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West Indian Americans

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West Indian Americans or Caribbean Americans are Americans who can trace their ancestry to the Caribbean. About 2,532,380 Americans— 0.83% of the total population—reported Caribbean ancestry in 2008.


The Caribbean is the source of the United States' earliest and largest Black immigrant group and the primary source of growth of the Black population in the U.S. The region has exported more of its people than any other region of the world since the abolition of slavery in 1834. While the largest Caribbean immigrant sources to the U.S. are Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Haiti, U.S. citizen migrants also come from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

17th to mid-19th century

The history of African-Caribbean immigration in the United States can be traced back to slavery when the British colonies in the Americas shifted enslaved Africans to different territories, as the demands of capital and plantation economy dictated.

First Africans from the West Indies who arrived in the United States were slaves brought to South Carolina in the 17th century. These slaves, many of whom were born in Africa, number among the first people of African origin imported to the British colonies of North America. 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 bought from the Caribbean increased in the 18th century, as the continental U.S. broadened its trade relations with other Caribbean islands.

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. Nevertheless, between 1715 and 1741 most of the slaves of the colony remained being West Antilles (hailed from Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua). However, after the New York slave revolt of 1741, slaves imported from the Caribbean were severely curtailed, and most enslaved Africans were brought directly from Africa.

Albeit, Caribbean immigration to the United States was relatively small in the first years of 19th century, it grew of significant manner after the American Civil War, in 1865, which brought about the abolition of slavery. In the 19th century the U.S. attracted many Caribbeans 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 Bahamian 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). From the end of the 19th 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.

World War II through the 21st century

Immigration from the region to the U.S. gained momentum during World War II when 50,000 Caribbean, Black and white, arrived in the 1940s, taking advantage of the rapidly expanding war economy and post-war economic growth. Thousands came as legal migrant workers brought to work in agriculture, primarily on Florida’s sugar plantations. By the end of the war, thousands of contract workers from the Caribbean were employed as W2 workers

Most of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America historically have had little tradition of immigration to America, before the 1960s. Post 1965 saw a tremendous influx of rural working-class migrants. Proximity to the U.S., fluency in English and Civil Rights legislation were reasons for the disproportionate numbers of Caribbean outflows.The collapse of agriculture in many islands had devastated their economies, the growing replacement of agriculture by tourism in the Eastern Caribbean had greatly increased the urban population and led to neglect of rural communities as well as greater migration to the U.S. from the Caribbean countryside.

The influx of direct, capital-intensive and labor-intensive foreign investment has accelerated the push to migrate out of the region, to the extent that these investments overwhelmed small-scale agriculture and manufacturing and displace workers who sought jobs elsewhere.

Today, there is a fourth wave of Caribbean migration in United States. The number of Caribbean immigrants grew up from 193,922 in 1960 to 2 million in 2009.

Caribbean American communities

The vast majority of West Indian Americans are of African Afro-Caribbean descent, with the remaining portion mainly made up of multi-racials and Indo-Caribbean people, especially in the Guyanese and Trinidadian communities, where people of Indo-Caribbean descent make up a significant portion of the populations. Over 70 percent of non-Latino Caribbean immigrants were from Jamaica and Haiti, as of 2010. Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, the Bahamas, Barbados, and Grenada, among others, also have significant immigrant populations within the United States. Though sometimes divided by language, West Indian Americans share a common Caribbean culture. Of the Latino population, the Puerto Rican, Dominican, Panamanian, Cuban, and Costa Rican populations are the most culturally similar to the non-Latino West Indian community.


About 69 percent of Caribbean immigrants resided in Florida and New York in 2009. In 2009, Florida had the largest number of resident Caribbean immigrants with 1,388,014, or 40.0 percent of the total Caribbean-born population in the United States, followed by New York (1,008,134, or 29.1 percent).

Other states with relatively large Caribbean immigrant populations (greater than 65,000) included: New Jersey (253,010, or 7.3 percent), Massachusetts (136,578, or 3.9 percent), Georgia (83,735, or 2.4 percent), Connecticut (78,957, or 2.3 percent), Pennsylvania (77,527, or 2.2 percent), and California (72,251, or 2.1 percent).


More than half of Caribbean immigrants either spoke only English or spoke English "very well." In 2009, 33.0 percent of Caribbean immigrants reported speaking only English and 23.9 percent reported speaking English "very well." In contrast, 42.8 percent of Caribbean immigrants were limited English proficient (LEP), meaning they reported speaking English less than "very well." Within this group, 9.7 percent reported that they did not speak English at all, 16.5 percent reported speaking English "well," and 16.7 percent reported speaking English "but not well."


Employed Caribbean immigrants were concentrated in service jobs; construction, extraction, and transportation occupations; and administrative support positions.

Among the 976,931 Caribbean immigrant male workers age 16 and older in 2009, 25.5 percent were employed in construction, extraction, and transportation occupations; 19.5 percent worked in service jobs; and 14.3 percent were in manufacturing, installation, and repair occupations.

Among the 1.0 million Caribbean-born female workers age 16 and older, 21.7 percent reported working in service occupations, 16.5 percent occupied administrative support positions, and 16.2 percent were in healthcare roles.

Related ethnic groups and topics

  • Panamanian American
  • Dominican American
  • Puerto Rican American
  • Cuban American
  • Costa Rican American
  • Brazilian American
  • African American
  • African immigration to the United States
  • List of Countries in the Caribbean
  • History of the Caribbean
  • Afro-Caribbean
  • Indo-Caribbean
  • Spanish Caribbean
  • Contributions to American culture

    There are close to 50 Caribbean carnivals throughout North America that attest to the permanence of the Caribbean immigration experience. West Indians brought music, such as soca, chutney, calypso, reggae, compas (kompa) and now reggaeton, which has a profound impact on U.S. popular culture. Cultural expressions, and the prominence of first-and second-generation Caribbean figures in U.S. labor and grassroots politics for many decades also testify to the long tradition and established presence.

    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.


    West Indian Americans Wikipedia

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