What does it mean to be a Dominican man living in New York City? Does being homosexual contradict that identity? A scholar who spoke on March 27 at Fordham is trying to find out.
Carlos DeCena, Ph.D., will publish his findings in a forthcoming book, Tacit Subjects: Dominican Transnational Identities and Male Homosexuality in New York City.
DeCena is the Career Enhancement Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and an assistant professor at Rutgers University. He visited Fordham’s Latin American and Latino Studies Institute to read from his book and solicit feedback.
DeCena began researching Dominican transnationals and male homosexuality in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood for his dissertation at New York University, which he finished in 2004.
His ethnographic research suggests that a close analysis of how immigrant men juggle their erotic attachments, sense of ethnic belonging, and race and class positions in New York have much to teach about inequality and power in Dominican transnational communities.
“What I found was that these subjects were dealing with downward class mobility after migration,” DeCena said. “For these men to come to New York City and face racial subordination was a remarkable thing. It’s not something they experienced in the Dominican Republic.”
One man, DeCena said, expressed antagonism toward the Dominican males of Washington Heights, comparing them to the folks who live in shantytowns in the Dominican Republic.
“[He] described them as ‘filthy people who think themselves central to the world and are non-sociable,’” DeCena said. “It’s as if my informants had a need to distinguish themselves from ‘those’ Dominicans.”
Most of the subjects he interviewed had sexual relationships with men of color.
“They were either Hispanic or African American,” DeCena said. “So there’s this entanglement with this thing that you hate, but love at the same time.”
Norma Fuentes-Mayorga, Ph.D, assistant professor of sociology, said DeCena’s research clearly showed upwardly mobile working-class men struggling with the fact that they are living in this neighborhood of lower working-class men.
“According to the 2007 census updates, 35 percent of the Dominicans coming to the United States are middle to upper class,” Fuentes said.
Monica Rivera Mindt, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, said she understood DeCena’s subjects because she is the daughter of a Dominican father and Colombian mother who grew up in an area of California that was largely Mexican.
“Identity was a struggle,” she said.