“Stand clear of the closing doors,please.” Is a quote that acts as a metronome to the beat of a New York commuter’severyday existence. The subway doorsclose with an emphatic click that accent the confinement of an alreadyclaustrophobic preposition. Underground,overcrowded and subject to an innumerable amount of sights and smells- the NewYork subway system is a modern day embodiment of Lady Liberty’s famedinscription, “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. When a passenger is trapped in this prison ofthe uncomfortably mundane, he/she need only look up for some light reprieve. There, along the upper border of thecommuter’s detention hall, is a promise of a better way of life.
If the passenger can pretend to not look atthe person pressed directly against them and instead focus upwards, then thereis invariably an advertisement for a tropical destination where problemsseemingly do not exist. The Caribbean has long been heraldedas a perfect getaway for New Yorkers, where the sun and sand will make spiritsrise and problems fade. Subway cars arelittered with advertisements for various islands all supposedly promising aslower paced way of life. Yet while themajor import may be tourism and marketed relaxation, the historical exportcould not be more converse. TheCaribbean culture is ripe with entrepreneurship and a commitment to success inthe face of adversity.
America has beendirectly affected by the tenants of the Caribbean culture- so much so, that theAmerican spirit and Caribbean spirit are one in the same. Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s foundingfathers, was himself an immigrant from the Caribbean island of Nevis. There is currently a record breaking musicalnamed after Hamilton that is written by Puerto Rican American Lin-ManuelMiranda. The Caribbean immigrant’sability to adapt and thrive in the face of: discrimination (including inter-racial),economic segregation, and relative isolation from homeland, have resulted in thatthe main export from the Caribbean into American culture is not indigo or sugarcane; but rather, perseverance. Discrimination often is able to bequantified as one group versus another, there are distinguishable features,more often physical appearance or social status that cause the separation andresults in conflict. The discriminationfacing the Caribbean immigrant is unique in that there is a fluidity to theancestry and background that simultaneously includes and excludes culturalidentity. In a 2015 study published inthe International Journal of Culture andMental Health, researchers set out to investigate the unique racialdiscrimination experiences and racial developmental needs of African-Americans,Afro-Caribbeans, and Latino-Caribbeans, respectively. The researchers found that racial identity attitudes were significantly linked toperceived racial discrimination and depression for all participants.
Findingsalso showed an interaction between ethnicity and racial identity. The increased need to conform for theCaribbean subjects linked to an increase amount of perceived stress. The mental health implications being that theunique experience of multiple racial identities for Afro-Caribbeans andLatino-Caribbeans can link to higher amount of perceived stress than AfricanAmericans. (Sanchez 2015) Perceived stress of internalizedracism and discrimination can negatively affect mental health for Caribbeanimmigrants.
Experiencing discriminationhas been shown to be attributed to a higher chance of depression andpsychiatric disorders (Williams 2007). These separate mental health issues forCaribbeans have been constant since “racial otherness” was first experiencedduring initial migrations to the U.S. Afro-Caribbeans experienced the sameracial discrimination from white Americans during immigration, as such only aselect few real estate options were available. This discrimination was compounded by the discrimination within theBlack community toward Afro-Caribbeans. The Caribbean response to this adversitywas to create a community all their own.
The cultural presence can be seen in shops and restaurants, but theunderlying glue that binds the spirit of the Caribbean immigrant is the senseof community within their multi-ethnic culture. By creating a pride in community, complete with community leaderscreating a circle of influence to champion like-situated people around them,Caribbean immigrants have been shown to affect mental health issues withintheir demographic (Molina 2016). The pride in community is on fulldisplay in the parades held in New York City. In fact, according to the New York Visitor web page, the two largestparades are products of Caribbean culture.
The Puerto Rican Day parade is the largest parade and the first runnerup day of celebration by size. Thenumber 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 Caribbeancommunity can be almost directly linked to American society’s tribalism fervorfrom everything from a New York Giants game to the Macy’s Day parade andcelebration. Bonding with fellow peopleby wearing similar garb and celebrating together in the same space is not a newphenomenon, but the Caribbean contribution to these celebrations in America canbe found in the unabashed extroverted expression of it.
This gregarious nature is part ofwhat is promoted in subway advertisements. Smiles and large swathes of space are what are seen as uniquelyCaribbean and are coincidentally what most New Yorkers lack. The irony is that Caribbeans had to createtheir own small spaces within the New York landscape when they immigrated. The economic segregation was created from thephenomenon of “white flight” in neighborhoods where African-Americans andAfro-Caribbeans were moving in.
WhiteAmericans generally commanded a moderate to high salary, when they moved so didthe monetary value of the neighborhoods that Afro-Caribbeans acquired. The Caribbeans met this challengehead on by banding together and supporting their own businesses and cultureboth 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 loyaltyto family and community can be seen as a major contributor to that line ofthinking.
Transnationalism can be adifficult proposition to live out, being both a member of a community local andabroad. By economically supporting theirlocal businesses as well as their homeland, Caribbean immigrant’s spending canbe felt on a global level. According tothe Online Journal of the MigrationPolicy Institute, Caribbeans sending money home has increased steadilysince 1970, and greatly in recent years. This process of sending money to a homeland is called remittance and itcan have a major effect on the home country’s economy. In 2014 alone remittances sent to theCaribbean totaled in $9.7billion.
Remittances counted for roughly 8 percent of the region’s Gross DomesticProduct (GDP) that year (3). Although the investment in immigration is shared betweenfamilies, the shared experiences are often lost as a result of geographicalseparation. Caribbean culture is at itsheart family-oriented and the distance can cause friction and isolation withinthese cherished family units. Anexperience akin to an American soldier, the need for family interaction whilein a (if not foreign then) second home, can be appeased with technology andinnovation. Technology advances over time. For the Caribbean immigrant, flat-rate shipping in the form of barrelshome is still very much a realistic avenue to send goods back to theregion. Letters gave way to longdistance, expensive phone calls and now there is the internet with social media. While America is not responsible for everytechnological progression, the country is recognized as being willing to adaptto and to make practical any technology that increases efficiency.
Caribbean immigrants are at the forefront ofthis quick adoption-when-results-are-presented mentality.Social media has proven to be a valuable way to stay connectedto those that may not be close geographically. The Caribbean is one of the best regions in the world at embracing thisnew technology. From 2016-2017, as anexample, the social media users in Cuba jumped 368% from the year before (2). As availability of technology increases sodoes the ability for Caribbean immigrants to stay in touch with their familyand culture.
This exposure to Caribbeanculture also allows for the general public to be privy to the strongindependent culture that has influenced the American creed for hundreds ofyears. A prime example of direct Caribbean culturecrossover into mainstream American psyche was written about in 2016 by themagazine The Root. The article highlighted a 9-year-old JamaicanYouTube 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 theCaribbean culture’s ability to thrive in the face of adversity. He wasinterviewed on the Ellen DeGeneres Show afterone of his videos motivating his friends through a hard workout went viral tothe tune of 1 million views. Emphatically preaching consistency and determination, Demarjay’s spiritis reflective of the American principles that were helped founded by his fellowCaribbean Alexander Hamilton.Starting with the birth of this nation, Caribbean culture hasshaped and grown alongside it mainland counterpart.
America as a nation is rooted in principlesadopted and assimilated from other cultures. From slavery to revolutions to natural disasters, the Caribbean regionhas seen its fair share of turbulent times, yet has always come out the otherside of these atrocities stronger and more determined as a result. The transcript from Demarjay’s viral videosums up the Caribbean spirit that has fueled America, “It don’t come easy. In life, you have to work. Either you want tobe the shark of the ocean or the fish of the ocean…strength,no weakness!”(1)