Four months ago, Bronx resident Maria Rosenda was robbed while visiting the Dominican Republic. The assailants followed her from the airport to her mother’s house in Bajos de Haina, jumping her as soon as she reached the front door.
Rosenda, who moved to the U.S. in 1988, said the mugging was typical of today’s Dominican Republic, a place so dangerous that “you can’t even walk safely in the streets.”
For Rosenda, the electoral coordinator for the Dominican Revolutionary Party in the Bronx, the way to change that is through politics. She is one of dozens of volunteers working to get Dominicans registered to vote in next year’s Dominican national elections. In the past few months, they have helped nearly 8,000 Bronx residents sign up.
While Dominicans abroad have been able to vote for the Dominican president since 2000, this time they will also vote for legislators stationed overseas. The Bronx, home to New York’s largest Dominican population, will have a big say in who wins.
About 150,000 Dominican-born residents, along with their children, live in the Bronx. Rosenda, who returns home several times a year to participate in local politics, is working to make sure each and every one is ready to vote next May.
The special education teacher has been going nonstop for months. When school let out last June, she took just four days off from work and spent the rest of the summer working at the campaign office from 9 a.m. until past midnight seven days a week.
Sitting in the campaign office in Mount Hope, Rosenda and other volunteers spend their evenings entering voter information into a database. The long hours bring them close together, said Elida Martinez, another volunteer.
“It’s like a big family here,” Martinez said.
The Bronx campaign office is unusual in that almost all of the volunteers are women. Martinez said they are all driven by concern for those back home.
“We have family over there, you know,” the 46-year-old homemaker said. “Before, we would send $100 over and that did something. Now, $100 is nothing.”
The overseas legislators will give Dominicans abroad a bigger voice back home. The legislators will represent three areas outside of Dominican borders: the northern United States and Canada, the southern United States down to the Caribbean and Europe.
Twenty-three people are running for the three available U.S. and Canada spots.
Seven of the 23 live in the Bronx. Arsenio Devares, a teacher of 20 years, is one them.
Devares’s brothers and sisters have all moved to the U.S., but the Morris Heights resident still has one foot back home.
“That’s one of the most important things for Dominican people,” said Devares, who teaches at PS 17X in Morrisania. “They always think about going back.”
Devares said the typical Dominican ideal is to retire back in the Caribbean. “We work hard over here to buy houses back there.”
Mount Eden resident Julian Melendez is one of Devares’ competitors. Melendez, a businessman and lawyer who has lived in New York for 14 years, worked at the Dominican consulate in New York for four years and saw the problems Dominicans face.
“I went to jail many times to visit Dominicans awaiting deportation.”
It will be several weeks before the party nominates its legislative candidates. In the meantime, everyone is still working to register voters, and there are many long nights ahead.
“We drink a lot of coffee here,” Martinez said as another volunteer arrived with the evening’s supply.