Senator Luis Sepúlveda, a Puerto Rican, is now co-opting a Dominican identity.
Sen. Sepúlveda has represented the New York State Senate District 32 since 2018. For years, his identity has been aligned with his Puerto Rican heritage, until redistricting pushed him out of representing the East Bronx to Central Bronx neighborhoods.
The redistricting has given Sen. Sepúlveda a district with a growing Dominican population. For many, that wouldn’t be a problem at all. Many of our elected officials are not part of our communities but we make it work. However, the main complaint for Dominican lawmakers is what Sen. Sepúlveda did instead of allying with Dominican lawmakers.
According to City & State New York, Sen. Sepúlveda was granted Dominican citizenship in the presidential palace in Santo Domingo. This has led to critics accusing the New York politician of pandering to the Dominican community by co-opting an identity for political gains.
“I think the whole thing is outrageous and a slap in the face to the Dominican community on so many levels,” Assembly Member Amanda Septimo, who is Dominican, told City & State New York. “The senator has never really taken an interest in the Dominican community here or abroad.”
The seemingly political move comes at a time when Dominican political power in New York is growing exponentially. He has even hired Dominican journalist Rusking Pimentel as his communications director.
For Sen. Sepúlveda, none of this is a big deal.
“If anybody’s upset about that, that’s unfortunate, because all I’m trying to do is help an island that I absolutely love,” Sen. Sepúlveda told City & State New York. “I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone, but I think that sometimes, maybe elected officials complaining feel that only they can do things for the Dominican Republic.”
It’s important to note that there is more to representing a community than citizenship — and it’s not the general act of obtaining citizenship that is the problem (dual and multiple citizenships have become increasingly popular) but the why? And the criticism coming Sen. Sepúlveda’s way is the beginning of a bigger conversation when it comes to our communities and who speaks for those in them.