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Shanique Allen

Upper 61

According to a Diaspora is a large group of people with similar heritage

or homeland who have since moved out to places all over the world. This movement is known as

migration, which can be defined as the movement of people across a specified boundary for the

purpose of establishing new or semi-permanent residence (“Migration”, n.d., para 1). The

Caribbean can be defined in many ways, it can be defined geographically where it is said to

include most of the islands of the Lesser and Greater Antilles, as well as the mainland territories

of Central America and Northern South America such as Venezuela and Columbia. It can also be

defined historically, in this sense it is the area that saw the impact of European colonization,

slavery, indentureship and the plantation system. These are the countries that experienced the

rule of European people such as the Spanish, Dutch, French and English. From that definition it

is seen that the countries in the region share the same or similar cultural or historical experiences.

A number of factors led to the migration of Caribbean people to countries such as the United

States, the United Kingdom and Canada etc. these factors include historical factors as well as

factors relating to the size of the countries and by extent the opportunities that Caribbean people

have. Although migration may be disadvantageous to the region in some ways, on the other hand

the Diasporic community has contributed a great deal to the Caribbean and its identity. Identity is

a difficult term to define since it is very relative, it can be loosely thought of as the ideas, beliefs

and/or expressions of an individual or a group of people. Identity is seen as a socially constructed

concept since it is influenced by our families and peers. We construct our identities however
through experiences, emotions, connections and rejections. The people of the Caribbean although

diverse in many ways are all common because of these differences. We all share a common

culture as stated before. The Caribbean culture can be defined as the way of life of its people.

Each island has a unique cultural identity shaped by the European colonialists, the African

Heritage of slaves and the Indian tribes who were here before.

Over the past century and a half, migration has been viewed by Caribbean people as one

of the main means of acquiring capital both social and economical. This is why the rate of

migration of Caribbean people has been so high and the acceptance for migrants from the

Caribbean has also contributed to the willingness for them to leave their homeland. Caribbean

migration reflects variations on the basis of the purpose for the movement –work, education,

accompanying persons - combined with length of stay at the destination – long-term or short-

term. It is difficult to establish rigid time-frames for what constitutes a long-stay migrant and

there are many variations in all these migration activities that characterize the pattern of the

overall movement. However, a classification would include the following general types of

migration: long-stay residence (for work, study or as accompanying persons); short-stay

(including contract labour/guest worker schemes); return migration. The major migration of

Caribbean peoples up to the mid-20th century was transmigration between the Caribbean islands

and the mainland of Central America. They migrated to this mainly to Panama because of work,

since labour was needed to aid in building the Panama railroads. However not all of them

worked in the country, others sought out employment in Latin-American countries on

plantations, in the mining industry or building railroads. After slavery was abolished in America,

planters then began to seek temporary workers called “swallow migrants” to help harvest their

crops annually. Also, during World War II, a number of Caribbean mean were recruited for
service on many American bases. Men and a few women were also recruited by the British

during World War II to fight in the war. However, with the increasing restrictiveness of British

immigration policy and the converse opening up of the United States and Canada to West Indian

migrants, North America became, and has remained, the main destination. There are two main

factors which may influence a person to migrate; push and pull factors. Push and Pull factors are

forces that can either induce people to move to a new location or oblige them to leave old

residences; they can be economic, political, cultural, and environmentally based. Some pull

factors include higher wages and attractive benefits, more job opportunities, possibility of

permanent residency and a supportive network of family and friends. Push factors which may

encourage people to migrate include lack of resources, unavailability of job opportunities and

overpopulation. Migration can affect the home country negatively in a number of ways; it can

result in a brain drain when individuals leave the country to live abroad and reduce the level of

skills available in their country, it also leads to the loss of human capital and the reduction in

productivity. In contrast, migration can contribute to the economy of countries when money

earned by Caribbean nations in foreign countries is sent home to support their families reducing

poverty and making foreign exchange available for their respective countries.

During the days of slavery, ancestors of Caribbean people were not allowed to

practice their own culture, they were forced to adapt to the European way of life and succumb to

their way of life. Although at the time this was a major issue, it still helped to form the many

different diverse cultures in the Caribbean today. These ideas and beliefs were passed down from

generations and they contributed to the way in which the Caribbean identity is shaped today. To

a large extent, the Caribbean Diasporic communities have influenced the formation of Caribbean

identity in many ways and forms such as festivals, music, in the field of sports etc. When
migrants leave the Caribbean to live abroad it carries with them their cultural practices. Today

these have evolved into popular festivals. For example; the Trinidad and Tobago carnival,

became a part of the way of life of the people of England, through the Notting hill

Carnival. Also, there is the Caribana festival which is held in Toronto and the Brooklyn Labour

Day celebrations. These festivals allow members of the Diasporic community to indulge in

certain aspects of their culture even though they are not at home, it is a constant reminder of

parts of their identity and it encourages them to embrace the uniqueness of their culture.

In many areas such as New York or London, many businesses such as restaurants, beauty

salons, and clothing stores are owned by Caribbean people. By offering its products to the public,

members of the Diaspora and also individuals who live in the host country are introduced to

pieces of our culture. They sometimes become fascinated with it until it starts to become a part of

their daily lives as well. There is also the fact that produce from the region such as such as jerk

seasoning, sweet potatoes, ginger, canned ackee and salted fish are being sold in local

supermarkets and are readily available for the consumers. Music also plays an immense role in

Caribbean identity abroad, reggae and soca music are now regularly played and performed all

over the world by people from the Caribbean region. Reggae, to a greater extent than calypso or

soca, has developed a following among non- Caribbean people. It is said that this interest began

with the protest music of Bob Marley’s early recordings and it was adopted, particularly by the

youth of the world. His music also had strong themes of peace, love and brotherhood, again

relevant to the concerns not only of the youth but mankind. The tuning and playing of the

steelpan have become popular in some schools and colleges abroad. Every year in Trinidad and

Tobago many of the top steel bands preparing for the annual Panorama Competition take on a

few players from the metropolis who is, for the most part, studying the art form.
Through sports, there is a unification of the Caribbean people no matter what country the

athlete is from, it is guaranteed that people from the entire Caribbean region will be rooting for

that person along with feeling a sense of pride from their achievements. Also, individuals who

are a part of the Diaspora tend to be more grateful for having other people from the Caribbean

where they are. Living in a country that is not yours, experiencing someone else’s’ culture makes

one feel homesick and out of place therefore, when they stumble upon someone from their

homeland it brings a feeling which reassures them that they are actually not alone.

In conclusion, the Diasporic community influences the identity of Caribbean people to a

large extent and without this group of people then the Caribbean region, it’s food, it’s music, it’s

culture would not be nearly as appreciated as it is in modern day society.