Caribbean American Heritage Month


Every June, we celebrate Caribbean American Heritage Month, recognizing the great historical contributions of various peoples whose roots can be traced to the countries that make up the Caribbean subregion of the Americas.

Celebrating Caribbean American Heritage Month text on a navy blue graphic surrounded by plant illustrations.

After the success of an advocacy campaign launched in 2004, Caribbean American Heritage Month was recognized for the first time on a federal level on June 5, 2006, when then-President George W. Bush issued a presidential proclamation to establish the month of June as a time to "celebrate the great contributions of Caribbean Americans to the fabric of our Nation, and [to] pay tribute to the common culture and bonds of friendship that unite the United States and the Caribbean countries."

Caribbean Americans have always been at the forefront of U.S. history: Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s first Treasury Secretary, for example, was himself an immigrant from the Colony of Nevis in the British Leeward Islands. In fact, Caribbean immigration to the United States can be traced as far back as 1613, when historical records show that Juan Rodriguez from the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (today’s Dominican Republic) was the first non-indigenous person to settle in New Amsterdam, the area that would eventually become downtown New York City.

Not all migration was voluntary, however; during the 17th to 19th centuries, many Africans were forcibly brought to British colonies of the Caribbean as slaves. Once the slave trade became illegal in the British Empire in 1807,  South Asians and East Asians, in particular, were brought to present-day Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago as indentured laborers. 

When slavery in the U.S. was abolished after the end of the Civil War in 1865, migration from the Caribbean grew significantly. Most Caribbean immigrants at the time were fleeing from poverty, and destructive hurricanes, droughts, and floods in their homelands. While in 1850, there were 4,000 U.S. residents of Caribbean descent, the population grew to more than 20,000 in 1900, and almost 100,000 in 1930.

As of 2016, 13 million people living in the United States—or 4% of the U.S.’s total population—have Caribbean ancestry, with New York City boasting the highest Caribbean population in the country among all U.S. cities. These communities trace their roots back to Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, and include a mix of cultures, religions, and languages. In fact, several languages spoken in Caribbean nations—such as Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole are among the top spoken languages in New York City.  

Today, the largest Caribbean immigrant groups to the U.S. are from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, and have often settled in vibrant communities like "Little Haiti" in Brooklyn, where their culture and contributions are always on full display. U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have also migrated to mainland U.S. in large numbers. 

Since the 2006 declaration, the White House has issued an annual proclamation in recognition of Caribbean American Heritage Month. In his his 2023 proclamation, President Joseph Biden Jr. celebrated , “the generations of Caribbean Americans who literally built this country—bringing tremendous hope and energy to bear as small business owners, teachers, health care workers, military service members, union organizers, community leaders, and so much more.”

This June, and all year long, we encourage our families to explore the resources below to learn more about Caribbean Americans and their vibrant and diverse community, and their impact on this country, and particularly the fabric of this multicultural City.

Events, Exhibitions, and Places to Visit

    Reading List

    The following book suggestions, by grade, are about Caribbean history and experience that families and educators can read with their students in 3K through grade 12, this month and beyond. We hope you will enjoy and learn from these outstanding titles—some are historical and non-fiction by nature, while others are original works of fiction that feature characters of Caribbean ancestry and perspectives that are often not reflected in other popular works.

    Early Readers (3K–Grade 2)

    • Across the Bay, by Carlos Apontes
    • Alicia Alonso Dances On by Rose Viña; illustrated by Gloria Felix
    • Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa by Veronica Chambers
    • Climb On!, by Baptiste Paul; illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
    • Haiti A to Z, by M.J. Fievre; illustrated by Anastasia Khmelevska
    • If Dominican Were a Color, by Sili Recio; illustrated by Brianna McCarthy
    • Islandborn, by Junot Diaz; illustrated by Leo Espinosa
    • A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voiceby Nadia L. Hohn; illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
    • Sélavi, That is Life, by Youme Landowne
    • Starting Over in Sunset Park, by José Pelaez and Lynn McGee; illustrated by Bianca Diaz

    Elementary (Grades 3–5)

    • Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, by Hilda Eunice Burgos
    • Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings, by Francie LaTour; Ken Daley
    • Coming Up Cuban, by Sonia Manzano
    • Each Tiny Spark, by Pablo Cartaya
    • Eight Days: A Story of Haiti, by Edwidge Danticat; illustrated by Alix Delinois
    • How Tia Lola Came to Stay, by Julia Alvarez
    • If You Read This, Kereen Getten
    • The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste
    • My Day With the Panye, by Tami Charles; illustrated by Sara Palacios
    • Nightmare Island, by Shakirah Bourne

    Middle School (Grades 6–8)

    • 90 Miles to Havana, by Enrique Flores-Galbis
    • Aniana del Mar Jumps In, by Jasminne Mendez
    • Behind the Mountains, by Edwidge Danticat
    • Forest World, by Margarita Engle
    • Gone to Drift, Diana McCauly
    • Hurricane Child, Kacen Callender
    • Josephine and the Sea, by Shakirah Bourne
    • Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa, by Julian Randall
    • Rooting for Rafael Rosales, by Kurtis Scaletta
    • Serafina's Promise, by Ann E. Burg
    • When Life Gives You Mangos, by Kereen Getten

    Upper Grades (Grades 9–12)

    • American Street, by Ibi Zoboi
    • Analee, in Real Life, by Janelle Milanes
    • Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, by Maika and Maritza Moulite
    • Facing the Sun, by Janice Lynn Mather
    • Funny Gyal: My Fight Against Homophobia in Jamaica, by Angeline Jackson with Susan McClelland
    • Hold Tight, Don't Let Go, by Laura Rose Wagner
    • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, by Julia Alvarez
    • Hurricane Summer, by Asha Ashanti Bromfield
    • The Making of Yolanda la Bruja, by Lorraine Avila
    • Where the Rhythm Takes You, by Sarah Dass

    Many of these books are readily available via New York’s public libraries, as well as through the Citywide Digital Library available on Sora for our students, featuring thousands of titles in e-book and audiobook formats. You can check out Sora's Caribbean American Heritage Month collection for even more great recommended reads! 

    Educator Resources

    Hidden Voices

    Hidden Voices began as a collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York that was initiated to help City students learn about the countless individuals who are often "hidden" from traditional historical records. Each of the people highlighted in the series has made a positive impact on their communities while serving as outstanding examples of leadership, advocacy, and community service. There are several curriculum options available that are especially relevant during Caribbean American Heritage Month, including:

    In addition to these lessons, we regularly feature profiles on history-making individuals who could be considered to be “hidden voices.” During Caribbean American History Month, check out our profiles on:

    • Dr. Helen Rodríguez-Trías, a doctor and activist of Puerto Rican descent who played a pivotal role in the women’s health movement by advocating for the rights and freedoms of Latina women and other marginalized communities throughout her career.
    • Antonia Pantoja, a Puerto Rican activist and educator known for fighting for the rights of her community, especially in New York City.

    You can find more of our profiles throughout the year on our Hidden Voices webpage.