Labor nominee typifies value of Dominican-Americans

2013-03-22T00:00:00Z Labor nominee typifies value of Dominican-AmericansJuleyka Lantigua-Williams Mcclatchy Newspapers Arizona Daily Star

President Obama has recognized Dominican-Americans by nominating Thomas E. Perez to head the Department of Labor. If confirmed, Perez would become the first American of Dominican descent to serve in a Cabinet position.

The 2010 census indicates that there are 1.5 million people of Dominican descent in the country. We constitute the fifth-largest Latino subgroup, after Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Salvadorans. The distinction is important because the three largest groups already have experienced significant gains in the upper echelons of power.

The numerical supremacy of Mexicans (32.9 million) has manifested itself in many important Latino firsts, including multiple representatives in the Cabinet, like outgoing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Puerto Ricans (4.6 million) have assimilated themselves into the fiber of American life, culminating in the naming of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latino U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Cubans (1.8 million) have had a stronghold on Florida politics for decades due to the state's proximity with Cuba and this country's tension-filled relationship with the embargoed island.

With Perez's nomination, the Obama administration is spotlighting a group whose influence - and population - is growing.

Dominicans have higher levels of education than the Latino population overall. We're also younger than the general population. Our median age is 29, while the median age of the general population is 37. That difference is significant for the Democratic Party because it can lure young voters early enough to keep them loyal at the ballot box decades into the future.

In a way, the Perez nomination is a thank you note to Dominicans, once called "Obama's most enthusiastic voters" among Latinos. A poll by Florida International University and El Nuevo Herald released days before the last presidential election showed that more than 78 percent of Dominicans nationwide said they would vote for Obama, a number that exceeded the 69 percent of Latinos overall who said they would.

In nominating Perez, Obama said: "Like so many Americans, Tom knows what it's like to climb the ladder of opportunity. He is the son of Dominican immigrants. He helped pay his way through college as a garbage collector and working at a warehouse. He went on to become the first lawyer in his family. So his story reminds us of this country's promise, that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, what your last name is - you can make it if you try."

Perez's story is the archetype for Dominican-Americans.

We have embraced this country fully and have accepted the challenge implicit in "this country's promise" - we work hard, we give back and we get ahead.

Perez is the proof.

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is a Dominican-American writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Email her at pmproj@progressive.org

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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