Caribbean American Heritage Month

Summer is an excellent time to celebrate Caribbean American Heritage Month! Many Americans routinely travel to the islands on vacation each year to relax and celebrate special ocassions. There are over 30 island nations in the Caribbean that each have a unique history and diverse culture that needs to be preserved. Cultural heritage preservation is essential for current and future generations. It is important that we recognize and understand the significant contributions that people of Caribbean decent have contributed to various facets of American society. They have served as authors, speech language pathologists, educators, psychologists, engineers, doctors, nurses, politicians, musicians, athletes, in the hospitality industry and in various other essential professions.

Since 2006, June has been designated as Caribbean American Heritage Month in the United States by presidential proclamation. Here is information from the U.S. Department of State and the 2021 proclamation. People of Caribbean decent speak English, Spanish, French, and/or various native creole languages that are a mixture of African and other languages. In fact, some individuals are truly bilingual and multilingual. This is partly due to learning two or more languages and being formerly colonized by England, Spain, France, and/or the Dutch. Additionally, indigenous Carib, Taino, and other Amerindian tribes also inhabited some of the islands and descendants remain contrary to the research of some scholars. Caribbean linguists are currently preserving the many Amerindian languages. Many indigenous people lived alongside the Maroons. Many other ethnic groups migrated to some of the islands like Jamaica from India, China, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and Portugal.

Jamaica is the beautiful Caribbean island where I was born. Although Standard Jamaican English is the official language, Jamaican Creole or Patois is the true native language for many individuals. Jamaican Creole is a distinct language and not a dialect. It has vocabulary, phonology, morphology, and syntax that has roots in African languages (e.g. Akan people in Ghana, Congo, Igbo people of Nigeria) and also English influence. There are variances in the orthography or spelling of Jamaican Creole. Within Jamaican families there are differences in the proficiency in which children and adults speak Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole. This is often due to regional and educational differences throughout the island. For Jamaican Americans residing in the U.S., there are also linguistic differences based on their levels of language competence. For example, I lived in Jamaica the first five years of my life where I learned to speak Standard Jamaican English and Jamaican Patois. Both were spoken in my home and Standard Jamaican English was the language of instruction at school. When I moved to Miami, Florida at the age of 5 1/2, I was exposed to Standard American English and Spanish. I received formal spoken and written instruction in both languages in elementary school and beyond.

It is very important that speech-language pathologists and educators acknowledge that many Jamaican American individuals living in the United States are bilingual and some are multilingual. This is important when professionals provide speech, language, and literacy assessments and therapy for children and adolescents from diverse Caribbean backgrounds. Later this month, I will feature information on my website for speech language pathologists to learn more about Jamaican Creole and cultural/linguistic considerations when providing professional services to this population.

Additionally, you will learn about children’s literature selections to use meaningfully this June and throughout the year that will introduce children to Caribbean culture while building essential skills. Have you visited one or several Caribbean islands before? If so, let me know in the comments. Have you tasted Caribbean food before? My favorite is jerk chicken with rice and peas. What about you?

Here are resources to learn more about the Caribbean region, Historical Caribbean Americans, & Global Cultural Heritage Preservation:

Caribbean Islands

Global Caribbean Partnership-World Bank

Caribbean American Heritage Month Infographic

Caribbean Americans

UNESCO- Cultural Heritage

2020 Caribbean Heritage Language & Literacy Books

Tamara Anderson, M.S.,Ed.S., CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Education Specialist & Consultant
Diversity & Equity Advocate

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