The First New Yorker Was Dominican: Meet Juan Rodriguez, Manhattan’s O.G.

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We love all our Juans. Little juans, creisi funny juans, and especially, Dominican ones. Call it Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, we know you know all about los colonizadores y el 1492.

But what you perhaps didn’t know was that in 1613, Dominican sailor-turned-merchant Juan Rodriguez settled in the virgin Island of Manhattan. If you know your math, or know how to Wikipedia things, you’ll realize that his arrival beat the Dutch proclamation of New Amsterdam by 12 years.

He was not only the first Dominican; but technically the first non-Indian,  the first Latino, & the first settler with African blood, said researchers of CUNY‘s Dominican Studies Institute. Pretty amazing, three firsts.

Pero pérate—how did this even happen?!

From a compilation of facts and imagination, this is what it might have looked like when Señor Juan Rodríguez decided to ditch the Dutch ship (try saying that thrice) he arrived on:

“Zis Island is much too humid, much too infertile. This sucks, let us go back to Holland,” said the Dutch, scratching their beards.

Juan stepped outside of the ship and smelled the fresh air of the future Dominican Day Parade.”No joda! These Heights are amazing!,” he said.

“You vill nevah survive our friend!,” said the Dutch.

“Ha!” said Juan, “Mijos, my ‘buela taught me how to be resourceful. I got 80 axes & hatches I can trade with the Indians. Yo me quedo. Chekiamo’ primo!”

And so, with the seeds of plátanos that he had brought with him, he settled into the Island.


Even if Rodríguez is not notorious enough to receive his own giant living room in Midtown West, like his pana Columbus, the times are right for re-integrating all things Latino. Now Rodríguez will be honored by the City of New York. Mayor Bloomberg signed a bill renaming upper part of Broadway—from W 159th in Washington Heights to W 218th st. in Inwood— “Juan Rodriguez Way.”