Dominican Republic Country Information
- Posted Jan 27, 2011
The population is about 78 million. More than one million of these people live full or part-time in New York City and are called Dominican York. Nearly 40 percent of the population is younger than age 16. The rural population is steadily decreasing through migration to cities. Mixed-race people account for 73 percent of the total population while 16 percent are Caucasian and 11 percent black. The mixed race group is a combination of Spaniards and other Europeans, descendants of West African slaves, and descendants of natives. A Haitian minority is included in the black population. The Human Development Index (0705) ranks the Dominican Republic 96th out of 174 countries Adjusted for women, the index (0590) ranks the Republic 69th out of 130 countries. Although the people's basic needs are met, most (particularly women) do not have access to economic prosperity.
The official language is Spanish, but Caribbean phrases, accents, and regional expressions give it a distinct personality. For example, when eating, people request “un chin” instead of the Spanish “un poquito” (a little bit) of something. Many people drop the “S” at the end of words, turning “dos”, (two) into “do”. Cibao Valley residents, or Cihaeiios may pronounce the “r” and “i” differently. The formal Spanish form of address for "you" (usted) is used. Some Creole is spoken near the Haitian border and in the sugarcane villages where many Haitians work and live.
Dominicans are 95 percent Catholic by record, but a much smaller number regularly attend church or follow a strict doctrine. Rural residents might combine Catholic traditions with local practices and beliefs. Although Dominicans are secular, Catholic traditions are evident in daily life. Some children are taught to "ask blessings" of their parents and other relatives upon seeing them. They might say a “Bendicion, tia” (Bless me, aunt), and the response is “Dios, le bendica” (May God bless you!).
Evangelical Christian, Seventh Day Adventist, Latter Day Saints (Mormon), and other denominations also exist throughout the country. A Jewish colony in Sosua dates from World War II immigration policies that welcomed refugees.
Dominicans are warm, friendly, outgoing, and gregarious. They are curious about others and forthright in asking personal questions. Children are rarely shy especially among rural and low-income groups, with males enjoying privileges not awarded to females. A proud and aggressive attitude is admired in sports and games, and many people have a sharp entrepreneurial sense. That does not mean, however, that business etiquette is aggressive. The common expression “Si Dios quiere” (If God wishes) may make Dominicans appear fatalistic or indifferent to goals. However, it more fully expresses the attitude that personal power is intertwined with one's place in the family, community, and grand design of Deity, friends and relationships are more important than schedules, so being late for appointments and spending time socializing instead of working are socially acceptable. Confianza (trust) is highly valued and not quickly or easily gained by outsiders. Borrowing is common, and although an item may be forgotten and never returned, everyone is generous and helpful. Class divisions, most evident in larger cities, are economic, social and political favoring historically prominent families. Light skin and smooth hair are preferred over strong African features, but most social relationships are not openly affected by race.
Dominicans are clean and well groomed. They take pride in their personal appearance and place importance on dressing well. Dominicans draw on New York fashions, wearing the latest in dresses, jeans, or athletic shoes. Clothes tend to be dressy, always clean and well pressed, with bright colors, shiny fabrics, and for some people, a lot of jewelry. Jeans and short skirts are acceptable for women in urban areas, but dresses or skirts and blouses are more common in the countryside. A special event, such as a town meeting, always requires dressing up. Men wear long pants and stylish shirts except at the beach or if doing manual labor. Professional men wear business suits or a white shirt worn over dark trousers. Children are also dressed up, especially for church or visiting.
Men shake hands firmly when they greet. One offers a wrist or elbow if one's hand is dirty. Friends may also embrace. Most women kiss each other on both cheeks. A man with the conjionza of a woman will also kiss her. A handshake and “Como esta usted?” (How are you?) is a common formal greeting. The “usted” is dropped for more casual situations. It is polite to ask about a person's family iHola! is an informal "Hi," as is iSaludo,! Adults particularly in the countryside often address each other as compadre (for men) or comadre (for women). One might not greet a stranger on the street, but one would never enter a room without greeting everyone present nor would a person leave without saying good-bye to everyone. Formal introductions are rare, but professional titles are used to address respected persons. Older and more prominent people may be addressed as Don (for men) or Dona (for women), with or without their first names.
Dominicans are animated in conversation and have many gestures. They point with puckered lips instead of a finger. Wrinkling the nose indicates one does not understand, rubbing fingers and the thumb together refers to money, and an upright wagging forefinger means "no!” To express disapproval, one points (with lips) at the object and rolls the eyes. "Come here" is indicated with the palm down and fingers together waving inward. One also says "psssst" to get another's attention. To hail a taxi or bus, one wags a finger or fingers (depending on the number of passengers needing a ride) in the direction one is going. Numbers are often expressed with one's fingers instead of with words. Patrons may clap to request a check in a restaurant. Sitting with legs apart is unladylike, and most women ride "sidesaddle" on the backs of motorcycles. Personal space is limited; touching is normal and crowding is common.
Visiting is an important form of social recreation, especially in rural areas and neighborhoods. Visits in the home are common, but much socializing also takes place in public (while shopping, washing, and so forth). Women often get together in the kitchen. A visit may be long or short and may occur at any time, usually without prior notice. Urbanites with telephones may call ahead, but whether expected or not, company is always genuinely welcomed. In rural areas doors are kept open; people consider it strange to close them and not accept visitors. To Dominicans, privacy is unimportant; they perceive the desire for solitude as sadness and equate being alone with being lonely. Sitting in mesadoras, (rocking chairs) talking or just sharing time is common. Nearly all homes have mesadoras. Hosts offer visitors something to drink, (coffee or juice), and invite them to eat if mealtime is near. Refusing such offers is not impolite. If guests interrupt or a passerby happens upon someone eating, the person will immediately and sincerely invite them to share what is left by saying, “ A buen tiempo” (You've come at a good time). Guests may decline by saying, “ Buen provecho” (Enjoy), or they may sit down and eat.
The main meal, comida, is served at midday and often lasts two hours. Families prefer eating at home. Urban workers unable to return home may eat at inexpensive cafes or buy from vendors. Desayuno (breakfast) is usually light sweetened coffee and bread, and a bit more in urban areas. Cena (the evening meal) is also light, often not more than a snack or leftovers from comida. Guests are served first, and sometimes separately and more elaborately. Table conversation is often lively. Dining out is only popular among those who can afford it.
Family ties are important. Extended families are common, especially in rural areas and poor barrios. Many households are led by women-widows, women who are divorced, women whose husbands work elsewhere, or older women with adult children and grandchildren. Women, men, and often boys all work outside the home. The boys shine shoes or sell snacks on the streets. Large families are normal and many rural villages are composed of interrelated families. Within the extended family, informal adoption is common, with other family members taking in and raising children whose parents need help. Likewise, siblings raised by one mother may have different fathers, but all children are cared for equally. Cousins are often as close as siblings. Some men have more than one wife and family. Smaller, nuclear families are more common among the educated urban population.
Most families live in small houses, either rented or self built. They may be constructed of cement, wood, or palm bark. They are brightly painted, have cement or dirt floors, and are covered with zinc roofs. Electricity and “running" water are luxuries. Affluent urban houses are larger and often have walled and landscaped grounds. Urban apartments are becoming popular, as are newly constructed condominiums.
Dating and Marriage
Attending movies, discos, dances, baseball games, and sitting on park benches are social activities for couples. Dating is relatively open and increasingly free of parental control. Girls are more closely supervised than boys and they often go out in groups. Rural couples might have a sibling tagging along as chaperone. Marriages are often common-law (por la ventana), but many couples also marry in a church or civil ceremony. Elaborate urban weddings are major social events.
If Dominicans do not eat rice and beans at midday, they feel they have not eaten. Rice is served at most meals in large quantities, along with such favorites as habichuela, (beans) and yuca (cassava). Yuca usually is boiled or prepared as fritters; it is also baked into rounds of crisp cracker bread called casabe Platanos (plantains) and bananas are plentiful. Mangos, papayas, pineapples, guavas, avocados, and other tropical fruits (passion fruit, coconuts, and star fruit) are grown locally and eaten in season. People may eat small quantities of chicken, beef, pork, or goat with a meal. Bacalao (dried fish, usually cod) is eaten in some areas; fresh fish is only eaten along the coast. Food is usually not spicy.
The national dish is sancocho; a rich stew made with vegetables and meats and served on special occasions. Habichuela, con dulce (a sweetened drink made from beans) is popular at Eastec. Dominican coffee is usually served sweet and strong. National beers and rums are highly regarded and widely consumed, as are bottled soft drinks and sweetened fruit juice.
Dominicans love music and dancing. The country is alive with merenc'iue, a fast paced, rhythmic music. Salsa and other Latino styles are popular, as are North American pop and jazz. Discos are found in rural communities. The game of dominoes is a national pastime. Games are played in the front of homes, bars, and rural “colmados” (neighborhood markets) and are surrounded by men who play socially on Sundays. Outdoor players are almost exclusively men, but everyone may play at home. Even young children become adept. Cockfighting is another national pastime. Cockfight gambling stakes can be high. The lottery has high participation. Baseball is the most popular sport. Competition is keen and many Dominicans have become famous major league players in the United States and Canada. Strolling in parks, visiting friends, and watching television are popular activities. Various cultural activities (theater, concerts, etc:) are available in large urban areas.
National holidays include New Year's Day (I January), Dia de Los Reyes (Day of King" 6 January), Nuestra Senora de la alta Gracia (Our Lady of High Gratitude, 21 January), Duarte's Day (26 January), Independence Day (27 February), Easter, Labor Day (1 May), Corpus Christi, Restoration of Independence (16 August), Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercies, 24 September), Columbus Day (12 October), and Christmas. Urban families go to beach or mountains during Semana Santa (Holy Week before Easter). Carnival is celebrated for several weeks in the early spring with costume parades, complete with masked participants hitting spectators with pig bladders, and other festivities. Gifts are not exchanged at Christmas, but they may be given to children on 6 January. The government may call a special holiday, to celebrate an event or project completion.
Business hours vary, but most establishments open around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. and close between 12:00 and 2:00 p.m." and then open again until 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Banks close by 3:00 p.m. Phone offices do not close at midday and remain open until 10:00 p.m. Most shops are closed on Sunday. Small colmado, have their own hours. Street vendors are most busy at midday. Bargaining is common in open-air markets, in some owner-operated stores, and on the streets. Prices in supermarkets and elsewhere are fixed. Family ties and social relationships are important in obtaining employment or doing business. Business arrangements are seldom made between strangers.
The President and Vice-President are elected by the people. A bicameral Congress of 30 senators and 120 deputies is also directly elected, as are local officials. National and local elections are held simultaneously every four years. The voting age is 18. There are 29 provinces. A nine member Supreme Court is appointed by the Senate.
The economy is based on agriculture. Coffee, sugar, pineapple, cocoa, tobacco, and rice are key crops, both for export and domestic use. Fluctuating world prices impact earnings and contribute to a volatile Domestic Market. Inflation is usually high. Dominican Yorks often send earnings back to families in the Republic; the money considered an important source of revenue. Tourism is another vital source of income. The currency is the Dominican peso (RD$).
Industrial activities include sugar refining, cement, and pharmaceuticals. The environment has suffered from the exploitation of mineral and natural resources, but efforts at conservation are being made. Real gross domestic product per capita is 53,280, which has more than doubled in the last generation. Yet poverty affects more than 40 percent of people, and a wide gap exists between rich and poor.
Transportation and Communication
Main roads are paved and heavily traveled. Rural roads often are not paved and may not be passable during rainy seasons. Public transportation varies between a ride on the back of a motorcycle, a local or long-distance trip in aguagua (economical van or bus), or a ride on a larger bus. Pickup trucks or small vans travel to and from rural villages carrying passenger, animals and cargo together. Urban Dominicans, travel locally by carros publicos (public cars), or taxis that follow certain routes. Private cars are expensive but by no means are rare. More people have motorcycles. Telephone service is available throughout the country; middle and upper class families have phones at home. Daily newspapers are widely read. Postal service is slow and unreliable. Most businesses use private messenger services. Private radio and television stations broadcast regionally and nationally.
Free public education is provided through the high school level. Attendance is mandatory to sixth grade, but many children, especially in the Canmpo" cannot attend or do not complete school for various reasons (work, lack of transport, or lack of money to buy required uniforms). Whereas three-fourths of Dominicans begin school, only one third finish. Scarce funding results in limited resources and understaffed facilities. Parents and teachers must provide basic supplies like pencil and paper. Textbooks and other materials are scarce. Many urban families send their children to private schools called “colegios”. University education is available and trade schools provide technical training. The adult literacy rate is estimated at about 75 percent.
Public hospitals and clinics provide free care, but private doctors are preferred when affordable. Public institutions tend to be poorly equipped and understaffed. Village health care workers have enough training to administer basic services but rural areas often have no doctors and people must travel elsewhere for care. Many people still consult curandero, (native healers). Lack of early treatment and preventive care are genuine concerns. Vaccination campaigns are helping fight disease, but such things as intestinal parasites and malaria pose serious challenges. The infant mortality rate is 50 per 1,000. Life expectancy is 67 to 71 years.