New York City’s status as a melting pot is most exposed in its Caribbean neighborhoods

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A neighborhood’s main street is the fastest way to cross it, but in New York’s Caribbean neighborhoods, main avenues are the lifeblood of the community.

The avenues of any enclave are lined with diverse businesses and restaurants, joyful energy pours into the streets through music and colorful exhibits, produce stalls filled with plantains, prickly pears and yuca roots. Made up of nearly 30 countries and half a dozen commonly spoken languages, the multiplicity of the Caribbean community is a living example of what sets the city apart.

“New York is the Caribbean capital of the world. It is the largest and most diverse Caribbean community outside of the Caribbean itself, ”said Shelly Worrell, Founder of to be transported, an organization that showcases and celebrates Caribbean culture in the city.

Immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Guyana make up two of the city’s five largest foreign-born populations, with six of ten groups being from Caribbean countries. These numbers belied the deep roots of many second and third generation Caribbean Americans here in New York City, with entrenched communities like Richmond Hill in Queens, Crown Heights and 2East Flatbush in Brooklyn. Worrell, the daughter of Trinidadian immigrants, spearheaded the designation of the Little Caribbean East Flatbush neighborhood which was officially recognized by the city in the fall of 2017.

“There are three Chinatowns in New York, there are two Little Italy, some groups of immigrants who came after the Caribbean got designations. So why not us ? Especially since, you know, I’m afraid that in 50 years the neighborhood will not be as Caribbean as it is today, or as it was 10 or 20 years ago, ”said Worrell.

Gentrification continues to expand from Manhattan and west Brooklyn to the rest of the five boroughs, a process that ultimately changes the neighborhoods it slips into. For many immigrant and marginalized communities, living with those who share your culture can be of critical importance.

“Being able to find your food, hear your music, speak your language, all of that, it really gives you that sense of place and of belonging, especially if you’re an immigrant and you’re thousands of miles away. miles away from home or what was once home, ”Worrell said.

The popular meal at Trini-Girl in Brooklyn: double. The double consists of two pieces of dough with boiled chickpeas and a tamarind sauce. It is also known as “Bara”, but is casually referred to as a double because it is made from two pieces of flat bread.Photo by Nathan Morris
Worker at Singh’s Roti Shop & Bar on Liberty Avenue serving a typical Guyanese dish Pepperpot (a meat stew with spices such as cinnamon, hot peppers and cassareep) over rice. November 10, 2021.Photo by Nikol Mudrova

Guyanese-American Grace Aneiza Ali, general curator of the Institute of the African Diaspora of the Caribbean Cultural Center, believes that migration occupies an important place in the history of the peoples of the Caribbean. In a reversal of the common immigration narrative, much of the large-scale migration to the United States from the Caribbean has been led by women.

“From the 50s, 60s, then in the 70s, there was this immense need for blue collar jobs. Nursing jobs, domestic care jobs, healthcare workers, nannies. So above the table or under the table, these kinds of jobs. My mother brought our whole family in 1995, ”Ali said.

The American West Indian communities were among those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of this, according to Ali, is that many continue to work in the types of blue-collar occupations that make the city work.

“We are still caregivers for the elderly, catering workers, bus drivers,” Ali said. “When you talk about Queens and Brooklyn and the Bronx being so affected – it’s people from the Caribbean who were dying at the onset of COVID. “

A challenge in speaking to the Caribbean-American community as a whole is its diversity. Choosing a way to be in America – being black or Latino or an ambiguous mix of heritages – can often be a complex process for Americans of Caribbean descent.

“In general, to be a Caribbean person comes from many heritages. There is no box on the census for that, ”Ali said.

Many Americans of Caribbean descent will check “other” when they try to choose to fit in boxes that do not correctly identify them if and when they complete the census. Nearly 50 million Americans, or almost one in seven, do the same.

“If you’re going to be giving options, then shouldn’t you be giving all the options?” Why are there five options? Is that all there is in America? Five options? Is that the message? Ali said.

A man is seen walking down Nostrand Ave with a live chicken. Passers-by were watching, laughing and photographing with their cell phones. Some even shouted “roast chicken” as he started to walk away.Photo by Nathan Morris
Chelsea Marius, 16, from Bed-Stuy frequently comes to Crown Heights with her friends, and she also goes to school there. She said that when she was older she wanted to be a filmmaker. “I like to watch everything behind the scenes with movies,” Marius said. “I want to make a movie someday.”Photo by Nathan Morris
People seated outside the Sikh Cultural Society of New York’s Gurudwara on 118th Street in Richmond Hill. November 10, 2021.Photo by Nikol Mudrova

An optimistic future

As the pandemic continues to loom over daily life, many Americans of Caribbean descent look forward to the New Year with optimism.

With future mayor Eric Adams, the city welcomes a roster of new municipal government officials, including a record number of Caribbean Americans. City council member Farah Louis, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, was re-elected in District 45, hopes to continue her role as an advocate for the community in which she was born and raised.

“I believe the Caribbean community is the lifeblood of small businesses, especially when it comes to food. If you walk down Flatbush Avenue, you can get Haitian food, Jamaican food, Trinidadian food, ”Louis said. “We all come together through food, which is a major component of Caribbean culture, as well as our music. “

Coming out of the pandemic, Louis intends to work with his colleagues to continue to focus and solve some of the most pressing issues for Caribbean-American New Yorkers.

“If you ask a Caribbean American what the biggest problems are, whether you own or rent here in New York, housing is a major problem. Housing in the basement has been a route to affordable housing for Americans of Caribbean origin, ”said Louis.

Flatbush, Brooklyn Photo by Julia Bonvita
Flatbush, Brooklyn Photo by Julia Bonvita

A pilot program to legalize basement housing loss of funding in the early stages of the pandemic as the city’s priorities changed. Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio believes that 50,000 illegal basement apartments exist in all five boroughs, many of which are the only affordable housing option for immigrants of all kinds. Louis said that with affordable housing, access to health care and strengthening businesses in neighborhoods undergoing gentrification were high on his priorities.

“What I’ll say about 2022, we’ll see more people merge and come together, merge for a better New York City,” Louis said. “And that’s for the Caribbean and everyone. I am so excited about what we are going to do collectively.

Learn more about New York’s Caribbean community on this podcast produced by Reporting New York and Reporting the Nation.

Editor’s Note: This article was produced by members of the Reporting New York and Reporting the Nation program of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. We thank the university and the program director, Yvonne Latty, for sharing their report with us. Learn more about the program at journalism.nyu.edu.


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