- Faith & Family
If you’ve been in South Florida for even less than five minutes, somehow you have seen, touched or tasted the influences that immigrants from the Caribbean.
Yet local historian and founder of the Historic Hampton House Trust, Enid Pinkney believes its very important to learn the history behind the region’s people, institutions and even foods.
“People really don’t know who [Caribbean Americans] are, so I think anytime you have an opportunity to celebrate a heritage than you should do so,” she explained.
With the advent of the National Caribbean American Heritage Month – the holiday was officially recognized in 2006 – more Americans hailing from the Caribbean can do exactly that. In South Florida, awareness of the contributions of Caribbean Americans has particular relevance.
According to the Miami-Dade County’s Office of Black Affairs, nearly one third of the county’s Black population are Caribbean immigrants. Meaning that many of people are themselves or have ancestries who hail from wide variety Caribbean island nations including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Martinique and the Cayman Islands.
Meanwhile, in Broward County, an estimated 10 percent of the county’s population identifies as having West Indian ancestry (a large portion of that includes Haitians and Jamaicans), according to the 2000 Census.
One of the first groups of Caribbean immigrants to come to South Florida were Bahamians, according to local historian and author, Marvin Dunn.
“Bahamians were coming here before there was even a city of Miami,” he said. “And the permanent movement of Bahamian into South Florida really started probably around 1880 when there were severe environmental problems in the Bahamas that caused crops to fail and other issues.”
The search for a better opportunities propelled many Caribbean immigrants north onto the shores of South Florida.
“Haitians have been traveling to South Florida for more than a century now,” explained Chantalle Verna, an associate professor of history at Florida International University. But “the most substantial numbers of migrants arrived in the 1970s, late 1980s, and 1990s. These major waves were primarily due to political and economic hardship, related to the dictatorships of Francois (1957-71) and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971-1986).”
Land of the not so free
One of the issues that Caribbean immigrants were forced were that although their new home and country offered better opportunity, it also introduced them to a system and people fraught with prejudices and racism.
However, in addition fighting racist institutions and laws, Caribbean immigrants also faced discriminatory attitudes from South Florida native people.
For example, “a lot of the problems that the Bahamians came from African Americans not just white people,” Dunn explained. “So many Bahamians came [to South Florida] that they became unwelcome because they were seen as foreigners.”
He further explained, “It’s predictable whenever any new group moves into a new area,” he said. “Haitians, Jamaicans, African Americans, Black Cubans are different ethically and those differences trump skin color.”
Nowdays, most Blacks with West Indian ancestry tend to live in the areas around North Miami including Liberty City, Overtown, Little Haiti and Carol City or further down south near Perrine, Cutler Ridge, and Richmond, according to a 2007 study released by the Miami-Dade County’s Office of Black Affairs.
However, do not be surprised when you notice Caribbean Americans living throughout all of South Florida and beyond, noted Pinkney.
They are not forced to live in certain areas because of segregation anymore, she explained with a laugh. So, “you’ll find them in every neighborhood – they’re everywhere now.”
By Kaila Heard