Trinidad in Brooklyn: “A Story of Caribbean Striving”

January 30, 2009

We’ve been talking a lot about how African-American culture differs from American culture lately. However, I’ve been feeling a little constricted in my objectives since I have never identified with African-American culture per say, really until I entered Spelman College. I will give my explanation a bit more formally in my WebCT post, but just to explain a little better here is what I identify with in American culture.

My mom and dad immigrated to America in 1968 and where did they land?

brooklynBrooklyn, of course! Just as Atlanta is often referred to as the “Black Mecca,” Brooklyn is hands down America’s “West Indian Mecca.” Despite the fact I was born and raised in New Jersey, Brooklyn still harbors most o my American situated family and has truly been my second hometown for most of my life. For me, Brooklyn represents the West Indian American’s narrative. This is THE SPOT immigrants from Jamaica, to Trinidad, to Guyana, to Belize and everywhere in between land upon entering the U.S. 

I found this interesting article on written by Janny Scott that attested to the spirit of West Indian women [reminds me of my mom as a single parent in Brooklyn in the 70’s]. It’s called ‘In Brooklyn Woman’s Path, A Story of Caribbean Striving.”  

Here’s a few passages from the article I found most striking and dead on! 

  • Women make up 57 percent of the city’s Caribbean population, an analysis of new data from the 2000 census shows. There is a much higher rate of female labor force participation among West Indians than in the city at large, and they are more likely to be working full time.
  • Though Caribbean New Yorkers have lower median earnings than African immigrants and African-Americans, they are less likely to be living in poverty, the data show. They are more likely to live in owner-occupied housing and in single-family homes. And the average value of the homes is relatively high.
  • The percentage of households headed by women is higher for West Indians than for Africans and is not far below that for African-Americans, but in those West Indian households there are more people working. Among those groups, West Indians have the highest percentage of families headed by women with two and three workers, and the lowest percentage with none.
  • Many New Yorkers, especially those who have spent time in a hospital or contemplated hiring a domestic worker, have probably sensed what the data illuminate in detail: In the successes of the city’s West Indian population and in the economic vitality of neighborhoods like Mrs. Reid’s, women play a pivotal role.
  • ”It gives us an insight into our society. It tells us about how a particular gender found ways to navigate the turbulent waters of New York City. Often people know these stories on a one-to-one basis or anecdotally, but they don’t understand it in toto.”
  • The society in which Mrs. Reid grew up was one in which women worked. Her grandmother, who raised her, was a cook who worked into her 80’s. ”Nothing comes easy, Patsy,” she would tell her granddaughter, using a pet name. ”You’ve got to work to get whatever you want.”
  • West Indian men are ”fairly patriarchal, quite frankly,” said Milton Vickerman, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who specializes in race and immigration. ”So you can see how that would lead to problems. Why would a woman, having been independent for a few years, want to go back to that?”

These passages introduce one aspect of how West Indian American culture differs from both African-American and American culture in regards to the matriarch vs patriarch roles.


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