Caribbean immigration to New York City

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Caribbean immigration to New York City has been prevalent since the late 1800s and the early 1900s. [1] This immigration wave has seen large numbers of people from Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Antigua, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, among others, come to New York City in the 20th and 21st centuries. (There has also been significant migration from Puerto Rico, but this is not considered immigration as Puerto Ricans hold United States citizenship.)


In 1613, Juan (Jan) Rodriguez from Santo Domingo became the first non-indigenous person to settle in what was then known as New Amsterdam.

In the early 1900s, the largest number of black immigrants were English-speaking Caribbeans ( West Indians) who settled in the Northeast, mainly in New York City. These immigrants were only 1.3 percent of the NYC population and faced intense racism, but by 1923 they became a 12.7 percent of the city's population. Many of these immigrants were young, unmarried men. According to Winston James, a few women arrived and held occupations as teachers, doctors, lawyers, and craftsmen. James also comments that many of these immigrants had literacy levels above American blacks and even some whites. In New York, many Caribbean immigrants entered the service sector working as doorman, laborers, and porters. Women often worked in the domestic field as maids and nannies. Reimers points out that a substantial number of Caribbean immigrants attended night school and pursued higher education while in America.

New York City also witnessed the institution building of Caribbean blacks. Majority of Caribbeans were Anglican and after being denied entry into white Episcopal churches, they formed Black Episcopalian churches such as Saint Augustine and Christ Church Cathedral in Brooklyn. In Harlem, West Indian Methodist and Episcopalian churches thrived. West Indians also developed non-religious institutions with the purpose of fostering mutual benefits societies. The intention of these organizations was financially and socially assist "newcomers" or recent immigrants. Membership was based on the immigrant's country of origin. Some of these groups include the Bermuda Benevolent Association (founded 1897), the Sons and Daughters of Barbados, Trinidad Benevolent Association, and the Grenada Mutual Association. Perhaps the most well-known Caribbean emigrant of the 20th century was Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey who came to America and established his organization, Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.). This organization was based on Black nationalism that promoted the economic development of blacks. Garvey's program gained widespread support of the many Caribbean and native-born blacks. Winston James shows that many West Indians wanted UNIA to move beyond economic emphasis and to overtly oppose racism that they faced on a daily basis as black immigrants. Radical West Indians, like Hubert Harrison (a Virgin Islander), wanted to do away with what they believed to be a racist capitalist society. These politically radical West Indian immigrants vied for socialism. The African Blood Brothers was founded by Caribbeans in 1919 and was an organization that combined socialism and Black Nationalism. However, this organization never gained a substantial following. Evidence shows that most West Indians who were able to attain citizenship voted for the Democratic Party. In New York, as black Caribbean immigrants began to grow in size, a small number ran for political offices. During the 1930s and the Depression era, Caribbean immigration trailed off and fewer black immigrants traveled to New York City because of the scarcity of employment opportunities. [2]

West Indian

New York City has significant populations of Jamaicans, Haitians, Antiguans, Trinidadians, Guyanese, Barbadians (Bajans), Belizeans, Grenadians, Saint Lucians, and Bahamians.


Jamaicans are the largest group of American immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean. However, it is difficult to verify the exact number of Jamaican Americans in this country. The 1990 census placed the total number of documented Jamaican Americans at 435,025, but the high Jamaican illegal alien phenomenon and the Jamaican attitude toward census response may increase that number to 800,000 to 1,000,000 Jamaicans living in the United States. Government statistics report that 186,430 Jamaicans live in New York, but the number is closer to 600,000. Large numbers of Jamaicans are present in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens.[ citation needed]


New York City has the largest concentration of Haitians in the United States as well as the oldest established Haitian communities in the country. The conservative estimate of the legal Haitian population in the New York City Metropolitan Area, as recorded by INS is approximately 156,000. However, community leaders and directors of community centers, who come in constant contact with the illegal population, strongly believe that the actual number is closer to 400,000. This number includes the non-immigrant (temporary visitors, students, temporary workers, and trainees) and undocumented entrants, as well as the legal population who does not bother to fill out the census forms for a variety of reasons. Moreover, the New York City Haitian population represents a very heterogeneous group, reflecting the various strata of Haitian society. Members of the middle class started migrating during the U.S. occupation in the 1920s and 1930s; at the time they established their enclaves in Harlem, where they mingled with African Americans and other Caribbean immigrants who were contributing to the Harlem Renaissance. Significant waves followed exponentially during the Duvalier era that started in 1957 and ended in 1986 with the ousting of Baby Doc. These waves were more heterogeneous than previous ones, as no single class of Haitians was immune from the Duvaliers’ dictatorship. To date, cohorts of Haitians continue to come to New York, many being sent for by relatives already established in the city. Haitians reside in all the boroughs. Flatbush, Brooklyn has the highest concentration of Haitians in the city.


New York City has large populations of Caribbean including Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and with smaller numbers of Panamanians, Cubans, Hondurans, and Costa Ricans.


Immigration records of Dominicans in the United States date from the late 19th century and New York City has had a Dominican community since the 1970s. From the 1960s onward, after the fall of the Rafael Trujillo military regime, large waves of migration have thoroughly transnationalized the Dominican Republic, metaphorically blurring its frontier with the United States.

In 2006 New York City's Dominican population decreased for the first time since the 1980s, dropping by 1.3% from 609,885 in 2006 to 602,093 in 2007. They are the city's fifth-largest national group (behind Irish, Italian, German and Puerto Rican) and, in 2009, it was estimated that they compromised 24.9% of New York City's Latino population. [3]

Areas with high a concentration of Dominicans are in Washington Heights, Corona, and certain areas in the Bronx. Eastern portions of the Washington Heights neighborhood and many western neighborhoods in the Bronx have some of the highest concentrations of Dominicans in the country.

The Guardian described American Airlines Flight 587, prior to its accident flight in 2001, as having "cult status" in Washington Heights. [4] In 1996 Kinito Mendez played the song El avión which mentions Flight 587. [5] The November 12, 2001, AA587 flight crashed, killing everyone on board. [4]

Puerto Ricans

Puerto Ricans are Americans citizens by birth, so they are not immigrants.

The 2005 National Puerto Rican Parade.

New York City has the largest Puerto Rican population outside of Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans, due to the forced change of the citizenship status of the island's residents, can technically be said to have come to the City first as immigrants and subsequently as migrants. The first group of Puerto Ricans moved to New York in the mid-19th century, when Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony and its people Spanish subjects. The following wave of Puerto Ricans to move to New York did so after the Spanish–American War of 1898 made Puerto Rico a U.S. possession and after the Jones–Shafroth Act of 1917 gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship, which allows travel without the need of a passport between the island and the United States mainland. The largest wave of migration came in the 1950s, in what became known as "The Great Migration"; as a result, more than a million Puerto Ricans once called New York City home. Presently the Puerto Rican population is around 800,000.

Puerto Ricans have historically lived in neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side (also known in the community as Loisaida), Spanish Harlem and Williamsburg, Brooklyn since the 1950s. There are large Puerto Rican populations throughout the 5 boroughs, with the Bronx having the largest. Currently, Bushwick and several South Bronx neighborhoods, such as Soundview, have some of the largest numbers of Puerto Ricans in the city. However, there has been an increase in Puerto Ricans in outlying areas of the city, such as the North Shore of Staten Island, and the eastern Bronx.


  1. ^ Maddox, Dr. Tyesha. "NEW YORK: A CARIBBEAN CAPITAL". Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  2. ^ Reimers, David. Other Immigrants: The Global Origins of the American People. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2005. 77–82. Print.
  3. ^ Bergad, Laird W (April 2011). The Latino Population of New York City 2009 (PDF). Latino Data Project. Center for Latin American, Caribbean & Latino Studies. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Younge, Gary (November 10, 2006). "Flight to the death". The Guardian. Archived from the original on November 13, 2012. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  5. ^ Smith, Patrick (November 5, 2004). "Don't blame the pilot for the crash of Flight 587. The truth is much more complicated". Salon (website). Archived from the original on November 28, 2011. Retrieved October 15, 2013.

Further reading

  • Schmidt, Bettina E. Caribbean Diaspora in the USA: Diversity of Caribbean Religion in New York City. Ashgate, 2008. ISBN  978-0754663652.