Prof. Leif Jensen, sociology, Pennsylvania State University, who specifically looks at poverty, household economics, migration and immigration in rural and urban areas lectured to a crowd of approximately 30 students and faculty members on the topic of “Beyond Washington Heights: Identities, Language and Socioeconomic Status Among Dominicans in a New Destination” yesterday in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall.
Along with five collaborators, Jensen carefully analyzed the economic assimilations, racial and ethnic identities, language proficiency and transnationalism of the Dominican population of Reading, Pennsylvania. “Dominicans constitute a large growing group,” said Jensen. In fact, they are the fourth largest among Latino immigrant groups in the country. “They are also interesting to study,” he said, “because there is a large variation in their skin coloring and features, which raises questions from people outside their ethnicity.”
In addition to the Reading Railroad, Reading, Pennsylvania is known for its iron foundries, textile mills, and agricultural production of fruit, vegetables and poultry. Because of its promising job market, Reading has always been a haven for migrant populations. Jensen put Dominican migration in a historical context as he chronicled the immigration Northern Europeans, Southern Europeans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and, finally, Dominicans.
Burks County, where Reading is located, is the third largest agricultural county in Pennsylvania and has thus been a popular spot for migrants because of the multitude of careers in agriculture. Reading, according to Jensen, had the third fastest growing Dominican population of all urban areas in the United States through the ’90s. Jensen notes, however, that, “Economically, Reading has not been doing well, and there is a high poverty rate.”
Jensen’s research centers on the results of in-depth “ethno surveys” that he distributed around Reading to Dominican families. Jensen explained that in order to first locate the Dominican families, he initially sent out a letter asking for a voluntary response. He received too few responses to compile accurate data, so he randomly selected a number of different residential neighborhoods in Reading and located Dominican families by knocking on doors and by asking neighbors. The surveys took about 90 minutes to fill out, and addressed topics such as the languages spoken at home and work, migration history, health, discrimination and daily activities.
The surveys indicated that the mean age of the Dominican population is 39.4 years, the mean household size is 3.6 people, 47 percent of the Dominican population is female while 52 percent are male, 65 percent of the population is employed and 34 percent are homeowners.
Jensen pointed out that the migration among Dominicans was the greatest between 1995 and 2000, and now the Dominican population is starting to move into adjacent areas in the Northeast such as Rhode Island and New Jersey. The most common reasons for migration to Reading are “family, friends, jobs, the low cost of living and a peaceful environment,” said Jensen.
On the topic of discrimination, Jensen identified that Dominicans with darker skin claimed they were subjected to more police harassment than those with lighter skin. “However, skin color is not necessarily the reason for this claim,” Jensen said, ” [though] younger people classify themselves as having dark-toned skin, they also happen to be the ones who get in the most trouble.”
While the survey’s results were informative as to reasons behind the migration of Dominicans to Reading, Jensen is looking to broaden his research in the future. “We are looking to study the determinants of migration flows based on characteristics of the places of origin and the characteristics of the destination. We will use these lessons to develop a proposal to replicate the study in different places where Dominicans are going,” he said.
Carol Arias ’06, a Dominican resident of Reading, was pleased by Jensen’s portrayal of her community. “The information he used and the stats he spoke of were all true,” she said, “but his presentation could have been even better if he looked to other community centers like travel agencies around Reading that could provide information about migration trends as well,” she said.
Felicia Yang grad, said, “his use of quantitative information was great. I was impressed as I have little experience with formulating data like his.”
Archived article by Sarah Singer
Sun Staff Writer