“Are you Caribbean?”, “Are you American?”, “What do you mean you’re both? How can you be both?” These questions were constantly thrown at me when I moved to Florida at 17 years old. Basically a total nerd my entire academic life, I graduated from high school at 16 and moved to Fort Lauderdale the week I turned 17 to attend college. I quickly learned that mainlanders, or as we say in the Caribbean, “statesiders”, had very little knowledge of the Caribbean outside of Jamaica or the Bahamas. To this day, I tend to roll my eyes when I get asked, “So what part of Jamaica are you from?” Love mi Jamaican bredren dem, but lawd, people need to learn that there are other islands out there!
When I first moved to the mainland, it seemed ridiculous to me that many of the people I met did not know of three little islands in the northern Caribbean Sea called St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John and that, by golly, they were part of the United States of America! (Psssst…Puerto Rico is also part of the US). Everyone born on these islands – Puerto Rico & the United States Virgin Islands – are automatically Americans by birth. Simple, right? Not quite.
As I studied to get my first degree in Travel and Tourism Management/Business Administration from Bauder College, I realized that even some of my professors were confused as to the status of people from the USVI. I got asked for my greencard more than once when I had no idea what that was. Imagine people entrusted to teach others about travel and exploring the world had no idea that these Caribbean islands – which were less than three hours away by air – were an extension of the USA. Just goes to show you, not everyone who is “educated” is actually knowledgeable.
For me being Caribbean-American is a blend of things. My birthplace of St. Croix is a melting pot of its own, and with a significant Puerto Rican population, we Crucians enjoy a good arroz con gandules, lechón, pasteles and chicharrón de pollo like nobody’s business. (We even have the Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship Celebration, every October, which will be in its 55th year in 2019.)
With my family hailing from Anguilla (British) and St. Martin/St. Maarten (French and Dutch), I’ve always been intrigued with languages and cultural norms. Listening to French-tinged zouk and the calypso band, Burning Flames, during our childhood summers in Anguilla was coupled with rocking out to Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Madonna in high school. I loved the Cosby Show and In Living Color as much as I enjoyed watching the Jamaican comedian, Oliver. Weekends at home were made for McDonald’s while on school days we gobbled up my mom’s stewed chicken, rice and pigeon peas with some homemade coleslaw and fried plantain. I read so many Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins novels that the librarian banned me from checking out more than 8 books at a time.
All in all being equally Caribbean and American is having the best of both worlds, in my humble opinion. Our outlook on life is a bit different and our experiences, both on the mainland and at home in the islands, tend to be unique. More on that later!