National Caribbean American Heritage Month – What is The True Count??

06/09/2018

By Juliette Adams

In June, the United States celebrates National Caribbean American Heritage Month (NCAHM). It is a celebration that honors and fosters the US-Caribbean relationship. The two regions have a shared history that can be traced back to the 1700s when George Washington had a slave exchange resulting in a familial relationship between African-Americans and Caribbean people. Currently the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) states there are 4 million individuals with Caribbean heritage living in the US. Many believe this is inaccurate based on other data sources that produce specific migration numbers for individual Caribbean countries. Thus to enjoy the full benefits and recognition of their contributions the undercount of the Caribbean-American population must be corrected. The true count may be 4 times greater than that documented by MPI.

How does Caribbean American culture facilitate significant contributions in the US society? Scholars present it as a "shared constitutive experience which transcends divisive linguistic, cultural and national borders". Alejo Carpentier, a Cuban novelist and musicologist gave one of the best descriptions of the uniqueness of the culture. He noted it was the first place where the three races (Europeans, Africans and Indigenous peoples) came together as one. Additionally, some very well-known and influential first and second generation Caribbean-Americans have made an indelible mark on the sociopolitical and economic fabric of the US. In politics there is Alexander Hamilton, a first generation Caribbean American who was a Founding Father and 1st Secretary of Treasury, Shirley Chisholm, a second generation Caribbean American who became the first black Congresswoman and Mia Love, a second generation Caribbean American who is the first black Republican Congresswoman.

In academia, Ivan Van Sertima (first generation) was an author and professor whose empowered scholarship proved that African presence in America began in the pre-Columbus era as documented in his book "They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America." In the arts, actor and film director Sidney Poitier (second generation) was the first Black American to win an Academy Award while addressing issues of race and race relations. Singer, actor social activist Harry Belafonte (second generation) was a confidante to Martin Luther King Jr. and more recently, Robyn Rihanna Fenty (first generation) is a songwriter, business woman and one of the bestselling music artists.

Several actions have been taken to establish a strong bond between the Caribbean and the US. Former President George Bush declared the Caribbean as the US Third Border. Significant legislations include House Concurrent Resolution (H. Con. Res.) 71 passed in 2006 officially establishing June as Caribbean American Heritage Month and House Resolution (H.R.) 4939 the United States - Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016 that declares it is U.S. policy to increase engagement between the governments of the Caribbean region, the private sector and civil society in both regions.

However, Caribbean Americans must understand that their greatest power is leveraging their US contributions and their homeland. There must be strong advocacy for Caribbean leaders to urgently address the implementation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), an initiative by the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) to integrate all of its member-states into a single economic unit. It is an important strategic action, especially for members states like Guyana where ExxonMobil's oil drilling will begin in 2020 and American Airlines will start serving the country in November 2018. Thus the region proves itself an amicable and proficient US economic partner. Therefore taking heed of the words of Dave Martins and the Tradewinds: Where are Your Heroes West Indians.

With its stellar contributions to the US, it is only right that the Caribbean community gets its fair share of government appropriation and benefits. The number that is officially recognized as the population size determines federal, state and local appropriation and assessment of programs. "Every 1,000 people that's undercounted is equivalent to $1.2 million that's lost in federal dollars,'' stated Hulbert James, chair of the South Florida Caribbean American Complete Count Committee. Additionally, race and ethnicity data are used in the planning and funding of government programs that provide services to specific groups. Population is also used to evaluate government programs and policies to ensure they fairly and equitably serve the needs of all racial and ethnic groups and are compliant with antidiscrimination laws, regulations, and policies.

One of the many pieces of evidence that challenge MPI's official number is the classification of "other Caribbean" population, which includes Guyanese living in the US as 81,000. However in 2013, the US Census American FactFinder (a Census database) listed 1st generation Guyanese Americans as numbering 273,000. Therefore if we adjusted the number of the MPI based on the Census American FactFinder, the projected Caribbean population could be in the range of 15-20 million. Hence the question: What is the true count? How do we effectively resolve this issue? The initiative Carib ID spearheaded by Felicia Persaud strives to ensure there is an accurate count of Caribbean Americans through the Decennial Census, a count of the population conducted every ten years. Continuous advocacy has resulted in a write in option for country origin or ancestry. Therefore for the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau is changing how it will ask Black people to designate their race. Under the check box for "Black or African American," the census bureau is adding a new space on the questionnaire for participants to write in their non-Hispanic origins.

As a former US government Supervisory Survey Statistician who worked on the Current Population Survey (CPS) for the New York region, I believe that a database comprising of in-depth demographics must be established for even stronger representation. I look forward to your feedback.

Juliette Adams is the co-founder of The Frederick Press. She is also a Project Management Consultant specializing in community development initiatives and the author of the Gifted and Magical 95 percent mini-book series. She obtained her Bachelor in Business Administration from Howard University and Master in Security Policy/Law and Society from American University.

Sources:

  • https://www.pulsamerica.co.uk/2016/07/heightened-and-marvelous-reality-the-shared-aesthetic-of-alejo-carpentiers-the-kingdom-of-this-world-and-nic-pizzolattos-true-detective/
  • https://www.ibtimes.com/caribbean-americans-invisible-minority-seeking-identity-affirmation-795709
  • https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/2020/operations/planned-subjects-2020-acs.pdf
  • https://www.npr.org/2018/03/13/593272215/for-the-first-time-2020-census-will-ask-black-americans-about-their-exact-origin