By: Katherine Dvorak
With a current population of approximately 10 million, hailing from 30 territories including the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, Caribbean-Americans have played a role in shaping America since before its founding. From fighting slavery and segregation to serving in the highest levels of government to sports and entertainment, Caribbean-Americans have been active participants in the shaping of this country since the first Caribbean immigrants arrived in Jamestown, VA in 1619.
To help bring attention to this long and diverse history Dr. Claire Nelson founded The Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) in 1993 to bring attention to and advocate for the concerns of the Caribbean-American community in both the private and public sector. This effort included national recognition of the Caribbean-American Heritage and in 1999 ICS sent a letter to President Clinton requesting a month dedicated as Caribbean-American History Month.
It wasn’t until 2004 that Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced legislation for such a proclamation. Reintroduced a year later the House unanimously passed Congresswoman Lee’s bill in June 2005 and the Senate passed their own legislation a few months later in February 2006, leading to President George W. Bush issuing the first Presidential proclamation declaring June Caribbean-American Heritage Month on June 5, 2006.
This year, President Obama proclaimed June the eight Caribbean-American Heritage Month. In doing so, he once again reminded America that for “…every chapter of our Nation’s history, Caribbean Americans have made our country stronger…” and will continue to do so in the years ahead.