"Estoy completamente aplatanado," I recently confessed to an audience of Dominican-Americans in New York. Aplatanado comes from the Spanish word for plantains, the staple of many a Dominican meal. But in Dominican parlance, aplatanado means “Dominican-ized,” and is used to describe a foreigner who enjoys plantains, a cold Dominican-brewed Presidente beer, embraces this nation's terrific music, and uses words from the Dominican Republic's colorful slang. Guilty as charged.
I was in the midst of a recent speaking tour in support of Secretary Clinton's Global Diaspora Initiative, during which I met with leaders of the Dominican-American community in New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Only last May, Secretary Clinton launched the Global Diaspora Initiative, telling Americans with ties around the world that "You have the potential to be the most powerful people-to-people asset we can bring to the world's table…you are, frankly, our Peace Corps, our USAID, our OPIC, our State Department rolled into one." And as someone who has worked with immigrant groups in the United States for much of my life, I can tell you how frequently Americans get involved in helping their countries of origin. To use our version of the phrase aplatanado, it is “as American as apple pie.”
The Dominican community in the United States is a growing success story. The week I was in the United States, Dominican baseball players Albert Pujols and Nelson Cruz were making headlines, leading their teams to post-season glory. But Dominican success stories in the United States are becoming more prominent off the field, too. Already making their mark are Dominican-American writers, artists, businessmen, activists, politicians, and academics.
I learned many things talking to Dominican-Americans in the United States, but two things stand out. First, the Dominican community wants to make a difference in the Dominican Republic. Their enthusiasm is impressive. To cite one example, the President of the National Supermarkets Association followed me down the sidewalk after one meeting to make sure I knew he was ready to get involved. It is clear that the success of Dominican-Americans in the United States has shown them things could be better “back home.” Second, and equally important, Dominican-Americans are looking for hands-on involvement in the Dominican Republic that would allow them to be involved at the grassroots level. Time and again, people told me that they preferred to make a difference at the micro-level where they could see the difference they made; for instance, that they would like to adopt a school or a disadvantaged community.
Now that the Dominican diaspora has made their enthusiasm and commitment to involvement clear, the next step will be to link the diaspora community to concrete projects here in the Dominican Republic. Stay tuned for further developments.