Half-century of independence

June once again marked a proudly celebrated Caribbean Heritage Month across the United States in recognition of significant social and cultural contributions reinforced by shared cultures, languages, religious traditions and culinary tastes. The United States is a stronger union from the contributions of this complex and diverse group of people who make up the emerging Caribbean demographic in the American fabric.

For Jamaica and the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the celebration continues to mark the 50th anniversaries of independence. At midnight Aug. 5, 1962, Jamaica hoisted with pride the symbolic colors of nationhood — the black, gold and green. On Aug. 31, 1962, Trinidad and Tobago similarly bid farewell to colonial “Rule Britannia” and proudly waved their “black, white and red.” The rejoicing in the capitals of Kingston and Port of Spain were in later years to be replicated across the Anglophone Caribbean inspired by the consciousness of leadership and populations who were world citizens not by any stretch of the imagination confined to their geographic borders. Regional arbiters of self-rule in the Latin-Caribbean hemisphere had also long included the pioneering Haiti in 1804, and the bordering South and Central American states since 1821.

In the post-Colonial Caribbean, that coming of age saw the adoption of constitutions and parliamentary arrangements that ensured the protection of civil liberties and the proliferation of social, economic and political rights. A major push towards self-rule had occurred between 1958 and 1962 when British-controlled states were integrated into a West Indies Federation. But this effort, which presaged the European Union, failed to win for the future the envisaged Caribbean Union.

Eventually, the former British colonies achieved independence in their own right. First, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago (1962), then Barbados and Guyana (1966) followed in the defining decades of the 1970s and 1980s by others (Bahamas, Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, Belize, Suriname). All would eventually also ratify the Caribbean Community & Common Market Charter, the CARICOM’s Treaty of Chaguaramas (1974) formalizing regionalism.

Fifty years later, debate naturally attends the Caribbean’s evolution. Are the dreams and ideals of the founding fathers of independent, prosperous democracies being realized or enhanced progressively through early regional institutions like CARICOM; the Association of Caribbean States; the regional University of the West Indies and even, that mystery to the uninitiated, the symbolic touchstone of the West Indies Cricket Team?

Expectations of statehood, in the delivery of public goods, liberalized economies, social development and the preservation of democratic values and national culture, must all now be achieved within the context of the contemporary international order. Oftentimes, the framework seems to militate against vulnerable developing economies, but, proudly, the Caribbean Region has been a bastion of stability. Our record of constitutionalism, competitive electoral processes and governmental changes via the ballot, even where characterized by intense political rivalry, is impressive and sustainable.

Commendable attainments in foreign direct investment, financial and physical infrastructure, trained human resources and positive human development indices add effectively to the presence of “America’s Third Border.” And, the scenic beauty of our islands competes only with the warmth of our people.

Our independent Caribbean nations produce talented and industrious diaspora emissaries, many of whom settled traditionally in the United States. They carry with them cultural traditions, entrepreneurial spirit, and vibrant personalities as they strive for progress. They are part of the confluence of cultural influences in the dynamic international economy of the U.S. embracing with vigor the “American Dream.”

In the Southern United States, too, our Jamaican-Americans and others of Caribbean heritage, factor as leaders in politics, law, academia, health and social services, cultural arts, or business. The economic contribution of such migrant groups to the reality of this great state as the “Gateway to the Americas” is reflected in the facilitative presence of the international business community, the numerous consulates and foreign trade promotion offices and savvy international investors.

Caribbean Americans characterize cultural pluralism — creating new market forces for ethnic products, services, trade and investment collaborations. Exotic Caribbean heritage infusions create the authenticity of the global Florida experience through colorful and robust expressions like Jamaican Jerk Festival, Miami-Broward One Carnival or Compas Fest. Do we impact the fabric of life in the State of Florida with an infectious Caribbean rhythm? Indeed, we play not only soca-calypso and reggae, we also play cricket in Broward — a county conventionally confirmed as home to the this country’s fastest growing Caribbean-American population.

This year presents a timely occasion to mark with two young nations the first 50 years of independent nationhood. Geographic delimitations are suspended as we celebrate “Golden Jubilees” in our homelands, and likewise within the grand demographic contour of the rich American landscape making our culture now yours to hold and share.

Sandra Grant Griffiths serves as consul general of Jamaica, Miami, with jurisdiction for the southern United States, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands.

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