You must have heard about Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the US Treasury. You might also be aware of his role in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) against the colonial rulers, which established America’s independence. He is the founding father of the United States of America who not only helped draft the US Constitution but also developed the American financial system.
But, did you know that this American revolutionary was from the Caribbean? Yes, he was born and spent his childhood in Nevis – a small island in the Caribbean. Just like Hamilton, there have been many Caribbean people who have been arriving at the American shores as migrants or refugees in the pre-Revolutionary War era. They, generation after generation, settled here and played a leading role in building America. Among them, there are Secretary of State Colin Powell, W.E.B Dubois, Cicely Tyson, Harry Belafonte, James Weldon Johnson, and Sidney Poitier to name a few.
However, it was the 19th century when Caribbean people came to the US in large numbers and excelled here as scientists, doctors, teachers, scholars, politicians, inventors, poets, athletes, songwriters, comedians, activists, preachers, artisans, and whatnot. They fostered prosperity and created opportunities for other immigrants from all across the world. Even President Biden has acknowledged that the arrival and settlement of other immigrants “would not be possible without the contributions and legacies of Caribbean Americans.”
“Today, millions of Caribbean Americans strengthen our country through their vibrant cultures, traditions, languages, and values. They have added immeasurable ways to our American dream,” he went on to say in his Proclamation on National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, 2022.
Since we recently celebrated Caribbean-American Heritage Month, The ImmigrantMagazine has come up with a round-up of the contributions of Caribbean people and their descendants to the history and culture of the US so that we could know why it is important to celebrate their journey.
Contributions to American Culture
Caribbean costumes and traditions are deeply rooted in American culture. There held more than 50 Caribbean carnivals throughout the US. These carnivals incorporate fine arts, artistic and musical social gatherings, street theater, spectator participation, spectacle and fantasy as well as political commentary.
Besides the traditional American culture, Caribbeans have also had a profound impact on US pop culture. They brought along music, such as bachata, cadence rampa, calypso, chutney, compas, cumbia, dancehall, filmi, Latin trap, méringue, merengue, parang, ragga, rapso, reggae, reggaeton, salsa, ska, soca, and zouk, which made a deep impression on pop culture. They also strongly influence Hip Hop music and culture.
Caribbean Cuisine is a fusion of African, Creole, European, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Asian influences. Popular dishes reflect the cultures that have influenced the region. The most common ingredients are rice, plantains, beans, coconut, sweet potatoes, cassava, and tomatoes. They are prepared with various local meats and spices.
Contributions to Science and Literature
Caribbean Americans have enriched every sphere of American life by making contributions of paramount importance to every sector. Currently, more than 35% of employed Caribbeans are serving in sectors including science, technology, education, and arts and are behind some of the US’ greatest achievements in science, education, health, literature, and arts.
For example, Derek Walcott (January 23, 1930 – March 17, 2017) was a Caribbean American poet and playwright who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. He is known for his literary works that explore the Caribbean cultural experience.
Similarly, Caribbean Americans also made their mark on science. Luis Walter Alvarez (June 13, 1911 – September 1, 1988) was a scientist of Caribbean origin who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1968. He was also regarded as “one of the most brilliant and productive experimental physicists of the twentieth century.”
Most Notable Caribbean Americans
There is a long list of Caribbean Americans who have helped shape the US. In fact, the number of the most notable Caribbean Americans can cross the figure of a thousand, however, just 10 of them are mentioned here.
- Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury- Born in Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Celia Cruz, the world-renowned “Queen of Salsa” music -Cuba
- Joseph Michael – an educator, hydrogeologist, and first NASA astronaut of Puerto Rican heritage
- Robyn Rihanna Fenty – a singer, actress, fashion designer, and businesswoman- Born in Barbados
- Juano Hernandez – an actor and pioneer in the African American film industry-Born in Puerto Rico
- Nicki Minaj, Rapper – born in Trinidad.
- Sidney Poitier, Actor – born in The Bahamas.
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) – a politician, activist, and democrats representative for New York’s 14th congressional.
- Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary- Born in Haiti
America owes a great debt of gratitude to the generations of Caribbean Americans who have made all-out efforts to build this nation, shape its progress, and strengthen its national character. Despite their tremendous contributions and achievements, a large number of Caribbean Americans still confront systemic barriers to success.
Although, generations of Caribbean Americans have been fighting for equity and equality amid continued discrimination and succeeded in reaching the top, such as Sonia Sotomayor, the first Supreme Court Justice of Puerto Rican descent, and General Colin Powell (late), the first Black Secretary of State, yet they couldn’t eradicate the systemic racism and disparities in the opportunity they have been facing for centuries.
It is, therefore, the need of the hour for the American administration to take an all-in-all approach to advance racial justice and equity and to strengthen opportunity for all so that the wounds of Caribbean Americans can be healed.