By the time David N. Dinkins became mayor of New York City, official recognition of Juan Pablo Duarte’s birthday (January 26, 1813) was a well-established formality for acknowledging New York City’s Dominican community.
Juan Pablo Duarte, father of Dominican independence, embodied great hopes for freedom, national development, and liberal democracy. Unlike other Latin American struggles for independence against European powers, Duarte and his compatriots fought to free the eastern Spanish-speaking part of Hispaniola from Haitian domination.
A European-educated son of middle-class merchants, Duarte and several other patriots organized a secret society, La Trinitaria, which in 1844 succeeded in separating the Dominican Republic from Haiti. However, Duarte and his followers, who were inspired by liberal political ideals, lost power to a caudillo (military dictator). Tragically, Duarte spent the rest of his life in Venezuela, exiled from the country he had led to independence. Nevertheless, Dominicans take great pride in Duarte as Padre de la Patria (Father of the Country) and in his courage and intellectual gifts.
A few months after Mayor Dinkins proclaimed “Juan Pablo Duarte Week” (January 19–26, 1992), the fatal police shooting of a Dominican male suspect, Jose Luis Garcia, ignited a serious crisis in Washington Heights. Days of rioting ensued, prompting the intervention of 2,000 police officers and various local leaders, including Guillermo Linares, the first City Council member of Dominican origin.
Known for his dignified public demeanor, Dinkins, the first African-American mayor of New York City, was initially seen as a racial healer. Pledging to promote New York’s "gorgeous mosaic" of diverse communities, he was sharply criticized for his handling of anti-Jewish riots in Crown Heights and for his reaction to a boycott of Korean grocers in Flatbush.
In addition, the city’s economy remained sluggish throughout his term, preventing the enactment of much of his agenda. Mayor Dinkins was also hurt by the perception that crime was out of control, since he was in office during the peak of the crack cocaine epidemic.
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