The Dominican Republic was a country of migrants in the late 1980s; according to the 1981 census, nearly one-quarter of the population was living in a province other than that in which they had been born. Surveys in the mid-1970s found that nearly twothirds of city dwellers and half of those in the countryside had migrated at least once. Rural areas in general, especially in the Central Cibao, have experienced significant levels of outmigration . The movement of peasants and the landless into the republic's growing cities accounted for the lion's share of migration. Indeed, Dominicans had even coined a new word, campuno, to describe the rural-urban campesino migrant. The principal destinations for migrants were the National District followed by the provinces of La Romana, Independencia, and San Pedro de Macorís. In the National District, 46 percent of the inhabitants were migrants. The industrial free zones were the other major destinations for migrants in the 1970s.
Women predominated in both rural-urban and urban-rural migration. Men, however, were more likely than women to move from city to city or from one rural area to another. In general, migrants earned more than non-migrants, and they suffered lower rates of unemployment, although underemployment was pervasive. Urban-rural migrants had the highest incomes. This category, however, consisted of a select group of educated and skilled workers, mostly government officials, teachers, and the like, who moved from cities to assume specific jobs in rural areas. They received higher wages as a recompense for the lack of urban amenities in villages.
Migrants spoke of the migration chain (cadena) that tied them to other migrants and to their home communities. Kin served as the links in the chain. They cared for family, lands, and businesses left behind, or, if they had migrated earlier, assisted the new arrivals with employment and housing.The actual degree of support families could, or were willing to, give a migrant varied widely.
The process of rural-urban migration typically involved a series of steps. The migrant gradually abandoned agriculture and sought more non-agricultural sources of income. Migrants rarely arrived in the largest, fastest growing cities "green" from the countryside. They acquired training and experience in intermediate-sized cities and in temporary nonfarm jobs en route.
International migration played a significant role in the livelihood of many Dominicans. Anywhere from 8 to 15 percent of the total population resided abroad. Estimates of those living and working in the United States in the mid-1980s ranged from 300,000 to as high as 800,000. Roughly 200,000 more were in San Juan, Puerto Rico, many of them presumably waiting to get into the United States. Most migrants went to New York; but by the mid-1980s, their destinations also included other cities of the eastern seaboard.
A sizable minority (about one-third) emigrated because they were unemployed, but most did so to attain higher income, to continue their educations, or to join other family members. In the early 1980s, most emigrants were relatively better educated and more skilled than the Dominican populace as a whole. Most came from cities, but the middling to large farms of the overpopulated Cibao also sent large numbers. Working in the United States has become almost an expected part of the lives of Dominicans from families of moderate means.
Cash remittances from Dominicans living abroad have become an integral part of the national economy. Migrants' remittances constituted a significant percentage of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Remittances were used to finance businesses, to purchase land, and to bolster the family's standard of living. Most migrants saw sending money as an obligation. Although some refused to provide assistance, they came under severe criticism from both fellow migrants and those who remained behind. The extent to which a migrant's earnings were committed to family and kin was sometimes striking. Anthropologist Patricia Pessar has described a Dominican man in New York who earned less than US$500 per month. He sent US$150 of this to his wife and children and another US$100 to his parents and unmarried siblings.
Money from abroad had a multiplier effect; it spawned a veritable construction boom in migrants' hometowns and neighborhoods in the mid-1970s. Migrants also contributed significant sums for the church back home. Many parish priests made annual fund-raising trips to New York to seek donations for local parish needs.
The impact of out-migration was widely felt; in one Cibao village, for example, 85 percent of the households had at least one member living in New York in the mid-1970s. Where migration was common, it altered a community's age pyramid: eighteen to forty-five-year olds (especially males) were essentially missing. Emigration also eliminated many of the natural choices for leadership roles in the home community.
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