On Thursday evening, in a stately museum courtyard adorned with Spanish and Latin American artifacts, New York City Council member Robert Jackson celebrated the 168th anniversary of Dominican independence.
The district that Jackson represents, which comprises significant portions of Upper Manhattan, including Manhattanville and West Harlem, has fostered an increasingly active and ever-growing population of Dominicans over the last decade. Jackson said that the demographic should be better represented by the congressional districts that New York state is redrawing.
His guests included well-known Dominican professionals and local elected officials. They mingled before a large Goya painting in The Hispanic Society of America, a museum and research library in Washington Heights that served as both an aesthetic and cultural backdrop for the event.
Democratic District Leader Maria Luna, a longtime Washington Heights politician, said that the event was an important demonstration of the contributions of local Dominican leaders.
“It’s important that this event is open to everyone,” Luna said. “We are always portrayed negatively, but today you saw the number of organizations headed by Dominicans. We can be part of this society, and no one can look down on us.”
With prominent New York politicians such as Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and State Senator Bill Perkins in attendance, Jackson recognized three Dominican professional organizations—the New York Dominican Officers Association, the Dominican Bar Association, and the Association of Dominican American Supervisors and Administrators.
“It’s very important for young people to see who the trailblazers were,” Mary Rosado, Law ’81, and a member of the Dominican Bar Association, said. “They were made up of minority groups who wanted to better their lives, and now we have Dominican lawyers, teachers, legislators. We hope to be role models so youngsters will say, ‘I can do that.’”
Jackson also took the opportunity to voice his support for a Latino congressional district, an idea that has been gathering momentum during New York state’s controversial redistricting process.
After months of delay in the state legislature, a court-appointed “special master” has said that she will release district maps by March 12.
The northern district border of Congressional District 15, which is currently represented by Charles Rangel, may be moved as far north as Mount Vernon. Jackson advocates this plan, which he said would “capture the African-American community.”
“I think that if you look at Congressional District 15 historically, it is the hub and heart of the African-American community,” Jackson told Spectator. “We want it to continue to be the hub of the African-American community.”
But Jackson said that he also supports a plan that would redraw the lines of Rangel’s district—which, according to the 2010 census, is 46 percent Latino—to create an entirely new district and ensure that a Latino representative would be elected to the seat.
“Time will tell. I’m waiting to see like everyone else,” Jackson said. “But I would like to see an African-American seat and a Latino seat and have the type of diversity [in the House] that New York City should have.”
Denise Dominguez, a member of the Dominican Bar Association, said that the creation of a Latino district was the reasonable conclusion of recent census data.
“With redistricting, it’s one person, one vote, and we have things like voters’ rights that protect communities of minority interests,” Dominguez said. “And clearly there are numbers for a Latino district in New York City.”
Some, like Rosado, said that they supported the district as long as it does not misrepresent other minority groups, like African-Americans and Asian-Americans.
Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, chair of Community Board 9, emphasized that the groups’ “cultures are intertwined.”
“Dominicans and African Americans have the same basic three culture groups,” she said. “That’s a common bond, a common denominator that for some reason gets overlooked. It’s a reminder of the important role that our Dominican brothers and sisters play in the survival of our community.”