Queens lawmaker hosts Dominican Independence Day celebration for community leaders

Dominican Independence
Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar celebrates Dominican Independence Day with honorees. From left to right: Luis Lucas, Francisco Marte, Jenifer Rajkumar, Julio Batista and Jose Bayona. (Photo courtesy of Vjola Isufaj)

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar hosted a Dominican Independence Day Celebration at the El Rinconcito de Nagua restaurant in Woodhaven last weekend, Sunday, Feb. 27.

About 130 people celebrated with complimentary Dominican food, music and dancing. Rajkumar said that, as the first South Asian woman elected to New York state office, she is proud to be a champion for all underrepresented, overlooked communities. 

“I am the first daughter of immigrants to hold this Assembly seat, and I am proud to empower the Dominican American community in my district which has been overlooked for too long,” Rajkumar said. “With their many contributions to our community, they deserve to have the entire community celebrate one of their biggest holidays of the year.”

Rajkumar honored a select group of people from the Dominican-American community, including Woodhaven’s Business Improvement District Executive Director Raquel Olivares and the Association of Mutual Help and Solidarity Founder Julio Batista. Other Woodhaven leaders like Luis Lucas and Francisco Marte, the founder of the Bodega and Small Business Association, which represents over 2,000 bodegas in New York City, were also honored. 

The assemblywoman said she chose these leaders based on the impact they have had on her district. 

“Marte has advocated for many bodegas in Woodhaven. Lucas is an advocate for his neighbors in south Queens. Batista is the founder of the Association of Mutual Help and Solidarity. Olivares’ career is to empower small businesses in Woodhaven,” Rajkumar said. “Next year, I will be looking for the hidden heroes of the community as well as youth leaders to honor.”

Batista said that he and his whole family could not wait to celebrate this day with the assemblywoman.

“[Rajkumar] is a great advocate for the Dominican American community, and it is wonderful that she is recognizing our culture,” Batista said. “The assemblywoman shows her support for our community by hitting the streets and showing up for us as she does for every community in her district.”

Another honoree, Marte, gave out over 100,000 masks during the pandemic and helped store owners understand new COVID-19 guidelines as they frequently changed. He said that even though he wasn’t looking for any recognition, it feels good to get noticed for all the work he’s done for his community. 

“I don’t do it looking for recognition; they surprised me,” Marte said. “But I hope it helps get other people recognized for the great job they’re doing in the community.”

Rajkumar said that after this successful event, she plans to make it an annual celebration, free of charge, for her community. 

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