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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.