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Keith Benson

Persuasive Writing
Sarah Byker James
May 3, 2008

“Similar Starts Don’t Equate to Similar Finishes”

In effort to explain how the first inhabitants of North America “got here”,

historians and scientists accepted the “Land Bridge” theory. This theory holds that the

string of islands extending from Alaska’s western coast toward northern Russia, the

Aleutian Islands near the present day Bering Strait, was once thin strip of land that

connected the vast landmasses of Asia and North America. This land mass connection

linking both east and western hemispheres allowed Asiatic peoples some 50,000 years

ago to migrate from Asia to populate and settle in North, Central, and South Americas.

These Asiatic nomads became known as Indians. While this theory seems plausible and is

widely accepted today, what cannot be disputed is the fact that migrant Asiatic culture in

the western hemisphere may have been similar and unified at one time; subsequent

cultures that have since emerged and developed differ greatly from one another. I will

attempt to critically analyze the cultures of Native Americans, Puerto Ricans and

Dominicans and point out their similar and different experiences in America historically

and contemporarily.

While past perceptions based on inaccurate and biased information portrayed

Native Americans in North America as one specific group of people, McGolderick’s text

informs that Native Americans never considered themselves as this unified, monolithic

population in which they were commonly portrayed. Charles Etta Sutton and Mary Anne

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Broken Nose write, “When Europeans first sailed to this land, at least ‘two thousand

cultures and more societies practiced and multiplicity of customs and life styles, held an

enormous variety of values and beliefs, spoke numerous languages unintelligible to the

many speakers, and did not conceive themselves as a single people” (McGolderick, 43).

It was this misnomer that led the Spanish to call the diverse Native American population

by one name -“Indians.”

The Spanish first arrived in North America during the late 1400’s and early 1500’s

landing in the Caribbean, Southeastern present-day America, and along America’s

western coast. Throughout their landings and exploration, they encountered Native

Americans. Through increased contact, the Spanish developed the belief that Native

Americans were “innocent savages” because they were “neither Christian nor culturally

familiar” (McGolderick, 44). These beliefs and prejudices held by the Spanish provided

justification for the eventual atrocities they, along with the later arriving British and other

Anglos, would inflict upon the Native Americans.

Soon after European colonization in North America increased contact and conflict

and eventual warfare between the two groups. An example of this was the Pequot Wars in

the 1630 involving the Pequot Indians and colonists in Connecticut. British colonists

through more frequent contact with the local the Pequot Indians came to view them as an

immediate threat to their security, and their right to expand their colonies and settlements.

The alien British colonists in Connecticut came to perceive the Pequot Indians, though

native to North American, as a potential threat. Consequently, colonists engaged in total

warfare against the Pequot’s that culminated with the massacre at Mystic River, with

colonists murdering every member of the Pequot tribe. Writes John Chambers in Major

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Military Problems in American History, “The most controversial part of the conflict is the

colonists’ attack against a palisaded Pequot village near the Mystic River not far from

present city of Stonington, Connecticut. Within minutes some seven hundred Pequots –

men, women and children – were slaughtered.” (Chambers, 38) This barbaric method of

conflict resolution became typical of how Europeans responded to Native Americans

resulting in the near genocide of Native Americans.

Other troublesome methods of dealing with the Indian “problem” were employed

by Europeans during the 19th centuries. The practice of forced assimilation and

acculturation was a direct attempt by Europeans to “educate the Indian out of the Indian.

White authorities denigrated Indian languages, customs and religions and forbade their

practice” (McGolderick, 47). Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia,

a highly regarded institution among many Black families in America, was an institution

that served as a boarding school for Indian children taken from their families to become

more Americanized under the watch of White teachers and instructors.

Also in the 1800’s, White Americans began forcing Indians off their native and

ancestral lands, and forcing them to relocate to areas where survival would be near

impossible. President Andrew Johnson’s forced removal of Native Americans in the

South to Oklahoma Territory during the early 1800’s, called the Trail of Tears, was a

precursor to the reservations Native Americans have been, largely confined to since.

Sutton and Broken Nose, inform us that Native Americans are historically very

spiritual people believing that all natural and environmental elements around them are

gifts from spirits that are to be respected and protected. Thus, the snatching of Native

Americans lands and removal of Native Americans from their land ostensibly created a

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cultural and spiritual disconnect between Native Americans and their traditions. This

mass cultural confusion manifests itself still. Native Americans today, struggle with high

rates of alcoholism, educational and civic apathy, increasing occurrences of suicide and

domestic violence. All are residual effects of the atrocities visited on Native Americans

by European and Anglos.

Despite the troubled experience Native Americans have lived since the arrival of

Europeans over 500 years ago, and the carnage they have endured, there are signs that

Native Americans are beginning to rebound. The last Census from 2000, points to an

increase in Indian population up to 2.6 million and currently there are 562 tribes

recognized by the US Dept. of the Interior, which suggests they are attempting to

reconnect with their culture and historical past. Also, on reservations, Native Americans

are starting to be re-educated about their past. “Many school systems are developing

curricula featuring Indian History. A new respect for Indians’ positive influences on the

dominant culture is replacing old concepts and stereotypes” (McGolderick, 44).

The people we know of today as Puerto Ricans, are linked with Native American

as they, too, are descendants of the initial Asiatic peoples that migrated throughout the

western hemisphere thousands of years ago. “Some Puerto Rican physical characteristic,

such as skin color, hair texture, and bone structure have been identified as Indian” (Preto,

243). The island of Puerto Rico was largely inhabited by the Taino Indian tribe until the

age of Spanish exploration and conquest led the Spanish to colonize and subdue the

island during the early 1500’s. Along with the religion, culture, and language the Spanish

forced on the native Tainos, the land’s population became more diverse with the

increasing amounts of Africans brought to Puerto Rico as slaves to work on sugar

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plantations. “The Africans, in turn, contributed their language, food, musical instruments,

religion, and healing practices to the cultural and racial mix to the island” (Preto, 243).

Due to the inclusion of darker slave populations introduced to the island,

Puerto Ricans, unlike Native Americans of North America, developed a more defined

color consciousness. The darker Puerto Ricans are more closely associated with the

slave/lower-class people from the island, while lighter pigmented Puerto Ricans are

considered higher class and in possession of more wealth and opportunities.

The island of Puerto Rico, until the Spanish American war in 1898, was a colony

of Spain. The American defeat of the Spanish in 1898 left the island as a reward for the

United States. Today, the island is neither a state in the United States or its own

independent nation. “Puerto Rico is an Esatdo Libre Asociado, a territory of the United

States with very limited self-rule. Puerto Ricans continue to have little power over their

fate, because they have no voting representative in Congress and do not vote for

president” (Preto, 243). It is this “no-man’s land-ness” with which the United States

places Puerto Rico that leaves its people feeling also, not completely included in or

excluded from the country.

Puerto Ricans in America are placed in an awkward position unfamiliar to those

residing on the island. The United States is far more color conscious than the island; and

as Puerto Ricans here are often obliged to choose what best describes them, “black or

white”, and because their experiences either on the island or within their family

communicated that white is better, when asked to choose, most Puerto Ricans in America

choose to identify themselves as white. In dominant American culture, it is obvious that

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Puerto Ricans are not white as commonly considered here. Again, identity confusion for

Puerto Ricans in America presents itself.

Despite the island of Puerto Rico not being a state however, Puerto Ricans are

legal citizens of the United States. Blanco Ramos, in “Acculturation and Depression

among Puerto Ricans in the Mainland” writes, “Puerto Ricans born on the island are U.S.

citizens at birth, can be subject to military draft, and do not have to comply with

immigration laws to enter the mainland.” (Ramos, 1) It is very common for older Puerto

Ricans hold fast to the culture and traditions of the island while their descendants are

increasingly coming to see where their identity in this American cultural mosaic.

Today, the increasing assimilation and acculturation of Puerto Ricans, particularly

those of elevated socioeconomic status, continues to result in more educational and

economic opportunities for youth and women specifically, while less the Americanized

Puerto Rican men and seniors begin to feel marginalized and threatened within their own

households. To an extent, men more so than woman actively resist assimilation in

American culture opting to maintain traditional living and occupational arrangement

familiar to the traditions present on the island and of previous generations. Adds Ramos,

“For traditional men, stressors may relate to role reversal, particularly when they are

unable to be the primary breadwinner, which is not unusual given their limited access to

employment.” (Ramos, 2) As disconnects grow between the traditional roles of women,

keeper of the home and purity; and children, obedient, in Puerto Rican culture, it is

common for men, in effort to re-assert and re-affirm the machismo role, the dominant

head of the household, to resort to physically, verbally, or emotionally abusing his partner

and/or children.

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Generally, Puerto Rican families in this country place high value on personal and

familial bonds and relationships. It is very common for Puerto Rican families, especially

those of lower socioeconomic status to live with, or house relatives not within their

immediate family. The expectation is that the family should always be able and willing to

provide support for other members of the family. Preto explains, “Their cultural

expectation is that when a family member is in crisis or has a problem, others in the

family will help, especially those in more stable positions” (Preto, 242). It is further

explained that this reliance on family, makes it particularly difficult and unlikely that

Puerto Ricans will explore solutions to problems outside of the family unit, especially in

reference to men.

Looking forward, while the issue of the islands’ status in relation to the United

States still remains unresolved, for Puerto Ricans in America, the future appears to be

favorable. Puerto Rican youth, especially those born into American society, are exposed

to American lifestyles and expectations early, therefore, the adaptation process that

hampered generations before is generally more seamless and fluid. Increased educational

opportunity and greater exposure the English language are being readily accepted by

American Puerto Ricans of younger generations as their ticket toward upward mobility.

Dominicans are yet another group of people whose ancestral lines are tied to the

Asiatic nomads of previous millenniums that inhabit the United States today. The Taino,

Orinocco, Singu, Tapajos and Caribes, were all Indian tribes that settled in the land we

know today as the Dominican Republic.

Similar to the experiences described of the Native Americans and Tainos of

Puerto Rico, in 1492 Spanish conquistadors ravaged and exploited the natives of the

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Dominican Republic forcing them to adopt their cultural beliefs, language, and religion.

Also, similar the events that took place in the island of Puerto Rico, African slaves began

arriving on the island during the 1500’s to work on sugar plantations. The Dominican

Republic, historically, was more diverse culturally than Puerto Rico.

Unlike Puerto Rico, a nation that was controlled by only Spain prior to US

acquisition, the Dominican Republic had been ruled by the Spanish from the late 1400’s

until 1795, when it was taken over by the French. The French possessed the island until

the 1820’s when Haiti expelled the French, and their war with Britain forced their

attention and resources back to Europe. From 1822 to 1861, Haiti invaded and took over

the neighboring Dominican Republic, until 1865 when the Dominicans eventually kicked

the Haitians out of power. The Dominican Republic has remained its own independent

nation for over 140 years.

Similar to that of the island of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic is color-

conscious nation. Sheridan Wigginton in "Character or Caricature: Representations of

Blackness in Dominican Social Science Textbooks seeks to explicate the extent of

Dominican racial consciousness by describing how Dominican celebrate their

Independence Day commemorating their expelling of the Haitians and not the French or

Spanish who also occupied the island previously. Wigginton writes, “The fact the

Dominican Republic celebrates its independence from Haiti rather than from Spain is a

significant point. Independence Day in the Dominican Republic literally and

symbolically expresses the country’s desire to embrace its European legacy and reject its

connection to an African past, a past that is very similar to that of Haiti.” (Wigginton,

192) On the island, lighter-skinned people are more highly regarded in that they have

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high access to wealth and education, while darker-skinned people are regarded as lower

class and more likely to remain lower on the socioeconomic ladder. Carmen Inoa

Vasquez, describes that it common to witness this color bias within the family unit.

Vasquez writes, “In the Dominican Republic, children are told that they will have a career

if they are White, and some families tend to favor the lighter child over the darker one”

(McGolderick, 218).

On the island of the Dominican Republic, the lifestyles are very similar to that of

Puerto Rico. They are both island nations, financially supported and maintained by

agriculture and tourism. Within the family and in gender roles, the machismo role for

men, and the maranisma role for women are dominant role descriptors on both islands.

The differences between Dominicans’ lifestyles compared with that of Puerto Ricans

because more obvious once Dominicans immigrate to the United States.

The Dominican Republic is its own sovereign nation, therefore Dominicans,

unlike the Native Americans and Puerto Ricans previously discussed, actually have to

immigrate to the United Sates. Immigrant Domicans are not American citizens, which

immediately limits educational and financial opportunities. Further, upon arrival into

American society, Dominicans also are not considered white or black, as described by

dominant American racial descriptors, which leaves the group feeling not completely

welcome. Also, though Puerto Ricans may be Spanish speakers similar to Dominicans,

Puerto Ricans are citizens at birth (which they tend to take pride in), Dominicans are

further ostracized because of the language barrier.

The marginalization of immigrant Dominicans in America is a three pronged

problem: they are immigrants, they do not “fit in” traditional dominant racial groups, and

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they do not speak the language – and this is assuming the immigrant Dominican is in

America legally.

Despite all of the impending adversity Dominicans encounter once in America,

the population of Dominicans continues to increase. Vasquez comments, “The Dominican

population in the United States has grown significantly, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of

the Census, which showed an increase from 520,121 in 1990 to 1,040,910 in 2000,

excluding undocumented population.” The trend suggests Dominicans are beginning to

permanently situate themselves within the fabric of American culture.

Typically, Dominicans reside in urban areas throughout the North East such as

Providence, Hartford and New York City. Victoria Rodriguez, in "Language and literacy

Practices in Dominican Families in New York City" communicates “Throughout the

1990’s Dominicans were the fastest growing Latino group in NYC. In all probability,

Dominican immigration to the United States will continue, and may increase in the

future.” (Rodriguez, 9) Immigrant Dominican men either due to language barriers, lack of

citizenship, or possible lack of formal American education, are likely to work in

occupations where cash is paid directly rather than paychecks. Driving taxi cabs, working

in and owning bodegas (corner stores), and laboring in construction are among the most

popular jobs for Dominican men in the United States. For similar reasons, immigrant

Dominican women on the other hand, commonly work in Dominican restaurants or in

cosmetic salons.

Among Dominican-American youth, similar to contemporary Puerto Rican youth

born in America, education and citizenship are opening new doors and opportunities to

the same population that had been marginalized in previous generations. In Dominican-

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American homes of elevated SES, education is seen as the tool toward economic

prosperity and occupational opportunity in this country. Dominican homes of lower

classes, however, place more of a value on family rather than class mobility. Furthermore,

in these Dominican homes, it is common for teens to begin starting their own families far

earlier than their American counterparts. It is not uncommon for Domicans in their teens

to marry or have more than one child. Consistent with the marianisma role, Dominican

women in homes of low SES are expected to maintain the home primarily, while being

pure and subservient to their husbands’ desires. Dominican men, Vasquez explains,

subscribing to the machismo role, are expected to be the head of the household, and

sexually virile and often promiscuous. Dominican homes such this, have most difficulty

assimilating into American culture, thus, have difficulty capitalizing on various

educational and occupational opportunities.

In conclusion, it is clear that ancestral connections of migrant Asiatic peoples

from thousand of years ago remain with Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, and

Dominicans today in North America. While their initial historic contact and relationship

with Europeans originated under very similar circumstances, and the island nations these

cultures come from are similar as well, what cannot be denied is their varied experiences

here in America. Suffice to say, these cultures started in similar “places” but are currently

not in the same desintations.

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