Making New York Dominican: Small Business, Politics, and Everyday Life. By Christian Krohn-Hansen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 312 pages. $69.95
Article first published online: 25 MAR 2014
© 2014 by the Center for Migration Studies of New York. All rights reserved.
International Migration Review
Volume 48, Issue 1, pages 276–277, Spring 2014
How to Cite
Itzigsohn, J. (2014), Making New York Dominican: Small Business, Politics, and Everyday Life. By Christian Krohn-Hansen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 312 pages. $69.95 . International Migration Review, 48: 276–277. doi: 10.1111/imre.12078
- Issue published online: 25 MAR 2014
- Article first published online: 25 MAR 2014
This book describes and analyzes the formation of Dominican New York, that is, the emergence of an important economic and political presence of Dominicans in the city's everyday life. To do so, the author conducted an ethnography of the supermarket and livery cab industries, documenting their rise and ways of operating. In the process, he addresses important debates in the field of migration studies. As the author shows, a large number of Dominican businesses have developed in New York. In building businesses, Dominicans rely on their social networks. Dominican businesses are embedded in ties of mutual help based on family, friendship, and a dense organizational life grounded in Dominican social and cultural clubs and community organizations. Dominican business people rely on those networks to raise capital through informal means to start their businesses (those informal channels include money lenders, rotating credit associations, and family members), to learn how to operate a business in New York, and to obtain contacts with formal financial organizations and the local political system.
A very important contribution of this book is to show that although Dominican businesses are embedded in community networks, they do not constitute an ethnic enclave. Dominican businesses engage constantly with the economic and political forces operating in New York City. The author shows in a very clear way how Dominican business associations in the supermarket and livery cab trades emerge in interaction with the political and economic institutions of New York City and with the purpose of gaining footing in the local economy and local politics. Moreover, the author cautions against an uncritical celebration of the emergence of ethnic businesses. Dominicans go into small businesses in part out of a desire to work independently and in part as a result of lack of better options in New York's neoliberal economy. Dominican businesses develop in the context of a local economy that creates less and less opportunities for migrants. Groups within the Dominican community have had quite remarkable economic success, particularly those linked to the supermarket industry and to a lesser extent the livery cab industry. Krohn-Hansen argues, however, that the remarkable economic success of some should not hide the fact that most small businesses barely endure through the intense self-exploitation of their owners and that many of them simply fail.
The book also shows that the social embeddedness of Dominican businesses does not imply that Dominican businesses operate according to an alternative economic logic. Dominican business people, like other business people in New York, work to make money, but to create businesses and secure the conditions under which they can run them, Dominicans need the support of their community networks. Dominican businesses, however, do not operate only as economic units. They are also institutions that create community and identity through their everyday operations. For example, bodegas work as places for neighborhood sociability, and business associations recreate Dominican identities through their regular activities. Krohn-Hansen shows how business associations' annual celebrations serve the instrumental purpose of networking but at the same time have a ritual-like character that reinforces a certain identity discourse about Dominicans in the United States.
One limitation of the book is that the world it analyzes is mostly a male world. Supermarkets and livery cabs are mostly male-operated industries. The author conducted a number of interviews and observations in beauty salons, a mostly female operated industry. Those observations suggest that the beauty salons operate according to a logic similar to that of the other two sectors, but these are not nearly as rich or deep as those in the supermarket and livery cab industries. The author acknowledges this limitation, but it is nevertheless a fact that important parts of the Dominican economy are not addressed by the male-oriented focus of the book. A minor problem with the book is that the author does not sufficiently discuss the theoretical sources of his argument. The idea that ethnic community and identity emerges from everyday contacts at work and in the neighborhood, for example, has a long history in migration and ethnic studies. The author does not always cite previous works on Dominicans in the United States that have made points similar to his.
In spite of these limitations, this is an excellent book that provides a thorough picture of a segment of Dominican businesses in New York and their organizations. The book is a nuanced and in-depth description of New York Dominican economic, political and everyday life and is necessary reading for those who seek to understand the emergence of ethnic economies, their relation to their economic and political context, and how immigrants change and are changed by the context in which they settle.