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Dominicans Unite in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis, and within it, a new diaspora is appearing.

(Credit: Luis Torres| Instagram: @DominicansinCali)

When I was a kid and I would walk down Broadway in Washington Heights with my aunt, I could not imagine that there was another place on Earth where Dominicans were not prominently featured. I saw Dominican flags hanging from rusty fire escapes, bachata was blasting from the stereos of the guys sitting on the stoops, and in the distance, I could see a Dominican mom in “rolos,” or hair-rollers, chasing her toddler down the block, yelling after him in slang I wish I could repeat.

As I strayed away from the Dominican enclaves of the East Coast, I was awakened. Enter the city of Los Angeles, a melting pot of cultures, an oasis of diversity. If you stroll down a sidewalk in Mid-Wilshire, you’re likely to hear a dozen different languages on each block. This diversity makes L.A. vibrant and a part of this vibrance is the fledgling Dominican-American community. The Dominican community is benefiting from the proliferation of social media, largely contributing to western pop culture via the entertainment industry. This cultural footprint would give the impression that there should be more Dominicans in Los Angeles, but the community is rather small. Dominicans are cohesive by nature, and even more so in a city that is so far from home; consequently, if you look close enough there are echoes of the island in Los Angeles.

Luis Torres at the first ever Dominican Heritage Night at Dodger Stadium, organized by the Dominican American National Foundation. (Credit: Luis Torres| @DominicansinCali)

The Dominican diaspora is well-known and established on the east coast of the United States, with large populations being found from New York and Massachusetts down to Georgia and Florida. The population has been on a steady climb, growing from 765,000 in 2000 to 1.4 million in 2010, and will likely be found to be significantly higher after the 2020 Census. In west-coast cities and states, the story is completely different. In L.A., the Dominican population is just 3,640, which accounts for about 0.01% of L.A.’s population of 4 million. The community here is nowhere as visible as in the cities of the East coast, but there are Dominicans in L.A. that are trying to change this.

Enter Dominicans in Cali, an Instagram account that is aimed at uniting Dominicans in California, with a heavy emphasis placed on consolidating the community in L.A. under one network. Luis Torres, the owner and operators of Dominicans in Cali, is an East Coast transplant himself, born in Newark, New Jersey to a family of Dominican immigrants. “I came to visit in 2013 and ended up loving it here,” he said, “three months later I officially made the move and made L.A. my home.”

As much as he loves L.A., he missed the sense of community that he had in New Jersey around his family. He admits that it is quite a challenge to initiate and organize events for the small Dominican community, but he hopes that as the population grows Dominicans in Cali grows with it, hopefully “being that bridge that connects all the Dominicans living or visiting California.” There are other organizations with which Dominicans in Cali is associated that have had incredible results in their advocacy for the Dominican community in L.A. One of the most notable is the Dominican American National Foundation, which partnered with the L.A. Dodgers to present a Dominican Heritage Night at one of their home games.

L.A. has always been a destination for immigrants of Japanese, Russian, Korean, Mexican and German descent, to name a few. This small group of Dominicans is still carving out a unique place in the metropolis. Recently, I tracked down a specific food truck that demonstrates this desire to bring a piece of Dominican cuisine to L.A. Parked at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, near USC. The Chimi Love Food Truck is one that delivers a taste of the motherland for Dominicans and is operated by Elias Jimenes, who was born in Santo Domingo and moved to the major Dominican enclave of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan at a young age. When he moved to L.A. right after 9/11, he said that he didn’t meet another Dominican in the city until he was “about six years in.” But after that, he said he met a few others, opening the gateway to the small but interconnected community. Elias is familiar with Dominicans in Cali, as the page has been a supporter of the food truck since it began.

Dominicans in L.A. have an instant rapport with one another. As I arrived at Jefferson and Vermont, I noticed another man ordering from the food truck. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was Dominican. Richard Reynoso said he just arrived in L.A. about two weeks ago and he had decided to check out the Chimi Love Food Truck. We spoke as though I had known him for a while, joking and laughing about how Dominicans are everywhere.

As we laughed about this, I looked up and saw that the Chimi Love Food Truck had a phrase written across its side, it said “De lo mio….Tamo akí ya”, or “One of your own…We’re here now.” Dominicans are indeed “here now,” and with the community growing, L.A. gains another vibrant afro-Latinx culture, in all its hair-rolling, flag-waving, bachata/merengue-crazed glory.