In New York City, what most people think of as “Latin culture” has long been mostly Caribbean. Caribbean culture is the common Latin mix of Indigenous, European, and African, but also of Asian peoples.
Puerto Rican Day Parade
Three Kings Day Parade
152nd St Festival
116th St Festival
New York Salsa Festival
Puerto Rican Film Festival
Dominican Day Parade
Dominican Film Festival
Fashion Designers of Latin America
Oscar de la Renta
Havana Film Festival
West Indian Day Parade
West Indian Day Parade
“Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination”
The North Equatorial current and the easterly trade winds blow from West Africa directly to Puerto Rico which was also the first good water stop on the route. That made it a strategic location and the Panama Canal increased Puerto Rico’s importance as the gateway to the Caribbean. On some days, we even get Sahara winds in the West Indies.
Cuba is the big Caribbean island. Being the American end of the Spanish galleon route made Havana important and rich. Havana was also the primary slaver’s port of the Spanish Americas. From Havana, the African and Spanish culture that mixed together in eastern Cuba spread across the Americas.
Creole is technically any European mix, but in the Americas it is mostly French-African. The French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue (1659-1804, now Haiti) was the richest Caribbean colony, so its methods influenced the entire region. The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) caused a French, African and Creole diaspora that further influenced the Caribbean.
Most Carnival celebrations follow the Caribbean Carnival traditions of Trinidad.
Regardless of the last colonizer, something essentially Caribbean unites the entire region. Veracruz, Mexico and New Orleans, Louisiana are both Caribbean cities.
African-American culture in the United States begins at Congo Square on Bayou St. John in Tremé, New Orleans, but the culture of Congo Square was Caribbean.
It can be divided into regions or by last colonizer (British, Dutch, French, Spanish, US), but Caribbean culture unites the whole area including the cities of Veracruz, Mexico and New Orleans, Louisiana; and the South American countries of French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname.
One of the surprises of the Caribbean is its Asian cultures which are Chinese and South Asian. Facing violent racism, Chinese workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad in the United States moved on to the Caribbean and built the railroads there. The legendary Puerto Rican Jíbaro (mountain farmers) has Chinese mixed in.
When human slavery was outlawed, British, Dutch and French colonizers brought South Asians from India, but also from what are now Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In fact the largest communities in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname are South Asian. That’s where we get the good curry.
Caribbean New York City
We tend to think of Caribbean New York City by our largest communities which are Puerto Rican and Dominican, but Caribbean New York City is also Cuban, Colombian, Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran.
These are just our largest Spanish-speaking communities. We also have various Creole, French or English speaking Haitian, Jamaican and Trinidadian communities.
The Greater Antilles include the group of big islands of the Caribbean Sea. They are the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti & Dominican Republic), Jamaica and Puerto Rico. South American nations Colombia and Venezuela also have Hispanic Caribbean culture.
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama share Caribbean culture. So do Veracruz, Mexico and New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Lesser Antilles or “West Indies” are a group of smaller islands in the eastern Caribbean. They are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The islands of Trinidad and Tobago, and the South American countries of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana share West Indian culture.
The Simplest Life makes the Wildest Stories
It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”Gabriel García Márquez interviewed by Peter H. Stone for The Paris Review in 1981
Living and working in the Caribbean for a year, in Puerto Rico, I have the simplest, most boring life. Yet just as Márquez said, the true story of how I got here and what happened to me since reads like the wildest imagination. You can’t make this stuff up.
Keith Widyolar, February 17, 2020