Flavor of New York: The Daring Plight Of The West Indians

BK Labour Day Parade/Bart Koelmans/WikiMedia/CC-2.0

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Depending on where you grew up, you may be familiar with the Black Caribbean population. For instance, if you’ve ever visited New York City, you’ll quickly realize that the culture is greatly influenced by its West Indian residents.

The West Indian population is typically comprised of the Black (and some Latin) Caribbean islands: Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad, Barbados, Guyana, and more. West Indians flocked to New York City in the early 1900s and could have fared extremely well if not for the racist climate of the day.

As with most Black immigrants, their literacy level exceeded many whites. However, the majority of them had to partake in service or domestic work to make ends meet.

With aspirations of succeeding in America, many West Indians sought positions of power within local government. They also created numerous impactful community organizations.

For example, Marcus Garvey created the United Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A). To assist with immigration, U.N.I.A. established Island-specific organizations, such as the Sons and Daughters of Barbados.

During slavery, the life expectancy of Blacks in the West Indies was lower than those in the U.S due to even harsher working conditions. There was a constant influx of new Africans to the Caribbean islands. As a result, these people remained in touch with languages, spirituality, songs, and dances of the Motherland.

Blacks from the Caribbean islands brought strong cultural connections when they migrated to the U.S. West Indian Carnival and J’ouvert are yearly celebrations commemorating their rich heritage.

Due to intense racism, immigration to the United States eventually slowed. However, the massive West Indian community still thrives today.

Next time you visit New York City, take a moment to taste the Caribbean flavor! If you can’t make it to NYC, check out Black Identities: West Indian Immigrant Dreams and American Realities.

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