Extraneous Learning at Duarte Square

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History from the Dominican Republic to New York City

What is a statue of the founder of the Dominican Republic doing on New York City's Sixth Avenue? Photo credit: L. Tripoli

What is a statue of the founder of the Dominican Republic doing on New York City’s Sixth Avenue? Photo credit: L. Tripoli

On a walk from Soho to Little Italy, apropos of nothing, I come across a statue of Juan Pablo Duarte, the founder of the Dominican Republic. Why here? I wonder. I don’t particularly associate this neighborhood in southern Manhattan surrounded as I am by Sixth Avenue, Sullivan Street, Grand, and Canal, as being particularly Dominican. How of all places is this the one where tribute is paid to the man who helped free the Spanish-speaking residents of the island of Hispaniola from their French-speaking Haitian counterparts? It makes no sense, I think, as I stop to take some photos and then continue toward Mulberry Street.

Tribute to Juan Pablo Duarte in Duarte Square in New York City. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

Tribute to Juan Pablo Duarte in Duarte Square in New York City. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

A visit to New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation’s website enlightens me. The place where I saw this statue is in fact Duarte Square, and while I think of it as being on Sixth Avenue, it is on the renamed Avenue of the Americas. It makes some sort of distorted sense that there’s a statue dedicated to the founder of the Dominican Republic on the Avenue of the Americas, what with the Dominican Republic being in the Caribbean, and having been part of the ‘New World’ ‘discovered’ —and then abused by—Christopher Columbus, the fellow who somehow got credit for discovering ‘America.’ The Parks & Recreation Department indicates that there are six monuments to Latin American leaders along the Avenue of the Americas. The others are of General José Artigas (Uruguay), José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva (Brazil), José Martí (Cuba), José de San Martín (Argentina), and Simón Bolívar (South America).

The statue of Duarte, at the very least, is a reminder about how much I need to learn about the tortured history of Hispaniola, from the time of Columbus through that of French King Louis XIV and the introduction of African slaves to the 20th century and Rafael Trujillo and the Duvaliers and the instability that seems to have been a part of the island since its ‘discovery.’

The statue was dedicated in 1978.

Duarte Square, between Sixth Avenue, Grand Street, Sullivan Street, and Canal Street, New York, N.Y. 10013

—Lori Tripoli

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