Spanish Migration to the Dominican Republic


Spaniards from the Canary Islands. Immigration from Spain to the Dominican Republic has existed for over five centuries, longer than any other. It has been the most influential country in the Dominican Republic, evident in all aspects of society and culture, including language. The Dominican Republic is where the Spanish has been settled the longest in the Americas and where Spanish (which it also is the first official European language on this side of the Atlantic) has been spoken for the most time in the Western Hemisphere.
The Spaniard Juan de Pareja (b. 1610 – d. 1670). Although most Spaniards that immigrated to the Dominican Republic during more than 500 years were white, a sizable minority was composed of mixed race Spaniards and an even smaller number of black Spaniards, particularly from the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. For the most part, they were people that had their freedom, often times belonging to families that had been free for generations. Juan de Pareja was a Spanish artist, he himself of mixed origins. In the voyages of Christopher Columbus between Spain and the now Dominican Republic during the 1490’s, it has been documented by archeologists and anthropologists using modern teeth and other biological remains analysis of people buried in La Isabela, that some show signs that are typical of Africans and not Europeans. Either full fledge Africans or mixed Spanish-Africans, it’s clear that not all Spaniards were white. Through further investigations it was discovered that those in the caravels accompanying Christopher Columbus and had partial or full African origins, some were slaves and most were freedmen as part of the crews.
Spanish Conquistador Juan Garrido (b. 1480 – d. 1550). Born near or in Guinea in Africa, he was taken to Spain as a very young boy and became a Spaniard despite being of full African ancestry. He also joined in the discovery of the New World. In 1510, he arrived in Santo Domingo as a freedman and lived in the city for a few years. He took part in the conquering of neighboring Cuba, in Spanish expeditions in Puerto Rico, Florida and other places throughout the Caribbean. He settled permanently after playing a role in the conquering of Mexico where he met an amerindian woman and devoted the rest of his life as a farmer and a father. Like him were others, Spaniards in every way except ancestry and they too travelled from Spain and were in the now Dominican Republic. While true they were a small minority of Spanish, but they existed and roamed the streets of the now Colonial City of Santo Domingo, many created families and their descendants are Dominicans of all colors and races, all social positions, as low key everyday men to high profile in the limelight figures.

Spanish migration is one of the most traditional in the Dominican Republic. It started in 1492 with the arrival of the three caravels of Christopher Columbus. Since that time Spanish migration to the island has remained a constant, albeit with periodic increases and decreases.

Seven Migration Waves in Five Centuries

Seven migration waves from Spain to the Dominican Republic can be identified. During these waves arrived the majority of the Spaniards that form part of the ancestors of the majority of the Dominican population.

XVI Century

The first century of the Spanish colonial era was characterized by the initiation of five centuries of Spanish migration to the island of Santo Domingo. In the beginning all the Spanish migrants were from the Castille region of Spain and they settled in all areas of the island. Centuries later the Spanish migration had origins from all regions of Spain, including the Canary Islands.

In addition to ethnic Spaniards, many Portuguese also arrived and passed themselves as Spaniards. Most of the Portuguese settled in the Cibao Valley in the northern part of the Dominican Republic. The evidence of this migration is still evident in the Spanish dialect spoken in the Cibao Valley, with many words that are pronounced in a way that resembles more their equivalent in Portuguese than in Spanish.

XVIII Century

With the arrival and increasing settlement of the French along the western coasts of the island, Spain decided to create a new Spanish migration wave to the Spanish part of the island. This migration was primarily of Canarian origin, particularly from the islands of Tenerife, La Palma, and La Gomera.

The mass migration of the Canarians began in 1684 when a royal decree (Real Cédula in Spanish) from the King of Spain allowed the transfer of hundreds of Spanish families from the island of Tenerife to Santo Domingo. In that same year was founded the town of San Carlos de Tenerife outside the walls of Santo Domingo. Today, San Carlos is a primarily residential neighborhood in Santo Domingo. There still live descendants of the founding Spanish families of Canarian origin.

The migrations of Spaniards from the Canary Islands continued through the course of the XVIII century at such levels that they quickly became the predominant element in the sharp population increase experienced in the Spanish part of the island of Santo Domingo. In 1735 was estimated that the entire population of the Spanish territory consisted of roughly 6,000 people. By 1785 the population ballooned to at least 125,000. This rapid growth was fueled by the migrations of entire Spanish families from the Canary Islands and their rapid multiplication once established in various parts of the Spanish territory.

The increase in population due to the Spanish migration of Canarian origin was noticeable in various towns through out the territory. The following towns already existed when this migration wave started and increased considerably with the arrival of the Canarians.

  • Santo Domingo
  • Santiago de los Caballeros
  • Salvaleón de Higüey
  • Santa Rosa de Bonao
  • Concepción de La Vega
  • Azua de Compostela

Other towns that were destroyed by orders of Governor Antonio Osorio y Villegas in the beginning of the XVII century were refounded in the same places they existed originally with numerous families from the Canary Islands. These towns include the year of the refounding in parenthesis.

  • San Felipe de Puerto Plata (1737)
  • San Fernando de Montecristi (1751)
  • San Juan de la Maguana (1757)
  • Santa Cruz de Neiba (1765)

Moreover, large numbers of entire Spanish families from the Canary Islands founded entirely new towns in strategic places of the Spanish territory of Hispaniola.

  • San Carlos de Tenerife (1684)
  • Concepción de Hincha (1704)
  • Sabana de la Mar (1756)
  • Santa Bárbara de Samaná (1756)
  • San Rafael de la Angostura (1761)
  • Santa Regla de Baní (1764)
  • San Miguel de Atalaya (1768)
  • San Joaquín de Dajabón (1776)
  • San Francisco de Macorís (1778)
  • Las Matas de Farfán (1780)

The Spaniards from the Canary Islands also founded an immense number of rural settlements and villages all over the Spanish part of the island. Many of these places still conserve in their names hints of their Canarian origin. Such is the case of the rural village of Cerro Gordo de los Isleños (Cerro Gordo of the Islanders) near Higüey. ‘Ìsleños’ (islanders) is the demonym that Spaniards from the Canary Islands were known in Spain and in Spanish America. Additionally, Cerro Gordo is the name of a town on the island of Tenerife, precisely the origin of the founding families of the Dominican rural settlement. In such manner are countless examples in the entire geography of the Dominican Republic.

A typical Dominican family of Spanish Canarian origin in a rural area near Higüey. Unlike the English and to a certain extent the French, the Spanish government never put in place antimiscegination laws or laws that segregated the population by color and race. This relaxed attitude towards racial mixing is a major factor in the current composition of the typical Dominican family, making the Dominican Republic one of only a handful of countries where the majority of the population is of mixed origins.

All along the Cibao Valley can be seen numerous Dominican families with a very evident Spanish Canarian ancestry, such as this humble family from Santiago.

Racial mixing has been socially acceptable since the Spanish colonial times because the Spaniards were never disgusted or opposed to this practice, unlike most other Europeans. This widespread social practice has added various colors and facial features to many Dominican families that have Spanish Canarian ancestry, such as this family in San José de Ocoa.
A typical Dominican family of Spanish Canarian origin in a rural area near Higüey. Unlike the English and to a certain extent the French, the Spanish government never put in place antimiscegination laws or laws that segregated the population by color and race. This relaxed attitude towards racial mixing is a major factor in the current composition of the typical Dominican family, making the Dominican Republic one of only a handful of countries where the majority of the population is of mixed origins.
All along the Cibao Valley can be seen numerous Dominican families with a very evident Spanish Canarian ancestry, such as this humble family from Santiago.

Spanish Annexation (1861 – 1865)

In 1861 the Dominican Republic was annexed by Spain by invitation from the Dominican government. During this short lived era emerged another wave of Spanish migration. This new wave consisted primarily of Spanish military soldiers that were stationed all over the Dominican territory. Once the annexation was reverted and the Dominican Republic was reestablished as an independent country, thousands of Spanish soldiers opted to stay in the Dominican Republic.

Cuban Independence Wars (1868 – 1878) and (1895 – 1898)

During the second half of the XIX century the neighboring island of Cuba became engulfed in a very long and violent fight for its independence from Spain. The War of Ten Years (in Spain its known as The War of Cuba) that lasted from 1868 to 1878 was the first of many wars in which Cuba attempted to separate from Spain. During the war, the Dominican Republic received a sizable number of Cuban refugees, among them were many Spaniards that prior to the war migrated from Spain to Cuba.

The second war is known as The War of Cuban Independence (also The War of 1895, as well as The Spanish – American War) which lasted from 1895 to 1898. Similarly to what happened during the first war, during The Spanish – American War many Cubans, and especially many Spaniards that before the war migrated from Spain to Cuba, arrived at the Dominican Republic.

Andrés Brugal Montaner, a Spaniard that during The Spanish – American War migrated from Santiago de Cuba to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

A well known example of Spaniards that moved from Cuba to the Dominican Republic is Andrés Brugal Montaner. He decided to settle in Puerto Plata, the largest town on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, and there he founded the company Brugal & Compañía. Today Brugal & Compañía produces various rums under its label Brugal. This company is one of the top five most sold rums in the world and the number one imported rum consumed in Spain. Ron Brugal is also the most well known Dominican rum.

Beginning of the XX Century

In the beginning of the XX century Spain lost its last two overseas provinces (Cuba and Puerto Rico), both taken away by the United States. In this time, the United States promulgates a new migration law that targetted the Spanish migration flow to Cuba and Puerto Rico, essentially stopping it. Since many Spaniards in mainland Spain still desired to migrate to America, especially to the Spanish Caribbean, in search of business and professional opportunities, the closure of Cuba and Puerto Rico meant that in the Spanish Caribbean the Dominican Republic was the only place that didn’t had major obstacles to Spanish immigration. This circumstance created the fifth Spanish migration wave in the Dominican Republic, capturing all the Spaniards that initially wanted to settle in Cuba or Puerto Rico.

Manuel Corripio, one of the Spaniards that opted to migrate to the Dominican Republic when the United States made it difficult for Spaniards to migrate to Cuba and Puerto Rico. He settled in the city of Santo Domingo, where his family has been ever since.

In this Spanish migration wave arrived many families that with time became reknown within Dominican society due to their economic, political, and professional success. Some of these families were the Baquero, the Corripio, the Bosch, and the Cuesta.

The 1940’s and 1950’s

The dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo for a time coincided with the Spanish Civil War. Due to the deteriorating situation in Spain, a large number of Spaniards wished to leave and settle in America. This also coincided with Trujillo’s policies of fomenting the Spanish migration with the intention of further developing the agricultural sector.

José Rosselló Campíns, a Spaniard native to the Valencia region of Spain, took advantage of the favorable migration policies of the Trujillo regime to migrate to the Dominican Republic. He settled in Constanza where he pioneered in the production of agricultural products that weren’t grown in the Dominican Republic, such as potatoes, celery, onions, and cabbage.

The Dominican agriculture gained a major development leap and improved diversification of production with the help of the Spanish immigrants. The most notable example took place in the Constanza Valley, where the Spanish agriculturalist José Roselló Campíns applied his farming expertise. Upon his arrival and application, the Constanza Valley flourished in the production of many agricultural products that were either unknown or had to be imported to the Dominican Republic. Due to his great impact in the agricultural development of the valley and in diversifying Dominican agricultural production, he is known as the father of the Constanza Valley agriculture.

In addition to expert farmers, in this migration wave the Dominican Republic received many Spanish refugees that are popularly known as Republican Spaniards (españoles republicanos). Many of them were intellectuals. This group had a profound impact in the cultural development of the country due to their very good education level. The fine arts were positively impacted by the incursion of these Spaniards. Many much needed architects, doctors, engineers; lawyers, university professors, authors; and other professionals made great strides in the cultural development of the Dominican Republic.

José Vela Zanetti, the famous Spanish painter spent many years in the Dominican Republic. Many of his best works of arts were made for murals in many public buildings, many of which still grace the walls of their original home.

One of the most reknown was the famous Spanish painter José Vela Zanetti. He painted more than one hundred murals in the country, many considered among the best he has painted. Today many of his original murals are still on display in a great number of Dominican government buildings, churches, universities; monuments, cultural centers, and other places all over the Dominican Republic.

1960 – Today

In 1961 the Trujillo dictatorship came to an abrupt end and this gave way to a new spontaneous Spanish migration to the Dominican Republic. This migration has been very positive for the Dominican Republic, because it consist of many visionary and entrepreneurial people.

Román Ramos Uría is one of the Spaniards that migrated to the Dominican Republic during this period. He left his hometown of Pola, Spain with the intention of establishing himself in Santo Domingo. His desire to live in the Dominican Republic, a country he had never visited before but heard so much about, was so strong that the ship that transported him across the Atlantic Ocean left him at Puerto Rico, refusing to take him or anyone else to the Dominican Republic. He spent a few nights in Puerto Rico and instead of staying there, like many of his companions did, he found the way to make it to Santo Domingo, where he has been living ever since.

Román Ramos Uría is one of the best examples that arrived during this Spanish migration wave. He founded Grupo Ramos, currently the largest hypermarket and supermarket company in the Dominican Republic via his various stores of La Sirena, Súper Pola, and Aprezio. Grupo Ramos is also the largest private employer in the Dominican Republic.

Valeriano Rafael Monestina. Originally from the Asturias region of Spain, he migrated to the Dominican Republic and is one of the founders of the very successful Bravo supermarket chain.

The Monestina family migrated from Asturias, Spain and settled in Santo Domingo. Valeriano Rafael Monestina is one of the founders of the successful Súper Bravo supermarket chain. This company made a name for itself not just due to giving good value to customers and beautifully designed supermarkets, but also because they put their belief in God before everything. Bravo supermarkets are closed every Sunday, because the owners believe in resting on the day of the Holy Sabbath. They also refuse to sell any alcohol in an effort to not be part of a problem that affects society. They truly believe in being part of the solution and not the problem.

The Current Spanish Presence in the Dominican Republic

In 2012, the Dominican government made a very conservative estimate that situated the number of Spaniards living in the Dominican Republic at 6,720 individuals. However, in 2013 the Spanish government estimated that the amount of Spaniards living legally in the Dominican Republic surpassed 17,382. Beyond these figures are many Spaniards that arrive as tourists and then decide to stay illegally.

In reality, the Dominican Republic is among the top 23 countries in the world with the most Spaniards. Within Spanish America the Dominican Republic has the ninth largest Spanish population, while among Central American and Caribbean countries its the second largest. Furthermore, the Dominican Republic has the sixth largest growth of Spanish residents in the world.

Estimates by the government of Spain regarding the number of Spaniards living outside their country in 2012 and 2013, plus the absolute and relative variations between the two years.
Spanish origin is still evident in most Dominican families. This is a very prominent family with humble beginnings in Gurabo near Santiago de los Caballeros, the Mejías. The patriarch of the family moved from Spain to the now Dominican Republic in the 1600’s.
The imprint of Spain is evident in most Dominicans of lighter skin color, much arriving to the island during the first 300 years after 1492. In other words, it was present by the time the Dominican Republic was created as an independent country. Acceptence of racial mixture has added other features to the Spanish input.
Dominicans with significant Spanish descent from high society. Contrary to the belief of many non-Dominicans to the point it has become a myth, most locals with very high Spanish ancestry don’t belong to the upper class. In fact, many are seen living in humble dwellings and economic hardship in many cities, towns and rural areas, particularly in the Cibao.
Dark Dominicans such as Ruth Ocumarez often get ancestry DNA results with Spanish ancestry in the 30%, 40% and even higher than 50%. This evidences not just the importance Spain plays in the origin of most Dominicans, but also that a particular look is not always representative of their genetic reality. A society like the Dominican one, where racial mixture has been accepted and widespread since the beginning, this phenomenon is more common than in other societies where racial mixture wasn’t always accepted or was legally prohibited.
Example of the ancestry DNA results of a dark skin Dominican in 23andme.
The Spanish input is evident in most Dominicans, the largest of only a handful of countries where the majority of the population is mixed, overwhelmingly of the European-African variety. More often than not the European part is Spanish. A lack of a past of racial segregation and discouragement of racial mixtures has resulted that most Dominicans don’t harbor resentments towards the whites. This is very unlike other societies where those historic hardships has created a population of partial or full African ancestry that often resent the whites and in private will speak of them with an evident disdain.