Election season is in full stride across the nation, as Mitt Romney and President Obama have been solidified as their respective party’s candidates. However, in upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, you’re likely to be introduced to a pair of brand new candidates. “Danilo Presidente” reads one of the several-story-tall billboards in the area, expressing support for Dominican Republic presidential candidate Danilo Medina. With nearly 700,000 inhabitants of Dominican heritage, Washington Heights is home to the largest number of Dominicans outside of the Caribbean island. Many of those inhabitants still retain their Dominican citizenship and have been allowed to vote for the president of the Dominican Republic since 2004.
With the Dominican Republic’s presidential elections scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 20th, Medina and opposing candidate Hipolito Mejia are campaigning in New York as well as in their native country.The 2008 Dominican presidential election was decided by less than 550,000 votes, meaning that Dominicans living overseas could have a tremendous impact on the final election results with Washington Heights emerging as the decisive battleground.
As a part of the new Dominican Republic constitution drafted in 2010, Dominicans living in New York can hold their own elections to vote for the president, as well as for their own representatives in the Dominican congress. The status of the Washington Heights area as a represented district in the Congress of the Dominican Republic Congress is a very unique international situation.
Dominican-American citizens have been known to be very passionate for the native country’s politics in the past, as reported in the PBS Frontline Documentary “Dominican Republic: Dual Citizens” in 2004. To many Dominican dual citizens living in New York, Dominican politics take priority over US federal, or even city elections. This is the result of nationalism. Dominican immigrants often travel to America out of necessity, hoping to earn money to send back to their family, or save enough to move back to the island and live a comfortable life. “I’m tired of the cold here,” said Pedro Castro, a Dominican-American, told PBS in 2004, “I long to be with my brother-in-law and talk for hours in his yard.”