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.”
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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.
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!