June is Caribbean-American Heritage Month: Let’s Celebrate

June is Caribbean-American Heritage Month: Let’s Celebrate

By Mary Campbell, Special to CAW

June is National Caribbean American Heritage Month, and this year marks the fifteenth anniversary. The commemoration of this observance aims to remind Americans that our greatness lies in our diversity. The official campaign for National Caribbean American Heritage Month began in 2004 when a legislative bill was tabled in Congress by Congresswoman Barbara Lee. The language was provided by the Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) Founder and President Dr. Claire Nelson. The Bill was reintroduced and passed the House in June 2005 and the Senate in February 2006. President George W. Bush signed a Proclamation making the resolution official on June 5, 2006.

Here is an excerpt of the inaugural proclamation by then-President Bush:
“Our Nation has thrived as a country of immigrants, and we are more vibrant and hopeful because of the talent, faith, and values of Caribbean Americans. For centuries, Caribbean Americans have enriched our society and added to the strength of America. They have been leaders in government, sports, entertainment, the arts, and many other fields.

During the month of June, we also honor the friendship between the United States and the Caribbean countries. We are united by our common values and shared history. I join all Americans in celebrating the rich Caribbean heritage and the many ways in which Caribbean Americans have helped shape this Nation.”


Clarke Issues Statement Commemorating Caribbean Heritage Month

According to the Institute of Caribbean Studies, “Caribbean immigrants have been contributing to the well-being of American society since its founding. Alexander Hamilton, the First Secretary of the Treasury, was from the Caribbean island of Nevis. We count among our famous sons and daughters, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Cicely Tyson, W.E.B Dubois, James Weldon Johnson, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier, to name a few. ICS’s effort began in 1999 with a petition to President Bill Clinton to recognize a Caribbean American Heritage Month.

In this year’s Proclamation, President Joseph Biden stated:

“America’s diversity is and always has been the defining strength of our Nation — in every generation, our society, spirit, and shared ambitions have been refreshed by wave after wave of immigrants seeking out their American dream. Throughout our history, Caribbean Americans have brought vibrant cultures, languages, traditions, and values that strengthen our country and add new chapters to our common story. In recognition of Caribbean Americans’ countless gifts and contributions to our Nation, we celebrate National Caribbean-American Heritage Month.

Caribbean Americans have made our country more innovative and more prosperous; they have enriched our Nation’s arts and culture, our public institutions, and our economy. I am honored to celebrate this National Caribbean-American Heritage Month alongside Caribbean-American barrier-breaking public servants in my Administration — including Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice — all of whom continue to be sources of pride and inspiration for Caribbean Americans across the country.

Caribbean-American intellects and artists like James Weldon Johnson, the poet who gave us the anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing; celebrated neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat; and John B. Russwurm, the first Caribbean-American editor of a U.S. newspaper, have left a lasting impact on our country. Caribbean-American jurists like Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman appointed to the Federal bench, and the Nation’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, have made innumerable contributions to the American justice system. Shirley Chisholm, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, blazed new trails as our Nation’s first Black Congresswoman — and the first Black woman to launch a major-party bid for the Presidency. Public servants like Antonia Novello, our Nation’s first female Surgeon General, and Colin Powell, our first Black Secretary of State, have followed in her footsteps, charting new paths of their own in service to the American people.

Despite the powerful legacy of achievement of Caribbean Americans, many members of the Caribbean-American community continue to face systemic barriers to equity, opportunity, and justice. Systemic racism has uniquely impacted Black and Latino immigrant communities, including Caribbean Americans, leading to disparities in health care, education, housing, criminal justice, and economic opportunity. My Administration is committed to addressing those entrenched disparities — and to bringing our Nation closer to its promise that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives. That is why I have launched a whole-of-government approach to advancing racial justice and equity.

During National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, we celebrate the legacy and essential contributions of Caribbean Americans who have added so much to our American fabric.”

This year’s theme is Our Shared History, Our Shared Future. Caribbean-Americans represent over thirty nations, having a unique blend of heritage and culture. The past year has been a difficult and challenging one. As we move forward, let’s remember those we lost to COVID-19, violence and otherwise, appreciate our everyday heroes, and celebrate each other and our achievements!

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