Caribbean American Heritage Month

Map of the Caribbean in French. 1686.

Alexander Olivier Exquemelin/Library of Congress

With a current population of approximately 10 million, hailing from 30 territories including the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, Caribbean Americans have played a role in shaping America since before its founding. From fighting slavery and segregation to serving in the highest levels of government to sports and entertainment, Caribbean Americans have been active participants in the shaping of this country since the first Caribbean immigrants arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.

To help bring attention to this long and diverse history Dr. Claire Nelson founded The Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) in 1993 to raise awareness and advocate for the Caribbean American community in both the private and public sector. This effort included national recognition of the Caribbean American Heritage and in 1999 ICS sent a letter to President Clinton requesting a month dedicated as Caribbean American History Month.

It was not until 2004 that Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced legislation for such a proclamation. Reintroduced a year later the House unanimously passed her bill in June 2005 and the Senate passed their own legislation in February 2006. This lead to President George W. Bush issuing the first Presidential proclamation declaring June Caribbean American Heritage Month on June 5, 2006.

In 2013 when President Obama proclaimed June Caribbean American Heritage Month, he reminded America that for “…every chapter of our Nation’s history, Caribbean Americans have made our country stronger…” and will continue to in the years ahead.