It’s so HOT! The air is Musty and Humid but the vibe is vibrant like the sun rays illuminating off of the ocean. It’s the Caribbean and it’s where my known family roots begin for me. As most of you know, I am from the Dominican Republic but this time I didn’t visit my island instead I opted to sail and island hop through the Western Caribbean for seven days as I lived on Carnival Cruise Line’s Glory ship and enjoyed the beauty of the Caribbean. A cruise ship vacation can be bittersweet if you love the island that you are visiting you aren’t there long enough, if you don’t like it, no worries you will be departing in a few hours.
First stop Puerto Rico- I’ve been to Isla of Puerto Rico many times to visit my family who live there but this trip was different as I did the historical tour. I was amazed by how visible African culture has influenced the Puerto Rican culture. I was surprised to see a statue of Barack Obama in San Juan, seeing that statue signifies the magnitude of witnessing the first African American President elected into office, whether you support him or not, you have to admit that you are witnessing history and will have the opportunity to tell your rendition of it twenty years from now, isn’t that how history is taught?
Visiting the Capital building in Old San Juan was breath taking with its original marble and granite tiles that cover the ceilings and beautiful artwork displaying the fight for social justice of the African slaves brought over by the Spaniard. During our tour, our tour guide told us stories of abolitionists and about the bravery they displayed as they stood in their conviction knowing that death or bodily harm was an imminent threat to them. The tour guide told these stories which such pride. Many Afro-Puerto Ricans are knowledgeable about their ancestors and proudly still honor them through current music such as Bomba and dances that display the African heritage. Salute to my fellow islanders in Puerto Rico for their hospitality while I was visiting San Juan and Old San Juan and keeping true to your history!
Second Stop -St. Thomas, a US Virgin Island a tourist attraction with its easy American accommodations makes it for a desirable place to vacation with its beautiful beaches and only a ferry ride away to St. John, twice the fun on one visit. The shopping stripes are a dime a dozen filled with beautiful handmade souvenirs and the West Indies culture in full effect. As I was shopping to my surprise the Spanish language was buzzing all over, with local cab drivers greeting fellow islanders with the infamous “Dimelo Macho” was intriguing. I grew up in the Northeast and those words of endearment is commonly used in the Dominican community but this cab driver was Puerto Rican. Ok, now I was very curious to find out more about Latin Caribbean’s living in St. Thomas. Being from the San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic it is very common to find British English speaking Dominicans among the elder population as many of them were born to black British islanders from all over the Western Caribbean such as St. Thomas who migrated to the Dominican Republic. Unbeknownst to me, in this day and age, there are many Dominicans who migrated to the neighboring Islands for a better life. The cab driver Jose told me that there is as big Latino community in St. Thomas. As, I continued my stroll I found that he was right. I met Eugencio Charles who has a table selling local souvenirs to tourists. I made small talk and found out he spoke Spanish and he told me that he was from the La Romana, Dominican Republic and migrated to St. Thomas 10 years ago. He spoke English well with a British ancient with fellow Islanders and even stopped to engage in joking banter. Their engagement was organic and embracing. Two islanders, one a native and the other an immigrant who shared one thing in common their African ancestry. One of them was colonized by the British the other by the Spanish and appeared to know it. The African diaspora is easy to understand. Natives from the continent of Africa were captured, traded, and sold to the Spaniards and British who colonized the Americas. So many of us don’t know our own family history that well thus can’t appreciate the similarities that exist among African descendants.
On the same trip I met another lady by the name of Isabel Garcia who migrated to St. Thomas 22 years ago from San Pedro de Marcoris, I instantly bonded with her as she is from the same town my family is from in the Dominican Republic of course I had to ask her if she knew any of my family members and what “barrio” she was from? She has made St. Thomas her new home and told me that she left for a better life and financial gain. Like the story of most immigrants, we are searching for opportunities that will enable us to live a better life. We just don’t ever think of immigrants migrating to neighboring countries other than United States but they do and do it legally. It makes sense to me, why not migrate to another Caribbean island depending on the type of work you do it can be a gold mine. There is a lot of tourist visiting daily via, cruise ships and planes staying at local hotels or summer homes. It makes perfect sense for them to be here, there is a market for what they do.
Third stop - The Bahamas has beautiful crystal clear blue water with white sand beaches. Like, the other islands that I visited on this mini tour Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Bahamas and Grand Turk all of them are part of the African Diaspora and I met many different people of the black race who have migrated to other islands in search of opportunities and have been able to find them. I only have a few questions. Could it be because the other islands have embraced their blackness and understand the African Disapora that Afro-Latinos feel comfortable migrating there? How can we continue to deny our blackness? Regardless if your current residency, culture, language and ethnicity is not African if you look closely at your culture you will see the traces back to African slaves. For example, a tasty traditional stew made by Dominicans during the New Year “Sancocho” actually was created by African Slaves who used leftover meat and other vegetables that were left from preparing their Masters meal is where this infamous stew comes from. Today we shop specifically to put different meats the more bones the better the stew, think about how our ancestors didn’t have a choice what was put in it but it still came out delicious! Be proud to come from such a resilient and brave people. It will EMPOWER you to endure any adverse situation.
So, my friends, I conclude by encouraging you to continue to visit and vacation to all the Caribbean islands! Be open to historical tours while vacationing you learn so much.