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Dominicans celebrate independence and their vibrant culture in Connecticut

Victorino Antonio Rodriguez works in the kitchen of his Mi Sabor restaurant on Park Street in Hartford preparing Mangu, an iconic Dominican dish, featuring plantain mash with purple onions, fried cheese, fried salami and fried eggs on February 26, 2024. February 27 is Dominican Republic Independence Day and Afro-Dominican flavors are part of the tradition of its celebration.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Victorino Antonio Rodriguez works in the kitchen of his Mi Sabor restaurant on Park Street in Hartford preparing mangu, an iconic Dominican dish, featuring plantain mash with purple onions, fried cheese, fried salami and fried eggs on Feb. 26, 2024. Feb. 27 is Dominican Independence Day.

The Dominican community is marking 180 years of independence, and celebrations have been going on all week across Connecticut – from raising the Dominican flag at the Capitol to a cultural display on Park Street in Hartford.

Dominicans in Connecticut say they are proud to share their cultural richness.

Cirilo Bonilla is a Dominican and president of Club Juan Pablo Duarte, a social and cultural group that advocates for Dominican heritage and has been organizing activities for nearly 30 years in Connecticut.

“Every year we do these activities, we recognize Dominicans and people of other nationalities, to all those who do good things in our community,” Bonilla said.

Bonilla said about 200 people celebrated Dominican Independence Day in Hartford last weekend with traditional music and food. Members of the Dominican consulate in New York City took part in the celebration.

The Dominican community is one of the largest Latino groups in Connecticut. There are about 60,000 Dominicans in the state – only the Puerto Rican and Mexican populations are larger locally, according toCensus data.

Bonilla says the Dominican community has stepped up to become entrepreneurs, with many businesses throughout the state, such as grocery stores, barbershops, and beauty salons.

"Our purpose is to unite Connecticut's Dominican community and promote our shared history and cultural values,” Bonilla said. “We invite everybody to join us always in this celebration."

Exploring Dominican flavors in CT

Connecticut's cultural landscape is punctuated by the Dominican community. There’s a distinct culinary identity deeply rooted in Taino, Spanish, and Afro-Dominican flavors.

Victorino Antonio Rodriguez is the owner of Mi Sabor, a Dominican restaurant on Park Street in Hartford.

“People like our empanadas, pork and rice, and beans. People from all races come here, thank God,” he said.

From the moment you step inside, the aroma of savory spices and rich, hearty stews fills the air, transporting visitors to the bustling streets of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

Locals and visitors also enjoy rice, beans, and mangu – or green plantains. That’s a traditional meal called "La Bandera Dominicana." Bonilla says this Dominican dish is a testament to the culinary ingenuity passed down through generations.

Mi Sabor also serves as a cultural hub, celebrating Dominican heritage and fostering community connection with its music, from merengue to bachata. At the same time, the clientele also enjoys the Caribbean flavors.

Celebrating Dominican rhythms

DJ El Niño, a prominent figure and influencer in the Connecticut music scene, has seen the Dominican community evolve. Having been in Connecticut since 1991, he says the Dominican population has gotten much bigger and has more influence on the cultural landscape.

"When I moved here in ‘91 in Waterbury, for example, there were a handful of Dominicans. You could've counted them in one hand,” he said. “And the population since then has grown immensely."

DJ El Niño says bachata music has had a big impact on the local Dominican community. He emphasizes the genre's ability to evoke deep emotions and tell stories that resonate with listeners of all backgrounds.

"As immigrants, we travel from place to place to bring out customs,” he said. “Some of our music is categorized as being mainstreamed, being popular in people's conscious, whether it’s merengue, whether it’s bachata."

Members of the local Dominican community say their rich cultural heritage remains a source of pride and inspiration for future generations as their community grows and thrives in Connecticut.

Antonio Rodriguez, the Hartford restaurant owner, says he has a message to Dominicans in the state.

“I want to tell my community to keep moving forward, have confidence, and guide today’s younger generation,” he said.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.