Black Immigrants of the Caribbean: An Invisible and Forgotten Community

Article excerpt

The number of black Caribbean immigrants in America is growing with the most prevalent countries of origin being the Bahamas, Haiti, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago (Schmidley & United States Bureau of the Census, 2001). According to the Bureau of Census (2000), nearly 2.8 million foreign-born immigrants come from the Caribbean region, yet these groups remain largely invisible in America (Waters, 1999).

Until recently, there was very little attention given to understanding the experiences of black Caribbean immigrants. This is because, as immigrants, their status is overshadowed by immigration related to Mexico and other Latin American countries--regions that, along with Asia, represent the Largest flow of immigrants to America since the 1980s (Schmidley & U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2001). Doe to their physical appearance, they are often seen as part of the black American community, despite differences in language, culture, and religion.

Their "invisibility" means that they are not seen as having to face unique issues or having distinct needs. This invisibility, along with the stereotypical images of life in the Caribbean, requires examination for adult education programs serving black Caribbean immigrants. This article explores some of the issues facing Caribbean Americans and bow, from an adult educator's perspective, these issues impact adult learning.

Economic Reality and Patterns of Immigration

The emigration of black Caribbean persons to the United States can be understood as part of a global pattern of labor migration from poorer countries to wealthier ones (Butcher, 1994). This movement is propelled by the expansion of the global capitalist economy under the hegemony of U.S. economic interests. Where the former colonial powers--England, Spain, and France--dominated the histories and economies of the islands of the Caribbean, the United States has emerged as the dominant economic force in the region and prompted many persons to migrate to America in search of economic opportunity (Daneshvary, 1994).

Poverty rates throughout the Caribbean are high: 80% in Haiti, 34% in Jamaica, and 21% in Trinidad and Tobago (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Directorate of Intelligence, 2001). The economy of the region is fragile, although individual islands such as Puerto Rico and Bahamas have comparatively strong economies. Because of the media images of idyllic Caribbean islands, most Americans are unaware of the economic and social problems facing Caribbean residents.

Acculturation Issues

Black Caribbean immigrants do not arrive in the United States as empty cultural containers waiting to be Americanized. They come with perceptions, images, and values on issues of race, class, and gender relations that are shaped by the home country Similarly, they display multiple forms of identity related to the diverse racial, ethnic, and urban contexts in which they settle and work.

For the majority, of Caribbean immigrants, incorporation into American society is a two-fold process. First, most immigrant workers are integrated into the service sector of the economy, which means they have a relatively weak position in the labor market. Second, because race is fundamental in the American social hierarchy, access to resources, rewards, and power as a black immigrant is significantly limited (Hacker, 1992). Consequently, for many black Caribbean immigrants, there is a clear understanding that categories of race and ethnicity as defined in American society are different than in many Caribbean societies. These definitions are used to mark boundaries of social location and therefore place black Caribbean immigrants in a kind of double jeopardy as they seek employment and education opportunities as immigrants.

It must be understood that the nations of the Caribbean are also characterized by linguistic diversity in addition to separate histories of colonization and liberation. …