Caribbean-American Heritage Month

Celebrating the vibrant culture of people from the Caribbean/West Indies.

The Melting Pot

Caribbean heritage is a collection of both shared and country-specific traditions expressed through food, music, language, art, fashion, history, literature, and social elements.

From the infusion of curry and spices from South Asia to the percussive rhythms from West Africa, those that were brought to the region used both what they had and what they had access to in order to forge a new identity. Despite the horrors of the slave trade, Afro-Caribbeans found ways to celebrate their history and heritage. Indo-Caribbeans held onto their South Asian customs and traditions, merging them into the new ones being created in the islands. The Garifuna took their African and Indigenous ancestry and created a hybrid identity which pays respect to both. Afro-Latino communities also pay homage to the European, African, and indigenous cultures that blended to create the unique landscape of their history. 

The Caribbean is not made up on one thing from one part of the world. It is made up of many things from Europe, Africa, and the Americas. And while each country will undoubtedly wear their flags proudly during celebrations, they are united by what they share: a true melting pot of identities that spread across the Caribbean Sea which manifested into what we know as Caribbean culture.

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Sports & Athletics


Football, also known as soccer in America, is the most popular sport in the Caribbean. Represented by Caribbean Football Union (CFU), it was founded in Jamaica in 1931 and has thirty-one Caribbean countries as members. CONCACAF, the Confederation of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, is the international governing body that hosts matches all year, for men's and women's competitions.

JVC3ETA, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Classified as a bat-and-ball game, Cricket is popular in the Caribbean countries that were once under British control, known as the British West Indies. Cricket West Indies is the governing body for the sport in the Caribbean and is a member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) since 1926. Cricket is played in approximately 108 countries on a professional level.


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Traditional Food and Drink


Seasoning meats, seafood, and sides make up what Caribbean food taste. Whether it is called green seasoningepis, or sofrito, seasoning is used as a base for nearly every Caribbean dish. 

It also can be used as a marinade, or to flavor rice, soups, and stews. After washing meat thoroughly with lemon and/or vinegar, green seasoning is often mixed with the meat and left to marinate in a refrigerator for several hours or up to several days.

Ground Provisions

One food staple is called ground provisions, root vegetables that are grown on the islands such as dasheen, yams, sweet potato, and cassava. However, there are some tree-grown foods that are considered ground provisions such as green banana and breadfruit.

Ground provisions are called this because of the land that was given to slaves to grow their food. This land was called provision grounds and often in poor condition, in mountainous areas, and far from the villages. The enslaved population grew root vegetables on the land to feed their families. Today, ground provisions are embedded in Caribbean food culture.


Modern-day rum originated in Barbados after the enslaved people discovered that fermented molasses produce a strong drink. Once called "rumbullion" and "Kill-Devil," it was first mentioned in a document from Barbados in 1651.

The world's oldest commercial rum distillery, established in 1703, is Mount Gay Rum Distillery in Barbados. Alongside Barbados, there are at least thirteen Caribbean countries and territories that produce their own rum.


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Music and Dance

Music is one of the largest forms of cultural expression to grow out of the Caribbean. The people blended various musical sounds from Africa, South America, and South Asia to create unique music styles. Some styles of music to come out of the Caribbean include: Bachata, Calypso, Chutney, Dancehall, Kompa/Konpa, Merengue, Reggae, Reggaeton, Salsa, Soca, Steelpan, and Twoubadou. The common thread among them is to inspire dance and celebration.

Another common form of cultural expression coming out of the Caribbean is dance. It is embedded in Caribbean heritage as it stems from its African roots. Music and dance endured and evolved, becoming part of the collective identity. 

In 2023, the inaugural Caribbean Music Awards was held in Brooklyn, New York to recognize the contribution of Caribbean artists to the music industry and their impact on their collective culture.

What is Calypso?

Calypso originated in Trinidad and Tobago and is closely related to Kaiso music. Call-and-response and storytelling are the usual formats for the music style. Calypso came about through the creation of Carnival, which began in Trinidad. A few famous calypso artists are Lord Shorty, Mighty Sparrow, and Lord Kitchener. Addionally, Soca music (SOul of CAlypso) is the offspring of Calypso, which infuses South Asian instruments.


What is Steel Pan Music?

Steel pan, or steel drum, music stems from the West African tradition of Talking Drum language, a way to communicate over long distances. In the 1700s, enslaved Africans in Trinidad and Tobago used trash cans and scrap metal to create music and were met with government-sanctioned restrictions to play them. Modern-day steel pan music came about in the 1930s. Using oil drums, musicians fashioned the percussion instrument to create tinny rhythms. The depth of the drum and the various dents create different pitches that when played together, have a unique sound.


Steel Pan and West African Talking Drum

Made by the enslaved peoples in Trinidad and Tobago from oil drums in the 1900s, the unique sound of a steel pan has become synonymous with the Caribbean. Making a steel pan is a labor-intensive endeavor because they are made by hand. Therefore, each has its own unique signature and slight differences in sound. The larger the main part of the pan, the deeper the bass. There are fourteen variations of steel pan and each one is made for a specific pitch to work in harmony with the band.


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Carnival (also spelled "Carnaval" or "Kanaval") is a large annual event held in the Caribbean, South America, and around the globe to celebrate the collective pride in Caribbean heritage.

Attendees wear elaborate costumes and clothing representing an individual country's flag or flag colors. Coordinated dance troops put on performances or freestyle cultural dances to music playing from a music truck, usually behind the dancers. Food stands and food trucks line the route, serving traditional food and drinks, depending on the country of origin.

The first Caribbean Carnival was held in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1800s. Today, this annual event remains the largest and most famous Carnival celebrating Caribbean culture and heritage.

Outside of the Caribbean, Carnival is celebrated globally including the United States, Canada, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and South America. Most celebrations are scheduled around Christian observances such Ash Wednesday and Lent. The summer months are also a popular time to hold Carnaval. The event can last from a couple of days up to a full week, depending on the country.

Carnival also has many names. Whether it is known as Bacchanal in Jamaica or West Indian Day Parade in New York City, Carnival's themes of music, food, fun, and cultural expression are the basis of every celebration. Locally, the Orlando Carnival Downtown festival, hosted in May, has been an annual tradition for over thirty years. 

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Caribbean Cuisine

Caribbean/West Indian cooking is quite literally a melting pot of cuisines. Much of what is considered Caribbean dishes were created by blending foods and spices from elsewhere with what is naturally sourced from land and sea. Rice, fruits, vegetables, and spices from South America, India, Europe, and Asia enhanced the native foods. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Africans used what was unwanted by the plantation owners to replicate dishes from their homeland. Indentured servants blended their traditional foods with what was available to them.

Slavery in the Caribbean. National Museums Liverpool. (n.d.).




Education is an integral part of Caribbean culture. The earliest university, founded in 1538, is the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Today, there are over 95 institutions of higher learning and trade in the Caribbean, including the University of the West Indies, founded in Jamaica in 1948, with approximately 50,000 students on five campuses across the region. Cuba, alone, is home to 60 colleges and universities. 

Many students also opt to study in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to complete education in their chosen fields. Though the Caribbean faces economic or geographical challenges, ten Caribbean countries have a literacy rate of over 90% as of 2023.