June Is Caribbean American Heritage Month

President Bush has recognized that the United States and the Caribbean are joined by common values and shared history. In the signing of the Caribbean American Heritage Month, 2007 Proclamation he encouraged all Americans to learn more about the history and culture of Caribbean people.

In a statement issued by the Office of the Press Secretary, Bush said “During Caribbean American Heritage Month, we celebrate the great contributions of Caribbean-Americans to the fabric of our nation, and we pay tribute to the common culture and bonds of friendship that unite the United States and the Caribbean countries.”

The Institute of Caribbean Studies said it has been leading the celebration of June as Caribbean American Heritage Month since 2000, picking up from where the Washington, D.C. Ad-Hoc Caribbean Council led by Doreen Thompson had left off in 1999.

The national campaign for Caribbean American Heritage Month began in 2004. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) sponsored the initial bill with language provided by Institute of Caribbean Studies founder and President Claire Nelson. In 2005, Lee reintroduced the bill and it passed the House on June 27, 2005. The Senate passed the bill on February 14, 2006. The first proclamation was signed on June 5, 2006 by President Bush declaring the month of June officially Caribbean American Heritage Month. The second proclamation was signed on June 1, 2007.

Brian James, a native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines who works as an information technology specialist on Capitol Hill is pleased to see the U.S. finally making some effort to recognize the Caribbean community.

“West Indians have contributed to every aspect of the American culture, including education, fine arts, business, journalism, politics, government, sports, science and technology, and it’s about time that we are recognized outside of our own ethnicity for it,” said James.

Caribbean Americans have been migrating to the U.S. for years in large numbers, but only a few have settled in Washington, D.C. and the suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

In 2000, West Indians of non-Hispanic origin numbered 7,802 in Washington, less than 1.5 percent of the city’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Montgomery County the West Indian population was 15,358, about 1.7 percent of the county population.

In Prince George’s County, 20,057 West Indians were counted. They were 2.5 percent of the county population.

In Fairfax County and in Arlington County in Virginia, less than 1 percent of the populations claimed West Indian heritage. Recognition and celebration for Caribbean Americans begins with Alexander Hamilton, a founding father, who was born in Nevis of St. Kitts and continues to include Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, founder of Chicago born in Haiti; first African-American congresswoman and first African-American woman candidate for president Shirley Chisholm born to a Barbadian mother and Guyanese father and Former Secretary of state Colin Powell born to Jamaican parents.

In the arts and sports world Caribbean Americans include Celia Cruz, queen of Salsa music born in Cuba; James Weldon Johnson, writer of the Black National Anthem born to Bahamian parents; Jamaican sports stars Patrick Ewing and Marion Jones; legendary hip hop artist Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace who was born to a Jamaican mother, as well as the official spokespersons for the Caribbean American Heritage Month organization, Jamaican American actress/singer Sheryl Lee Ralph and basketball player Rick Fox who was born to Bahamian parents.

According to the Caribbean American Carnival Association of Baltimore, there are millions of Caribbean Americans who proudly share their heritage through various organizations and events, specifically in celebrations such carnivals which take place annually throughout the United States.

Among the examples are: May, Peach Carnival in Atlanta, Ga. along Pryor Street; June, Caribbean carnival in Washington, D.C. along Georgia Avenue; July, Caribbean-American Festival in Baltimore in Druid Hill Park neighborhood; August, carnival in Dorchester, Mass.; September, West Indian Day/Labor Day Parade in Brooklyn along Eastern Parkway and in October, Miami Caribbean carnival in downtown Miami at Bicentennial Park.