National Caribbean American Heritage Month

National Caribbean American Heritage Month. Credit: The Caribbean American Heritage Foundation of Texas

June is the sixth month of the year, a month that welcomes summer, weddings, and LGBT Pride. June is known for barbecues, baseball, and blossoming flowers. The month includes Independence Day in the Philippines, Father’s Day, Juneteenth, and Midsummer’s Day. In the United States, June is also National Caribbean American Heritage Month. The month recognizes the contributions of Caribbean Americans and celebrates their diverse heritage, languages, and cultures.

In 2004, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee sponsored a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives recognizing the significance of Caribbean people and their descendants in the history and culture of the United States. The resolution passed the House in 2005 and the Senate in 2006. In June 2006, President George W. Bush issued the first proclamation of National Caribbean American Heritage Month.

People of the Caribbean Islands have made significant contributions to the history and culture of the United States. Credit: WORLD BOOK map

The Caribbean Islands are an island chain that divides the Caribbean Sea from the rest of the Atlantic Ocean. The islands stretch about 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) from near southern Florida to Venezuela’s northern coast. Historically, the name West Indies has been used to describe all of the islands in the Caribbean Sea. Today, however, many people use the name to describe only the English-speaking parts of the Caribbean region, including Guyana on the mainland of South America. The warm and sunny climate, beautiful beaches, and tropical scenery of the Caribbean Islands attract many tourists.

A majority of the people of the Caribbean are descendants of black Africans who were brought to the islands as enslaved laborers to work on sugar cane or coffee plantations. Most of the rest are of mixed black and European ancestry, or have British, Dutch, French, Portuguese, or Spanish ancestry. This rich diversity is evident in the Caribbean Islands’ many different languages and vibrant cultures.

The Caribbean Islands’ proximity to the United States has ensured a long, constant, and involved interaction. People of Caribbean descent have lived in the United States since the country’s inception—some of their own volition, but unfortunately many others (prior to the American Civil War) because of slavery. Some of the more prominent Americans of Caribbean descent include founding father Alexander Hamilton, early Chicago settler Jean Baptiste du Sable, abolitionist John Brown Russwurm, writer Claude McKay, Harlem’s Dr. Muriel Petioni, civil rights activist Malcolm X, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, actor Sidney Poitier, Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York Governor David Patterson, and actresses Cicely Tyson and Kerry Washington.

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