Local residents celebrate Dominican Independence Day

Dominican culture on full display, as well as politics.

Junior Gonzalez
  • Dominican art, food, and music on display at Crispus Attucks.
  • York mayoral candidate delivered remarks entirely in Spanish.
  • Immigration lawyer Susana Cortina gave advice in hopes of protecting undocumented people & families.

Several dozen residents and local community leaders gathered at the Crispus Attucks Community Center in York City on Saturday night to celebrate the 173rd anniversary of Dominican Independence Day.

Rep. Carol-Hill Evans (D-York), right, performs a traditional Dominican dance with fellow dancer Dolores Minaya (far left) during a Dominican Independence celebration in York on Saturday, Februrary 25, 2017.

“It’s very difficult to encompass the full, true story of our beloved country in just a few pages,” said Aníbal Mateo Ortiz, a Dominican American author, painter and former tennis instructor. Ortiz referred to the country as “restless.”

Celebration: Ortiz delivered a verbal history of the Caribbean nation — from the first inhabitants of Hispañola, the island that the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti, to the state’s independence from its western neighbor on Feb. 27, 1844.

Even with the condensing of history, Ortiz’s speech was cut short due to time constraints.

Locals had a chance to view paintings and written works by Ortiz that were on display at the event. Traditional Dominican dishes, with several meats and rice combinations to choose from, also were available for attendees.

Several local leaders attended the event, including NAACP President Sandra Thompson, who is running for a Common Pleas Court judge. “It’s great that at the end of every Black History Month, Dominicans celebrate their independence,” she said.

Thompson said there are many parallels between black and Dominican history. “We’ve been fighting for the government to represent all of us as a whole, giving us equal rights to vote and [for opportunities] in education and health care,” she said. “We’ve been fighting for all of that in America for a long time.”

York City mayoral candidate Michael Helfrich also spoke at the event, and, unlike other speakers who need a translator, he delivered his speech entirely in Spanish. He cited the lack of Hispanics in the current city government, insisting that the city would benefit from more diversity.

"This is your city,” he said. “We need to work together to make it better.”

Toward the end of the event, state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York, took the stage to perform with event organizer Dolores Minaya a traditional Dominican dance, wearing a fluttering white dress with red and blue accents, representing colors of the Dominican flag.

“The Dominican American community contributes to our nation’s economic vitality and culture, while maintaining deep connections with their Dominican roots,” she said in remarks before her dance.

Members of the community attend a Dominican Independence Day event at Crispus Attucks Community Center in York.

Immigration: During an otherwise celebratory night, there was a brief moment of sorrow when the issue of immigration was brought to the fore.

“As an attorney who works in immigration law, this is a sad time,” said Susana Cortina, a lawyer based in Lancaster. “It’s very difficult to figure out where things are going to go,” she said first in English, then in Spanish.

However, when she spoke in Spanish, her rhetoric was more forceful. “We don’t know what to do,” she said. “On Tuesday, the president says one thing, and on Wednesday, he says another thing, oftentimes contradicting what he said the day before.”

Local resident Mauricio Tobon assisted with technical production of the event and said that he has heard about immigration sweeps, which he has described as sort of a “stop and frisk.”

Tobon said he hopes the community can come together to fight President Trump’s policies, including those dealing with immigration. “We need to do this, especially for the kids,” he said.

“If you can become a resident, you should take advantage of that,” Cortina said. “If you’re a resident and can become a citizen, do it now."

Cortina cited the many benefits of obtaining citizenship, including voting rights, the ability to bring family members to the U.S., and, especially, the protection from ever being deported.

With limited options, Cortina said undocumented individuals in York must prepare.

“If you are undocumented, you do have some basic rights,” she said, adding that anyone detained by local police or Immigration Customs Enforcement has the right to refuse to speak or sign anything until they get access to their attorney.

The York Dispatch has previously reported on the rumors engulfing Hispanic communities regarding immigration raids and call spikes at local immigration centers. “I do not know about this,” Cortina said, “but that doesn’t mean that it’s not true.”

Cortina stressed the importance of undocumented people being proactive in a time she describes as dark. “If you’re not a resident, you can get deported if you have a broken tail light,” she said. “They’re really seen as almost inhuman.”

“It really feels like we’re in Nazi Germany,” she said.

Learning: Dolores Minaya, who organizes the event annually, said she's happy to do it and will continue doing so. She also is especially grateful for the opportunity to inform locals on immigration.

“I hope that the people that came can take [Cortina’s] information and give the information to people who are in a bad immigration situation,” she said.

Minaya is “very proud” to be Dominican, but for her, Dominican independence has a dual meaning.

“I’ve been in this country for 27 years, and Independence Day is not only about what happened between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but it also means being independent as a Dominican in the United States,” she said.

“You come to learn the language, the law of the U.S. and becoming familiar with American culture,” Minaya said.

“So it’s a lot of learning.”