The Society and Environment

The Society and Environment

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 Dominicans.

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.

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