February 23, 2011 | Utica Observer-Dispatch | Original Article

Our view: Growing menu of Latinos big plus for region

A growing Dominican population in Utica could bode well for a city whose numbers have seen a steady decline in recent decades.

The challenge now is to foster an assimilation of the Dominican people into the regional diversity that can be woven into the fabric of our community. That means establishing a reciprocal plan between Dominicans and their adopted community, whose ancestors faced similar challenges.

In one way, that process already has begun. When Dominican-born Luis Inoa left the hustle and bustle of New York City in 2003, he purchased an inexpensive home in Cornhill in a neighborhood where he was surrounded mainly by vacant homes. The peace and quiet he gained was worth it, he said, and today, many other Latinos have bought homes in his neighborhood that he says “is better and cleaner.”

The growth of the Dominican population has been rather significant since 2000, when the U.S. Census Bureau showed them to number 102 in Utica, 493 in Oneida County and 20 in Herkimer County. The 2005-2009 estimates from the American Community Survey show a substantial increase — 634 in Utica, 1,330 in Oneida County and 174 in Herkimer County, although those are estimates.

Nevertheless, Mohawk Valley Latino Association President Sonia Martinez agrees that the numbers are growing. And that growth is happening with the remarkable similarity seen in past centuries when immigrants from other nations came here to build a new life.

“The first wave of (Latinos) from 2000 to 2010, they came visiting other Latinos,” Martinez said. “They felt very welcome, they loved the quality of life, cleanliness, no hectic traffic, being able to go to the grocery store within five to 10 minutes.”

Dominicans and the rest of the Latino population must now become part of the regional tapestry, just as their predecessors — Italians, Poles, Lebanese, Welsh, Germans … and more recently Russians, Asians, Bosnians, Burmese, Sudanese, Somalians — did before them. And while they maintain their own culture as other ethnic groups have done, it is important, too, that they move outside of their select communities and share that culture with a wider audience. Likewise, others need to sample the Latino culture by visiting their restaurants, attending their cultural events and inviting them to be part of government groups and volunteer organizations.

Our diversity defines us. Celebrating it provides a basis for an exchange of ideas, foods, customs and perspectives that make our region — and our nation — what it is today. We all bring something to the table, and we must seize every opportunity to learn more about one another. By strengthening the bonds between us, we will strengthen our community.