Philip Kasinitz, Caribbean New York

By Mitchell, Michael | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 31, 1993 | Go to article overview
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Philip Kasinitz, Caribbean New York


Mitchell, Michael, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


Philip Kasinitz, Caribbean New York

In the first few pages of Caribbean New York, Philip Kasinitz makes note of two revealing facts. One is that, with respect to the number of participants involved, New York's annual West Indian Labor Day Carnival overshadows to a considerable degree the city's other ethnic celebrations including the more traditional Saint Patrick's day, Columbus day, and San Juan festivals. More startling still is the fact that the annual Caribbean festival was held recently without incident shortly after the outbreak of a bitter conflict between the Hasidic and Black communities of Crown Heights, the customary site of New York's West Indian Carnival. Kasinitz wonders ruefully in his introductory pages how a community of such size and of such apparent discipline as to stage a public event of ominous potential with far less disturbing result could have been ignored for so long. Caribbean New York goes a long way toward correcting this oversight. In the process Kasinitz draws a portrait of a community coming into its own and making its presence felt within the complex multicultural environment of New York City.

Kasinitz's descriptive and analytical sweep is broad but compact. In two hundred or so pages he raises important theoretical issues of immediate concern to social scientists. In addition, he provides a comprehensive and accessible history of the English-speaking Caribbean community.

Kasinitz divides his study into two parts. In the first he traces the growth of the English-speaking Caribbean community to two distinct waves of immigration. In the first wave, covering a period roughly between the first decades of the twentieth century and on through the onset of the Great Depression, Kasinitz notes an Afro-Caribbean community following the patterns of economic booms, so-called pull factors, that attracted Caribbean labor first to the more prosperous of the Caribbean Islands and then to the U.S. mainland. Initially these early migrants settled rather reasonably among native African-Americans. They were somewhat content to subdue their their own Caribbean distinctiveness as a gesture of accommodation to the African-American communities into which they were being absorbed. This was a group nevertheless that was uniquely poised to take advantages of the political opportunities created by the Democratic Party's newly found interest in a Black constituency. The most famous and astute of these Caribbean Democrats was J. Raymond Jones whose sobriquet, "the Harlem Fox", captures his own achievement as one of the last effective leaders of New York's Regular Democratic Party.

The second wave of Caribbean immigration came in the wake of the Hart-Cellars Act of 1965 which lifted the quotas on immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean. It allowed for an unprecedented number of Caribbean migrants to arrive in New York and with their increased numbers came circumstances which their predecessors did not confront. Kasinitz devotes the better part of his theoretical energies to this second wave. Here he draws a sociological profile which portrays the occupational structure of the Caribbean Community whose misfortune had been to have arrived at precisely the point at which the economy of New York was undergoing a transformation from one based primarily on manufacturing, to one based on finance and services. The impact of this was to concentrate the new immigrants into low wage service sector jobs particularly in the health care industry. And even though the dream of rapid upward mobility remains an ideal, according to Kasinitz it has become an even more difficult goal to achieve.

Kasinitz in his sociological analysis also takes the opportunity to rebut the claims of conservative observers that Caribbean migrants have been more successful at overcoming the barriers of racism than native African-Americans.

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