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What You Need to Know about National Caribbean American Heritage Month

What You Need to Know about National Caribbean American Heritage Month

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Did you know that June is National Caribbean American Heritage Month? If not, it’s okay because not many people do. However, the lack of knowledge doesn’t detract from Caribbean Americans’ contributions to the United States. 

The Caribbean has 26 islands, including Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. People from the West Indies carry a rich cultural diversity whose traditions and values have been shared within the United States.

What is National Caribbean American Heritage Month?

National Caribbean American Heritage Month was launched in 2004 by Claire A. Nelson, Ph.D. In 2005, the US House of Representatives passed a bill recognizing the significance of Caribbean Americans. Then, in June 2006, the president signed a proclamation, making the month official. 

As a result, this summer month is a time to celebrate Caribbean Americans, who have contributed to the nation’s growth through medicine, science, and politics. It’s a wonderful time to honor their contributions and learn more about Caribbean culture and heritage. 

A Brief History of Caribbeans in the United States

At the beginning of the 19th century, Caribbean nationals began immigrating to the United States, seeking work mainly in agriculture. In addition, they also sought political asylum, especially those from Cuba. With political instability in many countries within the Caribbean nations, more people began seeking freedom and success in the United States. 

Gradually, people from all different careers came to the States. Poets, writers, politicians, activists, and songwriters sought a better life. Now 90% of Caribbean people in the United States have come from Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago. Through this great migration, the US is now home to many influential Caribbeans.

Natasha A. Pierre, a mental health educator, emailed BGN and shared a little about her family’s history. “My parents are from Trinidad and Tobago,” she shared. “I was born and raised in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. My parents emigrated to St. Thomas, USVI, for better opportunities, and by doing so, ensured that their children were US citizens. They later earned their US citizenship.” 

Influential Caribbean Americans You Should Know

Caribbean Americans have played influential roles in politics, music, art, and more. Here are some famous Caribbean Americans you should know about. 

Colin Powell, son of Jamaican immigrants, was the first person of color appointed Secretary of State.

James Weldon Johnson was born to Bahamian immigrants. He is most known for writing the Black National Anthem, “Life Every Voice and Sing.”

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm is of Guyanese and Bajan descent. She was the first Black congresswoman.

Celia Cruz is a Cuban American known as the Queen of Salsa.

Sidney Poitier is the first Bahamian American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Powell, Poitier, and Cruz are just a few of many more examples of the legacy that Caribbean Americans are creating.

“My Caribbean identity did not begin with slavery,” shares Pierre. “My history and culture are rooted in community, culture, land ownership, entrepreneurship, and pride.”

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Caribbean Traditions and Celebrations

The Caribbean islands are filled with rich cultural traditions and practices that have been brought over to the United States. 

Food: Fried plantains are a staple and mouth-watering dish. However, other notable recipes include conch ceviche, coucou, flying fish from Barbados, crab and callaloo from Trinidad and Tobago, conch fritters from the Bahamas, and mofongo from Puerto Rico. 

Music: When you think of Caribbean music, your mind jumps to reggae. You’re not wrong; however, Caribbean music is expansive and includes calypso, soca, and dancehall. The Spanish-speaking islands often play salsa, merengue, and reggaeton. 

Sport: Soccer is a prominent sport in the Caribbean. Other sports, such as cricket, baseball, and horse racing, are practiced as well. 

Ways to Celebrate Caribbean American Heritage Month

June is the peak time for celebration, and there are many ways to celebrate Caribbean American Heritage throughout the month and the year. 

Music and dance: To get into the Caribbean spirit, listen to Caribbean music from artists such as Pepe Castillo, Frantz Casseus, and Beethova Obas. If you want to be adventurous and expressive through dance, try a dance hall or soca class. 

Education: A great way to celebrate National Caribbean American Heritage Month is to educate yourself on the history of the Caribbean people in the United States. So much history is excluded from the history books. Visit your local library or do some internet research.

Festivals/events: The best way to experience a culture is to live it. An article in Travel Noire shows many Caribbean festivals happen throughout the summer and the year. Pass by your local community center for cultural events if you’re not one for a big crowd. 

Benita Vincent, a Barbadian American, emailed BGN and shared her yearly celebrations. “Every year, I go to Prospect Park [in New York City], where there is a month-long series of live music, food, drink, and workshops.”

Connect: National Caribbean American Heritage Month is excellent for connecting with family members, friends, neighbors, or coworkers. 

Chivonne Clairmont, MS. LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and Caribbean American, wrote to BGN to share how she celebrated this month. “As a person of Jamaican Caribbean descent born in England, I bring my Caribbean heritage into everything I do. I celebrate my heritage during Caribbean American Heritage Month by sharing traditional Caribbean recipes, music, and dance with my friends and recognizing Caribbean clients. I also take this opportunity to educate others on the culture and history of the Caribbean, including its art, literature, and contributions to the world.”

Lastly, Nadeje Montes, a confidence strategist, wrote to BGN to share why it’s important to celebrate National Caribbean American Heritage Month. “Why must we celebrate our Caribbean heritage? she asks. “Because we have our ancestors’ blood in our veins. We have ceremonial and spiritual traces from our ancestry engraved in us.”

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