“Stand clear of the closing doors,
please.” Is a quote that acts as a metronome to the beat of a New York commuter’s
everyday existence. The subway doors
close with an emphatic click that accent the confinement of an already
claustrophobic preposition. Underground,
overcrowded and subject to an innumerable amount of sights and smells- the New
York subway system is a modern day embodiment of Lady Liberty’s famed
inscription, “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. When a passenger is trapped in this prison of
the uncomfortably mundane, he/she need only look up for some light reprieve. There, along the upper border of the
commuter’s detention hall, is a promise of a better way of life. If the passenger can pretend to not look at
the person pressed directly against them and instead focus upwards, then there
is invariably an advertisement for a tropical destination where problems
seemingly do not exist.
The Caribbean has long been heralded
as a perfect getaway for New Yorkers, where the sun and sand will make spirits
rise and problems fade. Subway cars are
littered with advertisements for various islands all supposedly promising a
slower paced way of life. Yet while the
major import may be tourism and marketed relaxation, the historical export
could not be more converse. The
Caribbean culture is ripe with entrepreneurship and a commitment to success in
the face of adversity. America has been
directly affected by the tenants of the Caribbean culture- so much so, that the
American spirit and Caribbean spirit are one in the same. Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding
fathers, was himself an immigrant from the Caribbean island of Nevis. There is currently a record breaking musical
named after Hamilton that is written by Puerto Rican American Lin-Manuel
Miranda. The Caribbean immigrant’s
ability to adapt and thrive in the face of: discrimination (including inter-racial),
economic segregation, and relative isolation from homeland, have resulted in that
the main export from the Caribbean into American culture is not indigo or sugar
cane; but rather, perseverance.
Discrimination often is able to be
quantified as one group versus another, there are distinguishable features,
more often physical appearance or social status that cause the separation and
results in conflict. The discrimination
facing the Caribbean immigrant is unique in that there is a fluidity to the
ancestry and background that simultaneously includes and excludes cultural
identity. In a 2015 study published in
the International Journal of Culture and
Mental Health, researchers set out to investigate the unique racial
discrimination experiences and racial developmental needs of African-Americans,
Afro-Caribbeans, and Latino-Caribbeans, respectively. The researchers found that racial identity attitudes were significantly linked to
perceived racial discrimination and depression for all participants. Findings
also showed an interaction between ethnicity and racial identity. The increased need to conform for the
Caribbean subjects linked to an increase amount of perceived stress. The mental health implications being that the
unique experience of multiple racial identities for Afro-Caribbeans and
Latino-Caribbeans can link to higher amount of perceived stress than African
Americans. (Sanchez 2015)
Perceived stress of internalized
racism and discrimination can negatively affect mental health for Caribbean
immigrants. Experiencing discrimination
has been shown to be attributed to a higher chance of depression and
psychiatric disorders (Williams 2007). These separate mental health issues for
Caribbeans have been constant since “racial otherness” was first experienced
during initial migrations to the U.S.
Afro-Caribbeans experienced the same
racial discrimination from white Americans during immigration, as such only a
select few real estate options were available.
This discrimination was compounded by the discrimination within the
Black community toward Afro-Caribbeans.
The Caribbean response to this adversity
was to create a community all their own.
The cultural presence can be seen in shops and restaurants, but the
underlying glue that binds the spirit of the Caribbean immigrant is the sense
of community within their multi-ethnic culture.
By creating a pride in community, complete with community leaders
creating a circle of influence to champion like-situated people around them,
Caribbean immigrants have been shown to affect mental health issues within
their demographic (Molina 2016).
The pride in community is on full
display in the parades held in New York City.
In fact, according to the New York Visitor web page, the two largest
parades are products of Caribbean culture.
The Puerto Rican Day parade is the largest parade and the first runner
up day of celebration by size. The
number one day of celebration in New York City is the West Indian Day Carnival,
with over two million in attendance (4).
The influence of such sense of unity and pride within the Caribbean
community can be almost directly linked to American society’s tribalism fervor
from everything from a New York Giants game to the Macy’s Day parade and
celebration. Bonding with fellow people
by wearing similar garb and celebrating together in the same space is not a new
phenomenon, but the Caribbean contribution to these celebrations in America can
be found in the unabashed extroverted expression of it.
This gregarious nature is part of
what is promoted in subway advertisements.
Smiles and large swathes of space are what are seen as uniquely
Caribbean and are coincidentally what most New Yorkers lack. The irony is that Caribbeans had to create
their own small spaces within the New York landscape when they immigrated. The economic segregation was created from the
phenomenon of “white flight” in neighborhoods where African-Americans and
Afro-Caribbeans were moving in. White
Americans generally commanded a moderate to high salary, when they moved so did
the monetary value of the neighborhoods that Afro-Caribbeans acquired.
The Caribbeans met this challenge
head on by banding together and supporting their own businesses and culture
both in America and back in their homeland.
Americans have long held onto a notion of taking care of their own. The Caribbean immigrant experience of loyalty
to family and community can be seen as a major contributor to that line of
thinking. Transnationalism can be a
difficult proposition to live out, being both a member of a community local and
abroad. By economically supporting their
local businesses as well as their homeland, Caribbean immigrant’s spending can
be felt on a global level. According to
the Online Journal of the Migration
Policy Institute, Caribbeans sending money home has increased steadily
since 1970, and greatly in recent years.
This process of sending money to a homeland is called remittance and it
can have a major effect on the home country’s economy. In 2014 alone remittances sent to the
Caribbean totaled in $9.7billion.
Remittances counted for roughly 8 percent of the region’s Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) that year (3).
Although the investment in immigration is shared between
families, the shared experiences are often lost as a result of geographical
separation. Caribbean culture is at its
heart family-oriented and the distance can cause friction and isolation within
these cherished family units. An
experience akin to an American soldier, the need for family interaction while
in a (if not foreign then) second home, can be appeased with technology and
Technology advances over time.
For the Caribbean immigrant, flat-rate shipping in the form of barrels
home is still very much a realistic avenue to send goods back to the
region. Letters gave way to long
distance, expensive phone calls and now there is the internet with social media. While America is not responsible for every
technological progression, the country is recognized as being willing to adapt
to and to make practical any technology that increases efficiency. Caribbean immigrants are at the forefront of
this quick adoption-when-results-are-presented mentality.
Social media has proven to be a valuable way to stay connected
to those that may not be close geographically.
The Caribbean is one of the best regions in the world at embracing this
new technology. From 2016-2017, as an
example, the social media users in Cuba jumped 368% from the year before (2). As availability of technology increases so
does the ability for Caribbean immigrants to stay in touch with their family
and culture. This exposure to Caribbean
culture also allows for the general public to be privy to the strong
independent culture that has influenced the American creed for hundreds of
A prime example of direct Caribbean culture
crossover into mainstream American psyche was written about in 2016 by the
magazine The Root. The article highlighted a 9-year-old Jamaican
YouTube sensation by the name of Demarjay Smith. Also known as, “The young Jamaican trainer,”
Demarjay’s messages of positivity and self-empowerment are a result of the
Caribbean culture’s ability to thrive in the face of adversity. He was
interviewed on the Ellen DeGeneres Show after
one of his videos motivating his friends through a hard workout went viral to
the tune of 1 million views.
Emphatically preaching consistency and determination, Demarjay’s spirit
is reflective of the American principles that were helped founded by his fellow
Caribbean Alexander Hamilton.
Starting with the birth of this nation, Caribbean culture has
shaped and grown alongside it mainland counterpart. America as a nation is rooted in principles
adopted and assimilated from other cultures.
From slavery to revolutions to natural disasters, the Caribbean region
has seen its fair share of turbulent times, yet has always come out the other
side of these atrocities stronger and more determined as a result. The transcript from Demarjay’s viral video
sums up the Caribbean spirit that has fueled America, “It don’t come easy. In life, you have to work. Either you want to
be the shark of the ocean or the fish of the ocean…strength,