Manny Ramirez and the Dominican Diaspora

Congratulations are certainly due to Boston Red Sox left-fielder Manny Ramirez, who missed tonight’s game against the Cleveland Indians to attend his naturalization ceremony in Florida. Manny first moved to New York City in 1985, when he was 13 years old, and now makes his primary residence in Boston with his wife.

Manny is perhaps one of the most high-profile examples of Dominicans who are naturalized U.S. citizens or who are U.S. citizens of Dominican descent. But confusion reigns among many people, even the most astute of US baseball fans, of who is and who isn’t an American versus a Dominican or Mexican or Panamanian. The strangest, and saddest, confusion is over the Puerto Ricans in baseball, reflecting the tumultous and unresolved nature of the relationship of the United States with its most important territory. Perhaps confusion is perhaps to be expected in this era of blurred nationality, ethnic background and complex national allegiance, where stars such as Vin Diesel have been lauded and highlighted for breaking down ideas of fixed ethnicity, and sports stars like Alex Rodriguez ease in and out fluidly in both latino and anglo cultures.

But in the end, who cares about these things?

In the case of the Dominican Republic the nationality line certainly blurs. After all, former (and hopefully future, as of May 17) President Leonel Fernandez holds a green card after attending high school and living in New York City for a number a years. Dr. Fernandez has actively (and rightly) promoted increased ties among Dominicans and Dominican-Americans as a positive economic development strategy for his country.

The number of Dominicans in the northeast corridor of the United States is certainly impressive: over 600,000 Dominicans in New York, over 250,000 in northern New Jersey, over 40,000 in Lawrence, MA and over 40,000 in Providence, RI.

When well over 10% of a country’s total population actually lives in another country, as is the case of the Dominican Republic, interesting and challenging issues certainly arise.

Without really realizing it still, Major League Baseball has become a major vanguard of cultural, economic and social integration that the world is facing across a number of nationalities, races and sports. It is a pattern that is paradoxical in what generally is fans’ acceptance of a player regardless of race or ethnicity, but which still creates reactions, especially within the sport itself, of racism, bigotry and unfair judgement. That is one of the strange things about sports globally — many times it is the way that the general populace becomes exposed to other cultures, accepts them unthinkingly, yet later grapples with the implications.

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