Stating that America’s diversity is and always has been the defining strength of the nation, United States President Joseph “Joe” Biden on Monday proclaimed June National Caribbean-American Heritage Month.
“In every generation, our society, spirit and shared ambitions have been refreshed by wave after wave of immigrants seeking out their American dream,” said Biden in a White House Proclamation. “Throughout our history, Caribbean Americans have brought vibrant cultures, languages, traditions and values that strengthen our country and add new chapters to our common story.
“In recognition of Caribbean Americans’ countless gifts and contributions to our nation, we celebrate National Caribbean-American Heritage Month,” he added.
The US president said Caribbean Americans have made America “more innovative and more prosperous.
“They have enriched our nation’s arts and culture, our public institutions and our economy,” he said. “I am honored to celebrate this National Caribbean-American Heritage Month alongside Caribbean-American barrier-breaking public servants in my administration — including Vice President, Kamala Harris, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro, Mayorkas, Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, and Domestic Policy Advisor, Susan Rice — all of whom continue to be sources of pride and inspiration for Caribbean Americans across the country.”
Biden said Caribbean-American intellects and artists — such as James Weldon Johnson, the poet who gave America the anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; celebrated neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat; and John B. Russwurm, the first Caribbean-American editor of a US newspaper — “have left a lasting impact on our country.”
He also said Caribbean-American jurists like Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman appointed to the Federal bench, and the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, “have made innumerable contributions to the American justice system.”
In addition, the US president said Shirley Chisholm, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, whose mother was Barbadian and father Guyanese, “blazed new trails as our nation’s first Black Congresswoman and the first Black woman to launch a major party bid for the presidency.”
Public servants such as Antonia Novello, America’s first female surgeon general, and Colin Powell, the first Black US secretary of state, whose parents hailed from Jamaica, have followed in Chisholm’s footsteps, “charting new paths of their own in service to the American people,” Biden said.
But he added that, despite the powerful legacy of achievement of Caribbean Americans, many members of the Caribbean-American community continue to face systemic barriers to equity, opportunity and justice.
“Systemic racism has uniquely impacted Black and Latino immigrant communities, including Caribbean Americans, leading to disparities in health care, education, housing, criminal justice and economic opportunity,” the US president said. “My administration is committed to addressing those entrenched disparities and to bringing our nation closer to its promise that all people are created equal, and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives.
“That is why I have launched a whole-of-government approach to advancing racial justice and equity,” he added. “During National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, we celebrate the legacy and essential contributions of Caribbean Americans who have added so much to our American fabric.
“Now, therefore, I, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2021 as National Caribbean-American Heritage Month,” he declared. “I encourage all Americans to join in celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Caribbean Americans with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
Biden also declared June National Immigrant Heritage Month.
“America is, always has been, and always will be a nation of immigrants,” he said. “It was the premise of our founding; it is reflected in our Constitution; it is etched upon the Statue of Liberty — that ‘from her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome.’
“During National Immigrant Heritage Month, we reaffirm and draw strength from that enduring identity, and celebrate the history and achievements of immigrant communities across our nation,” he added. “Across each generation throughout our history, wave after wave of immigrants have enriched our nation and made us better, stronger, more innovative and more prosperous.
“The American story includes the story of courageous families who ventured here — be it centuries ago, or just this year — from every part of the world to seek new possibilities and help to forge our nation,” Biden continued. “In every era, immigrant innovators, workers, entrepreneurs and community leaders have fortified and defended us, fed us and cared for us, advanced the limits of our thinking, and broken new ground.”
After an especially difficult period marked by both the Covid-19 pandemic and the “all-too-frequent demonization of immigrants,” he said it is “vital that our nation reflect on the leadership, resilience and courage shown by generations of immigrant communities, and recommit ourselves to our values as a welcoming nation.”
Biden said he is “honored to serve alongside Vice President Harris, the first daughter of immigrants to hold the Office of the Vice President, and to work with so many dedicated public servants who are immigrants — and who carry with them every day the legacies of their families’ sacrifice and resilience.”
Harris is the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother.
But, despite the progress that America has made since its founding, Biden said there is more work to be done “to extend the full promise of America to all its people.”
He noted that nearly 11 million people in the country are undocumented, making it clear that “it is time that the Congress acts by passing the US Citizenship Act of 2021”, the immigration reform plan that he introduced on day one of his presidency.
Biden said his plan would provide a pathway to lawful permanent residency and citizenship for these undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers, individuals with Temporary Protected Status (such as Haitians), farm workers and other essential workers “who contribute to our nation every day.”
Caribbean American Congresswoman, Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants and founding co-chair of the Caribbean American Caucus in the US House of Representatives, noted that “this month, we honor, celebrate and commemorate the boundless contributions of Caribbean Americans to our nation.
“From grassroots activists, the first Black woman to run for president, though leaders, diplomats, business moguls and Michelin Star Chefs, Caribbean Americans are an integral part of our nation’s legacy and future,” said Clarke, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.
“I am proud to be a woman of Jamaican descent representing my home, my community and my people,” she said. “Let this month be a beacon for celebrating diversity, the preservation of legacy and the proliferation of unity. From Jamaica to Barbados and everyone in-between, ‘Bless Up.’”