Dominican Republic Table of Contents
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank
The family was the fundamental social unit. It provided a bulwark in the midst of political upheavals and economic reversals. People emphasized the trust, the assistance, and the solidarity that kin owed to one another. Family loyalty was an ingrained and unquestioned virtue; from early childhood, individuals learned that relatives were to be trusted and relied on, while those outside the family were, implicitly at least, suspect. In all areas of life and at every level of society, a person looked to family and kin for both social identity and succor.
Formal organizations succeeded best where they were able to mesh with pre-existing ties of kinship. Indeed, until the 1960s and the 1970s, most community activities were kin-based: a few related extended families joined together for joint endeavors. In the countryside, the core of extensively related families remained pivotal, despite large-scale migration and urbanization. If anything, the ties among kin extended more widely in contemporary society because modern transportation and communications allowed families to maintain ties over long distances and during lengthy absences.
In general, the extent to which families interacted, and the people with whom they interacted, depended on their degree of prosperity. Families with relatively equal resources shared and cooperated. Where there was marked disparity in families' wealth, the more prosperous branches tried to limit the demands made by the poorer ones. On the one hand, generosity was held in high esteem, and failure to care for kin in need was disparaged; but on the other hand, families wished to help their immediate relatives and to give favors to those who could reciprocate.
A needy relative might receive the loan of a piece of land, some wage labor, or occasional gifts of food. Another type of assistance was a form of adoption, by which poorer families gave a child to more affluent relatives to raise. The adopting family was expected to care for the child and to see that he or she received a proper upbringing. The children were frequently little better than unpaid domestic help. Implicit in the arrangement was the understanding that the child's biological family, too, would receive assistance from the adopting family.
Kinship served as a metaphor for relations of trust in general. Where a kin tie was lacking, or where individuals wished to reinforce one, a relationship of compadrazgo would often be established. Those so linked are compadres (coparents or godparents). In common with much of Latin America, strong emotional bonds linked compadres. Compadres used the formal usted instead of tu in addressing one another, even if they were kinsmen. Sexual relations between compadres were regarded as incestuous. Compadres were commonly chosen at baptism and marriage, but the relationship extended to the two sets of parents. The tie between the two sets of parents was expected to be strong and enduring. Any breach of trust merited the strongest community censure.
There were three accepted forms of marriage: civil, religious, and free unions. Both serial monogamy and polygamous unions were socially accepted. Annulment was difficult to obtain through the Roman Catholic Church; this fact, in addition to the expense involved, made couples reluctant to undertake a religious marriage. Civil marriage was relatively common. Divorce in this case was relatively easy and uncomplicated. Marriage forms also reflected the individual's life cycle. Most opted for free unions when they were younger, then settled into more formal marriages as they grew older and enjoyed more economic security. Class also played a role: religious marriage was favored by middle-class and upper-class groups, and it thus indicated higher socioeconomic status. The ideal marriage involved a formal engagement and a religious wedding followed by an elaborate fiesta.
No shame accrued to the man who fathered many children and maintained several women as concubines. Public disapproval followed only if the man failed to assume the role of "head of the family" and to support his children. When a free union dissolved, a woman typically received only the house she and her mate inhabited. The children received support only if they had been legally recognized by their father.
Families were usually more stable in the countryside. Since the partners were usually residing in the midst of their kin, a man could not desert his wife without disrupting his work relationship with her family. A woman enjoyed greater leverage when she could rely on her family to assist if a union failed or when she owned her own land and thus had a measure of financial independence.
In keeping with the doctrine of machismo, males usually played a dominant role within the family, and they received the deference due to the head of the household. There was wide variation in practice, however. Where a man was absent, had limited economic assets, or was simply unassertive, a woman would assume the role of head of the family.
Sex role differentiation began early: boys were allowed to run about unclothed, while girls were much more carefully groomed and dressed. Bands of boys played unwatched; girls were carefully chaperoned. Girls were expected to be quiet and helpful; boys enjoyed much greater freedom, and they were given considerable latitude in their behavior. Boys and men were expected to have premarital and extramarital sexual adventures. Men expected, however, that their brides would be virgins. Parents went to considerable lengths to shelter their daughters in order to protect their chances of making a favorable marriage.
Parent-child relationships were markedly different depending on the sex of the parent. Mothers openly displayed affection for their children; the mother-child tie was virtually inviolate. Informal polls of money changers in the 1970s indicated that remittances sent from the United States for Mother's Day exceeded even those sent at Christmas. Father-child relationships covered a broader spectrum. Ideally, the father was an authority figure to be obeyed and respected; however, fathers were typically more removed from daily family affairs than mothers.
Data as of December 1989
Dominican Republic Table of Contents