Chapter 2. Dominican Republic: The Society and Its Environment
A bohío, or rural hut
DOMINICAN SOCIETY OF THE LATE 1980s reflected the country's Spanish-Caribbean
heritage. It manifested significant divisions along the lines of race and class.
A small fraction of the populace controlled great wealth, while the vast
majority struggled to get by. The middle stratum worked both to maintain and to
extend its political and economic gains. Generally speaking, Dominican society
offered relatively few avenues of advancement; most of those available allowed
families of middling means to enhance or to consolidate their standing.
The majority of the population was mulatto, the offspring of Africans and
Europeans. The indigenous Amerindian population had been virtually eliminated
within half a century of initial contact. Immigrants--European, Middle Eastern,
Asian, and Caribbean--arrived with each cycle of economic growth. In general,
skin color followed the social hierarchy: lighter skin was associated with
higher social and economic status. European immigrants and their offspring found
more ready acceptance at the upper reaches of society than did darker-skinned
The decades following the end of the regime of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo
Molina (1930-61) were a time of extensive changes as large-scale rural-urban and
international migration blurred the gulf between city and countryside.
Traditional attitudes persisted: peasants continued to regard urban dwellers
with suspicion, and people in cities continued to think of rural Dominicans as
unsophisticated and naive. Nonetheless, most families included several members
who had migrated to the republic's larger cities or to the United States.
Migration served to relieve some of the pressures of population growth.
Moreover, cash remittances from abroad permitted families of moderate means to
acquire assets and to maintain a standard of living far beyond what they might
otherwise have enjoyed.
The alternatives available to poorer Dominicans were far more limited.
Emigration required assets beyond the reach of most. Many rural dwellers
migrated instead to one of the republic's cities. The financial resources and
training of these newcomers, however, were far inferior to those among typical
families of moderate means. For the vast majority of the republic's population,
the twin constraints of limited land and limited employment opportunities
defined the daily struggle for existence.
In the midst of far-reaching changes, the republic continued to be a
profoundly family oriented society. Dominicans of every social stratum relied on
family and kin for social identity and for interpersonal relationships of trust
and confidence, particularly in the processes of migration and urbanization.
Data as of December 1989