While many in the US may not know much about Dominican culture off the top of their heads, the island has been contributing to global entertainment, sport, fashion and music for a long time. Latinx populations across the Caribbean and Central and South America have a varied genetic makeup because of the heavy integration of races and ethnicities throughout history, starting with the Spaniards’ colonization in 1492. However, ingrained racism and colorism has erased many Afro-Latinx people from history. Most Dominicans actually have European, African, and Indigenous ancestry, and our diversity makes our island vibrant.
There are many Dominicans who have dominated and accomplished great things in their field, the list is endless. Below we’ve listed six role models who impacted different industries, making the Dominican community proud.
Maria Montez, 1912-1951:
“When I see Maria Montez on the screen, she is so beautiful I gasp. I look and I look. And I say ‘that gorgeous creature, she is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen…’ Then I look in a mirror, and that gorgeous thing — she is me.”
Maria Montez made her mark at a time when Latinx communities were very under-represented in media (which they still are). She was known as the Queen of Technicolor in Hollywood’s Golden Age and a 1940s starlet. She was renowned for her beauty and became the Glamour Girl for Universal studios. Her sultry portrayal in “Arabian Nights” launched her into full stardom. However, tired of not being taken seriously as an actress and only cast as “exotic” and “hot-headed” roles, she broke from her studio and began to produce her own films and writing, starring in 26 films over the span of her career.
She died young at the age of 39 from a heart attack while in Paris, France, but her daughter, Tina Aumont, carried on her acting legacy. She inspired many directors and artists after her death, and continued to be honored in the Dominican Republic and beyond.
Julia Alvarez, 1950-present:
“It’s like my whole world is coming undone, but when I write, my pencil is a needle and thread, and I’m stitching the scraps back together.”
Julia Alvarez was born in New York, but was raised in the Dominican Republic, and eventually returned to the US after her family fled due to her father’s involvement in a plot to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship. She is the author of several novels, including “In the Time of the Butterflies” and “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.”
Many of her works explore assimilation, defining what it is to be a Latinx-American, and the political history of the Dominican Republic. Her first book, “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents,” is a fictionalized account based on the Mirabal Sisters, who were assassinated for their clandestine activities against the Trujillo regime.
Alvarez is considered an extremely influential Latinx writer, having achieved global acclaim, fame, and respect for her work highlighting immigration, feminism, and political activism.
Oscar de la Renta, 1932-2014:
“Walk like you have three men walking behind you.”
Oscar de la Renta was born in Santo Domingo and moved to Madrid to study painting. Trained by Cristóbal Balenciaga and Antonio del Castillo, De la Renta became internationally known in the 1960s as one of the couturiers who dressed Jacqueline Kennedy. He was also the first Dominican to design for a French couture house.
De la Renta also designed luxurious furniture. The hotel suites he designed showed the sophisticated compositions that the world expects from only the best designers — counterbalanced by the bright, uplifting colors that pair with dramatic, dark woods and sharp lines.
At the age of 82, Oscar De la Renta passed away in his Connecticut home from complications stemming from his cancer. His fashion house and vibrant elegance, however, still live on.
Pedro Martinez, 1971-present
“I believe I have a responsibility that goes along with the money I make. I can help a lot of people.”
Pedro Martinez is one of baseball’s most beloved players, known as one of the best pitchers in the league. Baseball is the national game of the Dominican Republic, so there is no wonder why there are many gifted players who are Dominican. During Martinez’s career (1992-2004), he dominated as the best pitcher in Major League Baseball from 1997 through 2003. He played for the Boston Red Sox team for most of those years and became one of the biggest stars in Red Sox history.
Pedro Martinez is the second Dominican player to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, after Juan Marichal, another great Dominican player. Martinez is the record holder for the lowest WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) — a measure of pitching performance — in major league history with 0.737 in 2000, up until 2018.
Being a great baseball player is not the only thing that captured the hearts of his fans, it is also his warm and generous spirit. He grew up lacking much opportunity, but changed that around, and became a success story. He also started the Pedro Martinez Foundation in 1998 to help at-risk youth, showing that although now successful, he has not forgotten where he came from and the hardship that comes with it.
Alex Rodriguez, 1975-present:
“Be respectful. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Respect the lowest rank and the highest rank and you’ll never get in trouble.”
“Arod” is one of the most popular baseball players, and while some know, not many know he’s Dominican-American. The successful athlete was born in New York City, from Dominican parents, and then moved to the DR when he was four years old.
Rodriguez’s professional baseball career began in 1994 with the Seattle Mariners, he later moved to the Texas Rangers in 2003, and then played for the New York Yankees from 2004 through the end of his career. He retired in 2016.
“Arod” was known for being an all-around great player, he could play both offense and defense well. He was one of the highest paid baseball players in the league. He ranks 4th in MLB history with 696 home runs. Alex Rodriguez held a 22 year career and is still recognized as one of the best players of all time.
Félix Sánchez, 1981-present
“…You’re supposed to believe in yourself. You’re supposed to be confident, so you should go in thinking you’re going to win.”
Felix Sanchez was another great Dominican-American athlete. He was born in New York and raised in California by Dominican parents. In the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, he won a gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles, as well as at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, making him a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He was active from 1999 through 2015, representing the Dominican Republic.
Due to his dedication and hard work, he is admired by many. The largest stadium in the Dominican Republic, Félix Sánchez Olympic Stadium, is named after him.
Acknowledging one’s roots and those who have contributed to making your culture richer and proud is important. As mentioned previously, there are countless Dominicans who represent the island well and this list consists of only a few of them.