BY NATHAN DUKE
For the past 11 years, June has been officially recognized as National Caribbean American Heritage Month—and this celebration is one that resonates in Queens and the other four boroughs, where residents of the various islands of the Caribbean have come to call home as they have made great strides in New York City.
The month-long celebration was initially adopted after U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a resolution to honor the significance of Caribbean people and their descendants in the history and culture of the United States. In June 2006, the proclamation was issued by President George W. Bush.
There are a number of prominent Caribbean Americans who have made their mark on the United States—including four-star general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell (whose parents were Jamaican American), former Attorney General Eric Holder (whose father was Barbadian), actors and activists Sidney Poitier (whose parents hailed from the Bahamas) and Harry Belafonte (his father was a Martiniquan who was born in Jamaica, while his mother was of Jamaican descent) and Jennifer Carroll, who was born in Trinidad and served as first lieutenant governor of Florida, making her the first woman and person of color to hold the position. And Shirley Chisholm—whose father was born in British Guyana—was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress as well as the first African American to run for a major party’s nomination for president of the United States during her 1972 bid.
Other entertainers with Caribbean heritages include Cicely Tyson (whose parents were from Nevis), Queens’ Nicki Minaj (born in Trinidad), Lenny Kravitz (whose mother was of Bahamian descent) and Maxwell (whose mother was from Haiti).
Several politicians of Caribbean descent currently serve New York City. State Sen. Leroy Comrie’s (D-St. Albans) parents both immigrated from Jamaica, while Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Councilman Antonio Reynoso—whose district primarily covers Brooklyn, but also contains a sliver of Queens—were born to parents of Dominican descent.
State Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) moved at a young age to New York City with her parents, who had immigrated from the Caribbean, while state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) is a first-generation Dominican American.
And U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), whose district includes Brooklyn and a small section of western Queens, was born in Puerto Rico.
Queens Library CEO and President Dennis Walcott, who was the former city Schools Chancellor and deputy mayor for education, was born to immigrants from Barbados and St. Croix.
The city will honor Caribbean Heritage Month throughout the month. On June 6, the Empire State Building will light up in special colors to honor Caribbean Week in the five boroughs.
In Queens, the music, culture and cuisine of the Caribbean Islands will be on display as part of the third annual Bankra Caribbean Folk Festival, which will take place at noon on June 3 at 160th Street between Jamaica and 90th avenues in Jamaica. The free festival will include a food pavilion, face painting, clowns for children, cultural and art exhibits, participatory folk games, 20-foot stilt walkers and dancing. The event’s Grand Cultural Concert will begin at 4 p.m. and includes singers Lloyd Lovindeer, Andrew Clarke, The Braata Folk Singers, Nadiva Deveraux, gospel artist Kukudoo, drama ensemble Flat Tire Productions, horn player Carl ‘Rameses’ McDonald and the D’Oro Dance Ensemble.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization is hosting a variety of events throughout the city. The Rum and Rhythm Benefit and Auction, which assists a foundation to help Caribbean students pursuing work in the tourism and hospitality industries, will be held at Capitale in Manhattan. Caribbean chefs will prepare food at Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street (cooks from Jamaica and the Bahamas on June 3 and 4) and Williams-Sonoma in Columbus Circle (cooks from Barbados, Turks and Caicos on June 8 and 10). And Tempo will host the Caribbean Rocks Concert at 10 p.m. on June 10.
Manhattan’s Wyndham New Yorker Hotel will provide space for a series of Caribbean Week events—from June 3 to 10—that will include tourism officials, industry executives, travel agents and businesses. More than 30 Caribbean countries will showcase their tourism and business offerings throughout the week. Events at the hotel include a tourism industry workshop and trade show on June 6, tourism marketing conference on June 7 and tourism awards luncheon and mixologist competition on June 8.
The Queens Tribune will hold its first-ever Caribbean-American Legacy Awards on June 2 at Douglaston Manor, located at 6320 Commonwealth Blvd. in Douglaston. Honorees include a state senator, president of a record company, CEO of a Caribbean-American chamber of commerce, founder of an organization that promotes arts for children, two executives from Queens banks and a deputy inspector from a Queens police precinct.
The event will include networking from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., a dinner and awards from 7 to 9 p.m. and music by Trinidadian pannist Patrick Davis. For more information, call (718) 357-7400, ext. 133.