As the attacks on educating students about Black history escalate from right-wing Florida Gov. Ron “Death Santis” and his klavern of minions to other states, it’s important to point out that pursuing a white supremacist and racist strategy to stir up one’s base will also ultimately unleash a backlash. Many of the news articles I’ve seen so far cite the assault on “African American” studies, which tends to overlook the fact that Black folks in DeSantis’ home state come from a wide swath of the diaspora, including a substantial number of residents who are Black immigrants from the Caribbean, and an even larger number who are of Afro-Caribbean heritage.
I hope that his Democratic Party opponents make this clear and work to mobilize groups and individuals in Florida who represent the rich, Black, Florida Caribbean mosaic.
RELATED STORY: DeSantis’ decision to ban AP African American Studies course in Florida may haunt him
Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.
Just to be clear about exactly what is happening in Florida, I think this New York Times op-ed from President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Janai Nelson summarizes it very well:
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” law — which would limit students and teachers from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender — Florida is at the forefront of a nationwide campaign to silence Black voices and erase the full and accurate history and contemporary experiences of Black people. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union, the A.C.L.U. of Florida and Ballard Spahr filed a lawsuit on behalf of university professors and a college student opposing the “Stop WOKE” law and, along with a second lawsuit, won a preliminary injunction blocking Florida’s Board of Governors from enforcing its unconstitutional and racially discriminatory provisions at public universities.
Florida’s rejection of the A.P. course and Mr. DeSantis’s demand to excise specific subject areas from the curriculum stand in stark opposition to the state-issued mandate that all students be taught “the history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition and the contributions of African Americans to society.”
This disturbing pattern of silencing Black voices and aggressive attempts to erase Black history are one of the most visible examples of performative white supremacy since the presidency of Donald Trump. In 2019 the Florida legislature undermined Amendment 4, which a supermajority of Floridians supported and would have restored the voting rights of more than a million formerly incarcerated people. In its place, lawmakers put in place a pay-to-vote system that redisenfranchises hundreds of thousands of those citizens, many of them Black. Similarly, Florida’s antiprotest law, H.B. 1, was enacted in 2021 in response to the 2020 protests against police violence, when Black organizations and peaceful demonstrators in Florida — along with their allies — took to the streets with demands for justice.
So exactly what kind of numbers are we talking about when we discuss Caribbean immigrants and their potential to shift close elections? This July 2022 article from the Migration Policy Institute from Jane Lorenzi and Jeanne Batalova provides some key data:
Approximately 4.5 million Caribbean immigrants resided in the United States in 2019, representing 10 percent of the nation’s 44.9 million total foreign-born population. Close to 90 percent of immigrants in the United States from the 13 Caribbean countries and 17 dependent territories come from one of four countries: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Haiti.
The Caribbean is the most common region of birth for the 4.5 million Black immigrants in the United States, accounting for 46 percent of the total. Jamaica (16 percent) and Haiti (15 percent) are the two largest origin countries for Black immigrants.
Two-third of immigrants from the Caribbean lived in just two states: Florida (41 percent) and New York (25 percent) as of the 2015-19 period. Miami-Dade County in Florida was home to 864,800 Caribbean immigrants, the highest share among all U.S. counties, representing 20 percent of the total Caribbean foreign-born population. Much smaller numbers reside in Broward County in Florida and Bronx, Kings, and Queens counties in New York. Together, these five counties accounted for 43 percent of the total Caribbean immigrant population in the United States.
The greater New York and Miami metropolitan areas were the U.S. cities with the most Caribbean immigrants. Approximately 60 percent of all Caribbean immigrants in the United States lived in these two metro areas.
Remember, these numbers are only for immigrants. When we speak of those people who identify as being of Caribbean ancestry and being of Black Caribbean ancestry, the numbers swell, though there is still no accurate census figure since racial self-identification varies. A good estimate would add anywhere from 5 to 7 million more to the national total and about 1 million more to Florida. We get a look at these groups every year when they are highlighted during Caribbean American Heritage Month, which is celebrated in June. But this is not a new discussion in this series.
Caribbean Matters: Celebrating Black Caribbean Americans in the U.S. while combating xenophobia
Caribbean Matters: Yes, the Caribbean is an important part of Black History Month
What I find of real interest are the rich histories that the current attack on teaching can and will attempt to erase. For example, there’s this post from Damani Davis, the African American records subject matter expert for the National Archives and Records Administration (a U.S. government website):
The ancestors of most Americans either immigrated to the United States, served in the military (or married a veteran who served), or were at least counted in one of the decennial censuses. Consequently, the most relevant federal records for genealogical research are those that document these three activities. This generality, however, does not always apply to the ancestors of African Americans. Immigration records, in particular, have no immediate relevance for researching enslaved ancestors who were transported to America via the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Since enslaved persons were considered “chattel,” or property, they were not recorded as immigrants.
Most African Americans tend to dismiss immigration records and instead focus on other records held at the National Archives, such as those of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Freedman’s Bank, Southern Claims Commission, and the United States Colored Troops. But if researchers of black American ancestry adhere too rigidly to such assumptions, they may miss valuable information contained in less-than-obvious sources.
Many American citizens currently categorized as “black” or African American in the federal censuses potentially have ancestors who were among tens of thousands of immigrants who migrated from the Caribbean region during the first decades of 20th century—roughly from the 1910s into the 1930s, or even earlier. These Afro-Caribbean, or “West Indian,” immigrants settled primarily in northeastern port cities, with New York City being the top destination. Outside of the Northeast, South Florida was a major destination, mainly for immigrants coming from the Bahamas. Some of these Caribbean immigrants held on to their particular national identities (or a broader “West Indian” ethnic identity), while others intermarried with native black Americans. Either way, most of the descendants of this early wave of Afro-Caribbean immigration are now officially categorized and regarded as black and/or African American.
There are parts of Florida with a rich Afro-Cuban history as well, specifically in what was Ybor City, now a part of Tampa, in Hillsborough County:
The Ybor Cuban Club became a haven from racism and a hub for the community but threats remained. ...
Historians say white Cubans forced their Black countrymen out because of the color of their skin. This led Afro-Cubans to form "La Unión Martí-Maceo," their own mutual aid society. "They named it after two very relevant figures to Cuban history: Jose Marti and General Antonio Maceo,” said Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera. “Both were individuals, who over 120 years ago, believed in a colorblind society at a time when that was a rather radical step to take."
Rodriguez was one of the most well-known leaders of the group.
"He spoke a lot about the need for Cubans to, particularly Afro-Cubans, to stand up to whatever oppression they were facing," Cheryl Rodriguez said. She’s not only a professor at USF, but she’s also his granddaughter.
She says both her grandfather and father served as presidents at some point in time in the history of the organization. "They had health benefits. They provided burial benefits and for people who might have had some kind of catastrophe in their life, they were there as support," Cheryl Rodriguez said. "It was a place where people talked about their status as sometimes as an oppressed group."
I knew some of this history because I read the book More Than Black in an anthropology course in grad school, which was published by the University Press in Florida.
Unlike most studies of the Cuban exodus to the United States, which focus on the white, middle-class, conservative exiles from Castro's Cuba, More Than Black is peopled with Afro-Cubans of more modest means and more liberal ideology. Fifteen years of collaboration between the author and members of Tampa's century-old Marti-Maceo Society, a mutual-aid and Cuban independence group, yield a work that combines the intimacy of ethnography with the reach of oral and archival history. Its weave of rich historical and ethnographic materials re-creates and examines the developing community of black immigrants in Ybor City and West Tampa, the old cigar-making neighborhoods of the city. It is a story of unfolding consequences that begins when the black and white solidarity of emigrating Cubans comes up against Jim Crow racism and progresses through a painful renegotiation of allegiances and identities.
Though Tampa currently has a Democratic mayor, Jane Castor, in the last election the county voted for DeSantis. What will become of the rich Ybor city Black-Cuban history under this regime of erasure? That question should be raised—loudly—to every politician who has plans to run for office under the #KlanSantis umbrella.
Let us not ignore the fact that we’ve won some Black-Caribbean victories in Florida recently—most notably the elections of Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick and Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost.
More of this, please.
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