On Jan. 22, 1967, I arrived at Kennedy Airport, to begin the journey to my new home in Brooklyn, New York. Most of my memories of that winter day have faded, but there are a few that linger: walking down the stairs from the airplane onto the tarmac; holding my brother’s hand tightly as we walked toward the lights of the TWA terminal, shivering, my face and my fingers feeling like icicles; and seeing my breath in the cold, dark night air. It was difficult to comprehend that only a few short hours before I stepped off the plane in New York City, I was basking in the sunshine and warm breezes of Kingston, Jamaica.
That winter was filled with many firsts in my life: my first plane ride, my first experience with snow and the cold, my first subway ride, and most importantly, my first day of kindergarten. Looking back on those early days in New York City, I know that my experience was probably not very different from many other Caribbean immigrants. My mother came here with a dream for herself and her children, and a fundamental belief that this country offered opportunities for a better life.
My Caribbean heritage is a source of great pride. It is the fabric and foundation of who I am and how I live. I am a combination of two worlds, with a unique perspective that is rooted in both Caribbean and American values and culture. It is this unique culture that guides my life and my family. I am a Caribbean-American, proud of who I am and what my dual heritage brings to the American landscape.
According to the United States 2010-14 Census (American Community Survey five-year Estimates), “In 2014, [the] Caribbean population in NYC accounted for almost 28 percent of the foreign born population in NYC.” People from the Caribbean represent the second largest population of foreign-born residents in New York City. Caribbean people and our cultures are an integral part of the picturesque mosaic that is New York City. We have brought our foods, music, dances, and languages to the world, and our cultures have helped to shape the New York City we know and love.
The de Blasio Administration is committed to making New York City a welcoming home for all those who come here seeking a better life, just as my family did. As the commissioner for the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, I know the administration understands the importance of reaching immigrants who are affected by domestic violence, and has dedicated its time and resources to making this a priority. The NYC Family Justice Centers are walk-in centers that offer free and confidential services to survivors of domestic violence in every borough, and serve everyone regardless of what language they speak or their immigration status. We know that as a city we are stronger when everyone has equal access.
In this time of political turmoil, when immigrants are being targeted for the wrong reasons and blamed for issues that are out of their control, let us not forget it is because of our broad and inclusive immigration policies that my family and so many others are able to contribute to American society, and live out the American dream. As we celebrate Caribbean heritage, let us honor the vibrancy and legacy of the Caribbean people and culture and all it has brought to our lives and to this city.