Dominicanos USA is a nonpartisan organization committed to civic engagement that empowers the Dominican-American community in the United States by registering, educating, and mobilizing them to go out and vote.
The NYIC visited their office in the Bronx and sat down with their New York Organizer, Omar Suarez to learn more about their organization.
What kind of work does your organization do?
Dominicanos USA was founded in 2013 to register, educate, and mobilize the Dominican-American community in the US. What that has meant in practice is we’ve mounted a voter registration drive that so far has generated 100,000 voter registrations in New York and 30,000 additional voter registrations in Rhode Island. In addition to that we do “Get Out The Vote” activities for every election depending on how many of our voters are going to be impacted, meaning we go door to door, do phone banking, and send out mail notifications. We have an election day voter protection plan that we implement. We do social media around all of our programs as well. Our goal is to integrate our community into the political life of this country, this state, and this city.
Whose lives are you trying to impact?
The people that we impact for the most part are the Dominican-Americans who have come here and become US citizens. We have a huge native born, very young population, myself included amongst them. Dominicans that are turning 18 or are in their twenties are just not engaged. That’s a problem with most young people, and especially young people of color who don’t have that example maybe from their parents because they’re not integrated into the political life here. They don’t have a previous generation that’s showing them how to be politically active.
We also do a lot of work with the broader Latino community and the broader immigrant community. We do voter registration at naturalization ceremonies. Last Friday we registered 165 people between two ceremonies, all new citizens! Those are our favorite.
What does being an New York Immigration Coalition member mean to you?
We’re new members! Our work with the NYIC goes back a while. The NYIC was one of our sponsors for Student Voter Registration Day. Beyond that our organizations are aligned in their values in looking at immigrants as the new wave of Americans who need to be included in the conversation about what it means to be an American and what we want our country to look like and how we empower our people!
How has your organization impacted your community?
We’ve seen an increase in turnout. I think we’ve become a trusted source for all kinds of electoral information. We had a great anecdote from the federal primary that just passed. A woman months ago had asked her daughter to help her register to vote and fill out a registration form. Instead of just turning it in at the post office or taking it to the Board of Elections herself, she waited for us to come and knock on her door right before election day so her family could register with us and she would also receive those notifications when election time came.
We’ve linked up with various organizations, we try to cover health fairs, be wherever our people are. We’re out in the community. We want people to know what we do and that they can trust that we’re going to the absolute best job for them to help them exercise their rights.
Earlier you said that you try to integrate your community into the political life in this country, what does that do for them once they’re integrated into the political life here?
The most important vote in your life is the first one you cast. If you can get that first vote, first two votes, you have someone who’s going to be a consistent voter throughout their life. If we can create that culture, not from nothing because people do care, but the biggest barrier we face is a lack of information. People just don’t know. So we’re trying to get them to believe them in the process and understand the power of their vote. Help them get past the cynicism and think that they can make a difference. In the end of you have a people of have a sense of duty in voting and that’s how we’ve gotten to where we have, with a majority of people in our community turning out to vote in elections.
What are some campaigns and initiative you’re working on?
Beginning last week we’ve had about a hundred Summer Youth Employment Program (SYP) participants come in. They’re going to be doing voter registration with us throughout the summer. It’s a hundred young people, ages 14 and 15, and a smaller group of 16 to 24 year olds who are a little more responsible and can take on a few more hours. Between both groups we have a real chance to impact these young people’s lives by teaching them the responsibility of having a job, the responsibility of taking civic engagement information to their communities. It gives us a chance to branch out too, since we’re dealing with a program that’s citywide we’re going outside of what we do normally. We have young people from ethnic background who we welcome with open arms. They speak different languages and we have them register new voters all over the city! They’ve already hit over a thousand new voters in two weeks.
What are some recent accomplishments your organization is proud of?
We’re super proud of our mobilization effort during the June federal primary. We had a huge turnout by the Dominican-American community. We also did that for the April primary and did it back in 2014 for state and federal primaries. Those were really big deals for us. Being able to knock on more than 30,000 doors for each election, in April and June.
We’re also happy to have been part of Student Voter Registration Day. The SYP’s that I mentioned we’re really happy to have them as well. We’ve also served as a partner for NYIC votes. We did an advocacy day up in Albany and talked about the importance of voting reform. We met with legislators and discussed how much we need this, to make it easier to vote for our people.
Do you have any upcoming programs or events you’d like people to know about?
The SYP’s going to be going until mid-August, which is great because it keeps this kids working throughout the summer. They really want to be working, they really want to have jobs. We’ll be participating in the parades to a certain extent. We’re definitely looking towards getting out the vote for the general election as well. We want to spread our wings and get this message to voters all over New York, not just in Bronx and Manhattan, not even just in the city we want to branch out and hit communities everywhere in the state.
What do you wish the public knew about your organization?
I want people to know we’re the type of organization that’s not following old models. We’re trying to do things our own way. We’re very data driven, we want to reach our community in news way, not just through traditional political campaigns. Using data, using technology, and carrying our message in those ways. We’re a very straightforward, nonpartisan organization. We just want our people to be engaged and empower themselves.