Invisible No More? –Will Caribbean Immigrants Finally Be Able To Self-Identify On U.S. Census Forms?
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. August 22, 2014: After a battle waged since 2008, the United States government may finally be prepared to recognize Caribbean immigrants and Caribbean Americans in the United States as what they are – a district identity group within the American society.
If the recommendation made by the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations (NAC) to the U.S. Census Bureau is accepted , Caribbean men women and children will no longer look at the Census form to find themselves invisible, and forced to choose from a list of racial and ethnic choices that do not accurately identify them.
NAC late last week adopted recommendations put forth in a report presented by the Census Bureau Race and Hispanic Origin Research Working Group, headed by Haitian-American Dr. Linda Marc-Clerisme, News Americas Now has learnt.
The group recommended that U.S. Census Bureau officials conduct more research and testing on the impact of introducing the option of “Afro-Latino, Afro-Indian, Indo- Caribbean, and Caribbean/West Indian” as examples under the Black or African American example on the newly proposed ‘combined race and origin write in box,’ the report stated.
Felicia Persaud, News Americas Now publisher and founder of Carib ID, the movement founded in 2008 that identified the lack of a category and to push for a Caribbean identification category on U.S. Census forms, responded cautiously to the news coming out of Washington.
“This is one small but significant step for equality for Caribbean nationals but now it’s all in the hands of the Census Bureau to accept the recommendations and make it happen for the 2020 Census,” said Persaud.
The Census form has far more meaning than the ability to check a box to identify who you really are. Census data, once tabulated, and released becomes the basis for government policies and allocation of funds for the next ten years.
Census data directly impacts how more than $400 billion in federal funding is allocated across the country.
If any group of resident is invisible, it will not get a fair share of government attention or funding through a wide range of programs. The Census data likewise becomes essential information used by the private sector in making policy, hiring, and product marketing decisions.
The issue now is if the recommendations will be accepted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Persaud expressed the hope that Census officials will finally see the light in ending the discrimination and giving Caribbean nationals who have been living in the U.S. since slavery an opportunity to finally accurately self-identify on Census forms.
Irwine G. Clare, Sr. OD, managing director of the Caribbean Immigrant Services, Inc. and Advisory Board Member of the Jamaican Diaspora USA, NE, added: “The opportunity for Caribbean nationals to be identified on the Census form must become a reality since it will give furtherance to our celebration of a Caribbean American Heritage Month decree, and will bode well economically and politically for us as a people.”
While Ann Walters, Board member of Carib ID added: “It is high time Caribbean immigrants and their descendants in the United States obtain the ability to be accurately counted on Census forms. We are not African Americans. Our origin is the Caribbean and we must be able to count as such and measure the economic mark we have made and continue to make at every strata of this society.”
“It would be great for them to move forward with this,” commented community activist Chuck Mohan. “It’s what Carib ID has been saying since 2008 since it was the proponent of this from day one. This would be give us a sense of belonging and we deserve this. We need this demographic information on so many levels, our media, our businesses, our non-profits, our community. I hope they can make this reality by 2020.”
CARIBBEAN HISTORY IN THE UNITED STATES
The Caribbean and U.S. history of slavery are intrinsically linked. Africans were transshipped to North America from the Caribbean in increasing numbers in or around the 1600s. Over time, Barbadian slaves would make up a significant part of the Black population in Virginia, mainly in the Virginia tidewater region of the Chesapeake Bay. The number of enslaved Africans imported from the Caribbean decreased after the New York City Slave revolt of 1712, as many white colonists blamed the incident on slaves recently arrived from the Caribbean.
By the 1800s, many freed slaves from the Caribbean made their way to the U.S. to seek a “better life” and by the end of the Spanish American war in 1898, the U.S. emerged as a major destination for Caribbean migrants. So, in the 19th century the U.S. attracted many Caribbean who excelled in various professions such as craftsmen, scholars, teachers, preachers, doctors, inventors, religious (the Barbadian Joseph Sandiford Atwell was the first black man after the Civil War to be ordained in the Episcopal Church), comedians (as the Antiguan Bert Williams), politics (as Robert Brown Elliott, U.S Congressman and Attorney General of South Carolina), poets, songwriters, and activists (as the brothers James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson and William Stanley Braithwaite).
From the end of the nineteenth century up to 1905, most West Indian people emigrated to South Florida, New York and Massachusetts. However, shortly after, New York would become the main destination for the West Indian immigrants.
And while today there is no accurate count of the number of Caribbean immigrants or those with Caribbean ancestry in the U.S., The Census puts the number at a minimal 3.5 million or 9 percent of the total foreign-born population based largely on sample data gathered from the American Community Survey.
More than 90 percent of those immigrants are from Cuba, which has a clear identification category on Census forms. The others are from the Dominican Republic as well as Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Compared to other immigrant groups, the foreign born from the Caribbean are less likely to be new arrivals, tend to have higher levels of English-language proficiency, and become naturalized U.S. citizens at higher rates.
At the same time, Caribbean immigrants are more likely to be older than other immigrant groups and Caribbean men have lower rates of civilian labor force participation, according to the Migration Policy Center.
Famous people born in the Caribbean or of Caribbean ancestry include singers Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Busta Rhymes, Sean Kingston, Gerald Maxwell Rivera, Alicia Keyes, and Lenny Kravitz; actors Sir Sidney Poitier, Kerry Washington, Nia Long, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Romany Malco, Tia and Tamera Mowry. Cuba Godding, Jr., Jada Pinkett Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro, Tatyana Marisol Ali, Zoe Saldana, Rosario Dawson, Derek Luke, Trinidad James, Sean Patrick Thomas, Stacey Dash, Sanya Richard Ross, Melanie Fiona, LL Cool J, Trina, Garcelle Beauvais, Tyga, Karim Dule Hill, Corbin Blue, Kin Fields, Megan Good, Lorraine Toussaint, Ann Marie Horsford, Roxanne Beckford, Jackee Harry, Dawn Lewis, Rick Fox, Aldis Hodge, Lamar Odom, CCH Pounder; models Tyson Beckford and Selita Ebanks; and politicians Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder among numerous others.
So great is the Caribbean immigrant contribution to the United States at all strata of the society, that in June 2005, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted H. Con. Res. 71, sponsored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, recognizing the significance of Caribbean people and their descendants in the history and culture of the United States. Since the declaration, the White House has issued an annual proclamation recognizing June as Caribbean-American Heritage Month.