BY NATHAN DUKE
For the past 12 years, June has been recognized as National Caribbean American Heritage Month—and this celebration resonates especially in Queens, which has the largest Indo-Caribbean population among the five boroughs.
In New York City, the combined foreign-born population of Guyanese and Trinidadian residents makes them the third largest group of immigrants across the five boroughs. Guyanese are the second largest immigrant group in Queens, but the borough also has large numbers of residents who were born in Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago.
National Caribbean American Heritage Month 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 2006, the proclamation was issued by President George W. Bush.
Most recently, Caribbean Americans making a splash in the five boroughs have included celebrity chef and travel host Marcus Samuelsson and filmmaker Stefon Bristol. Samuelsson’s new TV show, No Passport Required, will premiere on July 10 on PBS. His July 31 episode will focus on the Indo-Caribbean community and its cuisine—including Trinidadian roti and Guyanese chicken curry—in Richmond Hill. Bristol, who was raised in Brooklyn and is of Guyanese descent, drew the attention of director Spike Lee while making his master’s thesis film, See You Yesterday, which follows the story of two Guyanese boys in New York City. Lee ended up giving Bristol a grant for the film.
A number of prominent Caribbean Americans have taken their place in the United States’ history—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 Shirley Chisholm (whose father was born in British Guyana), 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.
Several elected officials of Caribbean descent currently represent Queens. State Sen. Leroy Comrie’s (D-St. Albans) parents both immigrated from Jamaica, while Assemblywoman Aridia Espinal (D-Jackson Heights) and Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn)—whose district includes a sliver of Queens—were born to parents of Dominican descent. State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) is a first-generation Dominican American, while U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn)—whose district has a small section of Queens—was born in Puerto Rico. Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) moved at a young age to New York City with her parents, who had immigrated from the Caribbean. The Queens Library’s 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.
To celebrate National Caribbean American Heritage Month, the Queens Tribune has put together a special section this week that includes a story on Caribbean Americans who have started businesses in the borough as well as profiles of nine people and one institution being honored at the 2018 Caribbean American Legacy Awards, which will be hosted by the Tribune and its sister paper, the PRESS of Southeast Queens, on June 28 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Douglaston Manor, located at 6320 Commonwealth Blvd. in Douglaston.
This year’s honorees include Gregg Bishop, commissioner of the city’s Department of Small Business Services; Fritz Francois, MD, MSc, FACG, chief medical officer for New York University’s Langone Hospitals; Tessa Hackett-Vieira, a social worker for DC37 as well as a union and community activist; Moya O’Connor, senior trial attorney for MetLife and founder and CEO of Caribbean Attorneys Network, Inc.; Jennifer Maharaj, senior manager of marketing and communications for AgeWell New York; Earl Phillips, secretary treasurer for the Transport Workers Union Local 100; Dennis Ifill, president of DC37 Local 1359; Horace Davis, general manager of quality assurance engineering and program support at Con Edison; Rhonda Binda, Esq., co-founder and VP policy for Venture Smarter and executive director for the Regional Smart Cities Initiative; and the Antigua and Barbuba Progressive Society Inc.
For more information on the event, contact the Queens Tribune at (718) 357-7400, ext. 133.