We all have our own unique “Coming to America” story. This time around, we thought tracing back the majority of Caribbean’s migration process would serve as a, maybe new or maybe old, but definitely pretty interesting family history lesson.
Before many of us picked up from our respective islands and moved to the States, select members of our families inhabited Europe (mostly England). This started to become popular as families grew in size and in age. Heads of the household knew more money was needed to feed mouths, put clothes on backs, shoes on feet and, of course, for school. As a result, in most cases, the father of the home and one or two of his sons would journey to Europe to earn a keep that would be sent back to their island to help their families afford the necessities and accomplish goals set.
The journey of Afro-Caribbean people to the United States started long before then when enslaved Barbadians were taken by their British owners to South Carolina during the seventeenth century. That first involuntary migration was followed by a large wave of people from the British West Indies at the turn of the twentieth century. A third wave of immigrants arrived between 1930 and 1965, and a fourth movement is still going on today.
Times of Enslavement
One estimate puts the ratio of Caribbean to African slaves at three to one between 1715 and 1730; the largest number coming from Jamaica, followed by Africa, Barbados, and Antigua. Caribbean immigration to the United States was relatively small during the early nineteenth century but it grew significantly after the Civil War. The population, which was almost 100% Caribbean in origin, increased from four thousand to more than twenty thousand during the years of 1850 and 1900.
Leaving Our Home
The significant growth of the Caribbean community in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century is easily explained by the increasing economic hardship in the British West Indies and the simultaneous expansion of the U.S. economy due to its newly high wages and growing employment opportunities.
It was this wave that laid the groundwork for the new age of the working Afro-Caribbean life in New York City and throughout the nation. It has been estimated that by the 1930s a third of New York’s black professionals; including doctors, dentists, and lawyers came from the ranks of Caribbean migrants, a figure well in excess of the group’s share of the city’s black population.
Look How Far We Have Come
Today, there are between 2.6 and 3 million Caribbean people (of all races) in the United States, or 1 percent of the total population. More than 72 percent of Afro-Caribbean people are foreign-born, and they represent 4.6 percent of the black population. Entrepreneurs continue to flourish in the community, and the 2000 census shows that the median household income of Afro-Caribbean people is $40,000. From the early days of Caribbean immigration, West Indian music, including soca, calypso, and reggae, has had a profound impact on popular music. Other aspects of Caribbean culture such as food and Carnival have also entered mainstream America.
If you would like to dig deeper, check out this article titled Caribbean Migration. There you will find a play-by-play of the “who, what, when, where, how and why” of our plight.