Famous Dominican People: Dominican Artists, Scientists, Leaders, Musicians, Politicians and Athletes.
Despite many economic and political upheavals that occurred in the Dominican Republic, the country has its share of talents and personalities that made a name for themselves as well as put their country in the world stage. They made notable contributions in different fields. The beautiful ladies of the Dominican Republic have been international beauty pageants titlists and winners. Some have become popular as sport and fashion personalities, while others excelled in art, literature and other disciplines. The following people made their mark on both the local and international scenes. They are just some of many famous Dominicans who have lifted Dominican Republic’s name worldwide and made a difference in our world. Their purpose and stories inspired awe if not greatness.
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:: List of Famous People from Dominican Republic ::
Oscar de la Renta
Oscar de la Renta was born in Santo Domingo on in 1932. He started art education at the National School of Art in the Dominican Republic when he was 18 years old and stayed for two years before moving to Spain to study at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. By that time his talent for fashion design was becoming more evident. Oscar was asked by the wife of the US Ambassador to Spain to design a dress for her daughter. The pictures taken of him fitting the dress on Miss Beatrice Lodge made it to the pages of LIFE magazine. That was the break that Oscar needed. He joined the house of Balenciaga then moved to join Antonio del Castillo in 1961. Afterwards he joined the house of Lanvin, Paris. After two years he again changed employment and designed for Elizabeth Arden. By 1965 he was with Jane Derby and stayed until she died in 1969. He was already getting famous and Oscar took over the business and name it the house of Oscar de la Renta.
Oscar married the senior editor of Vogue Magazine, Francoise de Langlade in 1967. They were married until her untimely passing 16 years later. Annette Reed is Oscar’s second wife whom he married in 1990. His son, Moises is also a fashion designer. Oscar expanded his interests and included men’s clothing, interior design, signature perfume label and furnishings. While managing and designing for his own fashion house, Oscar also designed from 1993 up to 2001 for the house of Balmain. Oscar has not forgotten his home country and has made significant contributions in the building of schools and daycare centers as well as other charitable activities to help the poor children in his country. He also makes several contributions to the design requirements of hotels and leisure complexes in the Dominican Republic’s tourist destinations.
Dr. Guillermo Linares
Guillermo Linares was born in Cabrera, Dominican Republic in 1951. He was one of nine children born into poor family. He migrated to the United States in 1966 and struggled to learn English while juggling jobs to finish his high school. He became a taxi driver to continue his college education. He became a US citizen when he was a sophomore in college. He earned his B.A. and M.S. degrees from the City College of New York. From Fordham University he finished a course in administration and supervision and taught at a school in Washington Heights and was elected to the school board in 1980.
He was elected to public office in 1991, the first Dominican to do so. He served the New York City Council from 1992 to 2001 and in 1999 became a chairperson of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans upon his appointed by President Bill Clinton. In 2004 he was appointed the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs of New York City. He was elected as State Assemblyman for the 72nd district in 2010.
However his political career was tarnished. He founded a non-profit organization called the ACDP or the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans. His daughter Mayra was the chairperson of the organization. They were caught giving a paid job that does not require attendance to Miguel Castaños, a political friend of Linares. Through the ACDP he was able to acquire several residential buildings and promptly attempted to evict the tenants. In 2010 the buildings Linares and the ACDP owned has 316 violations. He even attempted to win a position in the New York City Council using petition signatures of a convicted felon in 2009. The Dominicans in New York declared Linares a persona non grata.
Fabio Fiallo was born on February 3, 1866 in Santo Domingo. He was the son of Ana Maria Cabral and General Juan Ramon Fiallo. He was a journalist as well as a teacher, working with the weekly magazine called El Hogar from 1894 to 1895. He wrote and directed The Freedom Flag, which became his basis for the article he wrote on the intervention of the United States in the Dominican Republic in 1916. His articles caused him to be imprisoned in the fortress in Ozama. Fiallo continued to write patriotic poetry that got published but eventually vanished. It was rumored that his body of work, enjoyed by his countrymen and the Spanish people outside of his country have been collected and archived by a historian named Emilio Rodriguez Demorizi. Fiallo had been a consul in Hamburg, New York and Havana, where he died in August 28, 1942. His remains were buried in Santiago de Cuba until 1977 before President Joaquin Balaguer had it transferred to the Dominican Republic to be buried in the in the national pantheon.
Virgilio Diaz Grullon
Virgilio was born in Santiago in 1924. After he graduated in 1946 he worked in public administration, international financial organizations and private banking. He was a prolific writer and had been a highly regarded one, thus he had been invited to be a judge in several literary contests in the Dominican Republic and outside his country. His work ranges from classic fairy tales, social criticism, psychological subject and narrative fiction in the urban and middle class settings. He won the National Short Story Award in 1958 for his volume of stories called Any Given Day. His novel entitled Oedipus was a finalist in the 1958 competition for Hispanic-American authors. The Institute of Hispanic Culture in Madrid sponsored the competition. For his work entitled The Carob Also Dream, he was awarded the Annual Novel Manuel de Jesus Galvan Prize in 1997. The novel was a strong criticism of the dictatorship of Trujillo and the ideological and armed struggle of the people. Grullon also received the National Prize of Literature in the Dominican Republic that same year.
A fellow writer, Juan Bosch described Grullon as a storyteller that was able to describe the psychological complexities of his characters with a few words, displaying a maturity in the treatment of gender that is beyond his years, after reading one of Grullon’s works entitled The Enemy. Although Grullon started writing at age 32, he had won several awards given by international literary award giving bodies from the 1950s up to late 1970s. Many of his works have been translated into Portuguese, English and French. Grullon died in Santo Domingo on July 18, 2001 at age 77.
Julia Alvarez was born on March 27, 1950 in the city of New York. She was only 3 months old when her parents decided to return to Dominican Republic where she stayed for ten years. In 1960 her father was involved in an unsuccessful plot to overthrow Rafael Trujillo and they were forced to flee to the United States. Her ordeal during that time was chronicled in her 1991 novel entitled How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. It was also chronicled in her poem entitled Exile. Julia Alvarez faced discrimination while in school and turned to writing for comfort, buoyed by the encouragement from her teachers. Her novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, written in 1994, recounts the story of the Mirabal sisters, Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa who gallantly and valiantly fought during the fascist regime of Trujillo, who destroyed them out of vengeful spite. The three Mirabal sisters are considered national heroes in the Dominican Republic. Other internationally-acclaimed works of Julia Alvarez include Yo, which she wrote in 1997; poems like the Homecoming, written in 1984 and The Woman I Kept to Myself, which she wrote in 2004. She also published an autobiographical compilation, Something to Declare, which was written in 1988. Most of her works are influenced by her personal experiences on the issues of identity and assimilation, combined with personal and political undertones. Julia Alvarez is the current writer-in-residence at the Middlebury College located in the state of Vermont while continuing her successful writing career.
Junot Diaz hails from Santo Domingo, where he was born on December 31, 1968. He lived with his mother and grandparents while his father worked in the United States when he was a child. He migrated to the United States when he was six years old and lived with his father in Palin, New Jersey. He loved books at an early age and became a voracious reader. At the same time he got fascinated with apocalyptic and science-fiction films and books, particularly the works of John Christopher, one of the pseudonyms of British writer Christopher Simon Youd. He graduated with a BA in English at Rutgers College in 1992. He got involved in Demarest Hall, a live-in, creative-writing residence hall while in college where he met Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison and multi-awarded Sandra Cisneros, both of whom became Junot’s inspiration to be a writer himself. He took in several odd jobs to work his way through college.
He worked as an editorial assistant at the Rutgers University Press after graduation and earned his MFA from Cornell University in 1995. It was during this time that he wrote his first short stories. His short story collection entitled Drown, written in 1996 was a tale of a poor and fatherless young boy from the Dominican Republic and his struggles to survive in New Jersey. Another of his major works is a novel entitled The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao that he wrote in 2007. Junot received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award for this novel in 2008.
Junot Diaz currently is the fiction editor for the Boston Review and teaches creative writing at MIT.
Juan Pablo Duarte y Diez
Duarte was one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic, together with compatriots Matias Ramon Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sanchez. They engineered the Dominican Republic and its independence. He was a visionary who dreamt of a democratic government. He was the founding leader of La Trinitaria, a secret society. Duarte was born on January 26, 1813. His used his secret society La Trinitaria to spread his democratic ideals, gathering supporters using a concept of each member recruiting three other members. They staged theatrical events to spread their separatist ideals. They conceptualized the design of the flag for the Dominican Republic. Alas, his dissidence forced him into exile in Venezuela. The other members of the secret society continued his work. Although many lost their lives in the struggle for independence, they came out the winners and the Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haiti on February 27, 1844.
The tallest mountain in the Dominican Republic, the Pico Duarte is named in his honor. At the summit of the mountain sits an east-facing bronze likeness of Duarte, together with the national flag and a cross. In New York City he was honored with the Juan Pablo Duarte Square. Duarte died on July 15, 1876.
Mariasela’s full name is Mariasela Margarita Álvarez Lebrón and she was born on January 31, 1960 in Santo Domingo. She was crowned Miss World in 1982, the first Dominican woman to ever win a beauty title in an international competition. She was still in college when she joined the pageant. After her reign as Miss World ended, she went back to the Universidad de Autonoma de Santo Domingo and finished her course in architecture. She designed one of the landmarks in Santo Domingo, the Crystal Tower (Torre Cristal). She was also a TV personality in the Dominican Republic, hosting a talk show in 1991 called Con Los Ojos Abiertos, which aired weekly. She formed Maralva S.A., her own TV production company and produced the award-winning Esta Noche Mariasela for eight years, starting in 1996. Although she had moved to Madrid where she lives with her hotelier husband Alberto del Pino, Mariasela still continues to produce Esta Noche Mariasela, which translates to Mariasela Tonight as well as Esta Tarde Mariasela or This Afternoon with Mariasela, which are both popular TV shows.
Amelia Vega Polanco
Born on November 7, 1984 in Santo Domingo, Amelia Vega is the first and only woman from the Dominican Republic to be crowned Miss Universe, the title she won in 2003. Her close family members are also highly regarded in their professions. Her father, Otto Vega is a general medicine practitioner in New York and Miami. Her mother, Patricia Polanco Alvarez graduated as a pilot and was also the representative of the Dominican Republic at the Miss World pageant in 1980. Grammy-awardee Juan Luis Guerra is Amelia’s uncle.
As Miss Universe she worked with the Global Health Council, God’s Love We Deliver, Cable Positive, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and amFAR to spread awareness, understanding and prevention of HIV/AIDS and help generate funds to support the organizations.
Amelia embarked on many activities after her stint with the Miss Universe organization. She did some magazine and commercial modeling. She became a reality show host. She launched her singing career and released a single on April 26, 2010, Pasa Un Segundito on iTunes and Smog in June 2010. Her first album, Agua Dulce will be released initially by iTunes on August 30, 2011. She is currently busy promoting her music. She also owns two Essence by Amelia Vega boutiques in Miami.
Milagros Quezada Borbón
She is more popularly known as Milly Quezada, the queen of merengue music and a winner of the Latin Grammy Awards for Dominican Merengue music. Milly was born on May 21, 1955 in Santo Domingo to a musical family. Her four brothers are all musicians and she spent her childhood singing with her brothers during family gatherings. Her interest in developing her singing talents was one of the reasons why her family migrated to the United States and settled in New York City. In school she developed an in-depth knowledge of the different Latin popular music styles and concentrated on her favorite genre, merengue. In the 1980s Milly was the lead singer for the Milly y los Vecinos and they released a total of 20 records that brought them international fame. She later embarked on a solo career and moved to Puerto Rico where she resides with her husband and children. She is still busy going on tours. She toured the Dominican Republic with Conjunto Quisqueya in May 2005. She collaborated with Dominican singers Anais and Sergio Vargas to record Reencuentro in 2007 and joined other legendary Dominican music artists on a national tour to celebrate merengue and bachata music traditions in 2009. The tour was made into a documentary entitled Sol Caribe by Felix Limardo, which featured an original once-in-a-lifetime collaboration of 12 Dominican music legends, La Puerta del Nuevo Mundo.
Osvaldo José Virgil
Osvaldo Virgil, popularly known as Ozzie was born on May 17, 1932 in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. He started his baseball career as a utility player from 1956 to 1969 and played for top baseball team in Major League baseball in the United States after serving the US Marines in 1951 and 1952. He was the first Dominican to play in the major leagues. He played for the New York Giants from 1956 to 1957. He then played for the Detroit Tigers in 1958 and then again from 1960 to 1961. Ozzie Virgil was the first player with colored skin to play for the Detroit Tigers. In 1961 he was with the Kansas City Athletics and then played for the Baltimore Orioles in 1962. By 1968 Ozzie was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The following year, 1966 he played for the San Francisco Giants and then again in the 1969 season. Ozzie Virgil was a third baseman but had played all positions except being a pitcher. During his nine-year career in the major league, Virgil had a batting average of .231 and had hit fourteen home runs with 73 run batted in (RBI) in the 324 games that he had played. Virgil also played in the International League, playing for minor league Rochester Red Wings.
Virgil became a coach for the San Francisco Giants from 1969 to 1972 and then from 1974 to 1975 after his retirement from professional baseball. He also coached the Montreal Expos from 1976 up to 1981 and the San Diego Padres from 1982 to 1985. After that he coached the Seattle Mariners for two seasons from 1986 up to 1988. Ozzie Virgil served as the third-base coach on the staff of Dick Williams, a Baseball Hall of Fame manager from 1977 up to 1988. His son, Ozzie Virgil, Jr. is now making a name for himself, following his footsteps and playing in the major league.
Popularly known as Sammy Sosa, his birth name is Samuel Peralta Sosa. He was born in Consuelo, in the province of San Pedro de Macorís in the Dominican Republic on November 12, 1968. He became famous for his feats in Major League Baseball. Sammy Sosa played for the Texas Rangers in 1989, his first club in the major league. He briefly played for the Chicago White Sox and in 1992 became a member of the Chicago Cubs. It was at this club where Sammy Sosa became on the best hitters in the league. He and Mark McGwire chased the home run record of Roger Maris in 1998, which began the road to national fame. Mark Maris’ record was 61 home runs. Sosa ended the 1998 season with 66 home runs, a club record, although he failed to surpass McGwire who had 70. Sammy Sosa went on the create records for his club and received numerous awards, including sharing Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman of the Year award with Mark McGwire in 1988.
While there were reports that Sosa used anabolic steroid discovered during a drug test done in 2003, Sosa remained adamant that he did not use any performance-enhancing drug. He announced his retirement from Major League Baseball on June 3, 2009 and said that he will wait for his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Juan Luis Guerra
Singer, songwriter and producer Juan Luis Guerra, internationally acclaimed Latin artist for the Dominican Republic was born on June 7, 1957. He has won 15 Latin Grammy Awards, two Latin Billboard Awards and two Grammy Awards. His most recent recognition was in 2010, winning three Latin Grammy Awards for Best Tropical Song for Bachata en Fukuoka and Best Contemporary Tropical Album and Album of the Year for A Son de Guerra. His music style is a pop, combining bolero and merengue with Afro-pop-Latin fusion and other Latin beats. Juan Luis Guerra has sold more than 30 millions records so far.
Currently residing in San Diego, Félix Sánchez, born on August 30, 1977 is a Dominican who was a star in track and field. During the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Félix won the first ever Olympic gold medal for the Dominican Republic in the 400 meter hurdles. His parents are both Dominicans although Félix was born in the United States. Since 1999 he has been competing for the Dominican Republic. Félix has also won for his native country its first gold medal in the 2003 Pan American Games as well as managing to break the 400 meter hurdles record in the Pan American Games record.
Dania Ramirez is a popular actress who hails from Santo Domingo. She was born on November 8, 1979 and since she was young she had dreamed of becoming a film star. She started her career as an advertising model when she was 15 years old and working for a convenience store in Los Angeles. She took acting lessons at the Actor’s Workshop in New York and graduated from Montclair State University where she excelled in volleyball. Dania appeared in several music videos done by popular music talents like Jay-Z, LL Cool J and Santana when she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream. She had some bit parts in several movies before being cast to play better roles. She portrayed Callisto in 2006 in the movie X-Men: The Last Stand. She was a lead actress in The 5th Commandment shown in 2008. She will be playing the part of a bicycle messenger in Premium Rush and the part of Trisha in American Reunion that will be shown in 2012.
Dania also played different characters in popular TV series. She was cast as Caridad in the final episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the 6th season of The Sopranos, Dania played the part of Blanca Selgado. In the TV series Heroes, she was known as Maya. She was a guest star and portrayed the role of Alex in the seventh season of Entourage and was a celebrity guest judge in the reality show America’s Next Top Model.
Diana Reyna is a Dominican American born in 1974. Currently she serves as a Council Member for the 34th Council District in New York City. She holds the distinction of being the first Dominican woman to be elected in a New York public office, a position she has held since 2001.
Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina
Rafael Trujillo, born on October 24, 1891 became famous not for setting his country, the Dominican Republic, towards glory but for being a military dictator, who caused the death of many Dominicans and Haitians during his 30-year reign. Termed as the bloodiest, The Trujillo Era, led by Trujillo, a military strongman, who used his power to build a personal army to be at his beck and call, to prevent opposition and political opponents from gaining ground. He amassed a personal wealth during his reign of terror and corruption that amounted to several million dollars, making him wealthiest person in the Dominican Republic by the time he died. It was estimated that during his dictatorship more than 50,000 people were massacred.
Equally notorious like Trujillo, Santiago Luis Polanco Rodriguez, born on June 16, 1961 made a name for himself in the United States by being the first to distribute crack cocaine in mass quantity. He was able to organize Jamaican, American and Dominican street drug dealers and eventually created a drug empire. His street name was Yayo. According to the US drug enforcement officials, Santiago Rodriquez was perhaps the richest drug kingpin from the Dominican Republic. He had since retired from his nefarious activities and had settled back in his home country.
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