at Cutler’s in New Haven.
To all my colleagues: ¡buena suerte!