Recognized each June, Caribbean American Heritage Month celebrates the unique culture and accomplishments of people from the Caribbean. Beginning with a Presidential Proclamation in 2006, the month honors the lasting contributions of Caribbean Americans – from Founding Father Alexander Hamilton to Vice President Kamala Harris.
With a Caribbean American population of over 13 million, it is likely that your organization has a few Caribbean American employees. Show your recognition and support by learning about, celebrating, and embracing the diverse background and culture of Caribbean Americans.
The Caribbean region includes 13 countries and 17 dependent territories located in the Caribbean Sea. The vast majority (90%) of Caribbean Americans hail from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad, and Tobago. Although Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean Sea, they are U.S. territories whose residents are U.S. citizens.
The unique culture and food of the Caribbean stem from its diverse heritage. Impacted by the African slave trade and the importation of indentured servants by Europeans, Caribbean people are a multracial and multiethnic group. Each island derives its unique heritage from a blend of Indigenous, African, Indian, Chinese, and Portuguese people. Spanish and English are the main languages spoken in the area. French, Creole or Patois (Patwah/Patwa), and Dutch are also spoken on various islands.
From the African Latine vibe in the Dominican Republic to the more European influence on Barbados, each island merges a distinct influence with common Caribbean characteristics.
Despite varied backgrounds, there is commonality that connects Caribbean people around culture, which is heavily connected to its unique food. The shared themes of communal cooking, hospitality, music, festival, similar dialect and even unspoken language connect people from different Caribbean locales.
Honoring the contributions of Caribbean American people
The founder of Caribbean American Heritage Month, Dr. Claire Nelson, encourages using the month to have conversations about Caribbean American contributions to American society. Sharing Caribbean culture with the rest of America anchors their claim “to be here in America as much as any other immigrant groups.”
Caribbean people were largely responsible for building the Panama Canal. U.S. companies heavily recruited Caribbean people for contract jobs in healthcare and agriculture. People of Caribbean descent have impacted American culture from Washington D. C. to Hollywood. Notable government officials from the Caribbean include Shirley Chisholm, Colin Powell, and Alejandro Mayorkas. Famous celebrities, like Oscar de la Renta, Sydney Poitier, Kerry Washington, Maxwell, and Lin Miranda Manuel, also have Caribbean roots.
Yet, Caribbean Americans are often seen as refugees from economic instability or natural disasters. Caribbean Americans have chosen to make a life here and should be seen as equal contributors to American society. Acknowledging and embracing Caribbean Americans encourages authentic interactions and full participation.
Here are three simple ways to approach Caribbean American Heritage Month.
- Share Caribbean American accomplishments in your company newsletter or emails.
- Discuss any planned observances with Caribbean American employees. They should be invited to participate but not pressured to plan their own party. They might want to share food and talk about their culture, but always ask first!
- Support a local Caribbean American business with a catered lunch.
Take the time to recognize Caribbean American Heritage Month. A little effort can create an authentically welcoming environment. Discover more ways to celebrate our diverse community by subscribing to The Diversity Movement’s 2023 Diversity Holidays Calendar.