Since 2006, the month of June has been celebrated in the United States as National Caribbean American Heritage Month. The month of recognition highlights the contributions and rich legacy that people of Caribbean heritage have made in this country. Here is a proclamation from the White House, signed by President Biden on May 31, 2022.
So, who are people of Caribbean heritage? Well, they include someone like me, born in the Caribbean region, and others of Caribbean descent who moved stateside from the islands. The wider Caribbean region comprises 30 countries as well as territories that are a part of other countries (the U.S. Virgin Islands being part of the United States, as an example). While the region has many different cultures and political entities, it is culturally connected.
Did you know the region has more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays? While only around 100 of the islands are inhabited, some have rugged terrains and high mountain ranges, while others are relatively flat. The region also boasts a diverse ecosystem covering lush vegetation and even forests. Due to its pristine, beautiful beaches and tropical climate, the Caribbean region is the ideal vacation spot. Trust me on this! My family’s history is rooted in the beautiful country of Jamaica, and oh, how I love that place!
More about people of the Caribbean
The Caribbean region is a melting pot of multiethnic and multiracial groups. It has a rich history among its indigenous, European, African, Asian, Indian, and other people. As Jamaicans say, we are literally “Out of Many One People.” While English is spoken in most countries and territories in the region, Spanish is the predominant language in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and French, for example, is spoken in Haiti. In terms of music culture, the Caribbean is home to the musical genres of ska, reggae, rock steady, calypso, and many more.
Throughout U.S. history, Caribbean people and children of Caribbean immigrants have made significant contributions to our country. For example, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (1789 –1795) and one of our country’s founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, was born in what is now called St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean. Fast forward to our current Vice President Kamala Harris, whose Jamaican-born father, Donald J. Harris, is an economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University. There are so many others – Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas (Cuban), former Secretary of State General Colin Powell (son of Jamaican immigrants), Ato Boldon (Trinidadian), Sheryl Lee Ralph (her mother was Jamaican), Harry Belafonte (child of a Scottish Jamaican mother and Afro-Jamaican father), Sanya Richards-Ross (Jamaican American), Patrick Ewing (Jamaican), and Dr. Susan M. Collins (Jamaican). Dr. Collins is president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the first Black female to lead a regional federal bank.
And just wait until July 2022! The World Athletics Championships will descend on Eugene, Oregon, where the world will get to witness the contributions of Caribbean athletes on the track. (Shout-out to Jamaican Olympians Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah!)
Join in the festivities!
This month, as our nation celebrates Caribbean American Heritage Month, my hope is that you will choose to learn more about our contributions to this country. May I also suggest that you feast on escoveitch fish, curried goat, jerk chicken, roasted breadfruit, boiled green bananas, ackee, roti, conch ceviche, mannish water, coconut water, doubles, bake and shark, or any traditional Caribbean meal. Of course, you might also listen to some Bob Marley music, enjoy football (or, as Americans say, soccer) – the most popular sport in almost all Caribbean countries and territories, or just relax and read a novel or poem by Derrick Walcott, Colin Channer, VS Naipaul, or Lorna Goodison.
Most importantly, I ask you to consider that – out of many, we are all one people. Our diversity is what makes us great!