marlienebastien_fc.jpg“NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2007 as Caribbean-American Heritage Month. I encourage all Americans to learn more about the history and culture of Caribbean-Americans and their contributions to our Nation.”

Yes, this is correct. You don’t need eyeglasses. These were true words spoken by our sitting president when he granted the Institute for Caribbean’s Studies’ wishes and declared June “Caribbean-American Heritage Month” in 2006.

If  you were not aware there was such a month, don’t despair. You’re not alone.

Most folks, true Caribbean-Americans at that, vaguely know but never made an intellectual connection; others are completely in the dark.

The Institute for Caribbean Studies reports that “The National Campaign for Caribbean-American Heritage Month Campaign began in 2004. The House Bill Resolution 71 was entered into Congress by Congresswoman Barbara Lee. The bill passed the Congress in June of 2005, the U.S. Senate in 2006, and a Proclamation making it official was signed  by President Bush on June 5, 2006.”

Reflecting on the vision of this milestone, ICS wrote “National Caribbean-American Heritage Month has been established to recognize the historic relationship between the people of the Caribbean and the people of the United States as well as to recognize the many contributions of Caribbean immigrants and their descendants to the well-being of America.  From founding father Alexander Hamilton to Hip Hop star Wyclef Jean, National Caribbean- American Heritage Month provides a focal point for the gathering of diverse voices and peoples that constitute Caribbean America – a Mosaic of culture, a montage of people.”

Indeed, research indicates that Caribbean immigrants have been living in this country since the 1600s. Jean-Baptiste Pointe de Sable, a Haitian, built the city of Chicago in the 1770s.

Pierre Toussaint, who was declared “Venerable” by Pope John Paul II, built shelters, credit bureaus, employment agencies, and refuges to help the poor in New York in the 1780s.

Marcus Garvey, the Nationalist Movement reformer, publisher, journalist, and orator, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914 in addition to the African Communities League.

We could write books and books on Caribbean-American contributions to U.S. So, this designation is well deserved and undisputable.

What is disputable is the impact of this month in our lives and those of our folks back home. How can this month be used as a conduit to unite and strengthen ties among us – as an incentive to develop a strategy that could translate into real power?

It is all about leveraging, and the time is ripe for that.  The presidential election is in less than six months.  If we come together and present our collective issues to presumptive nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties, we can make it “radioactive” to not talk about Comprehensive Immigration Reform for example, not the other way around. 

What other collective issues are there, you might ask?  Plenty.  Aside from CIR, the Dream Act, to allow our undocumented students to attain higher education after graduating from high schools. Our tax dollars paid for their schooling for 12 or more years.  It is shortsighted and counterproductive to deny them the opportunity to realize their dreams and hopefully give back.

Fix 1996!  It is hypocritical for our government to deport immigrants who spent their entire lives here to countries that they know nothing about because of their criminal records, no matter how abysmal…!

People are removed and deported for traffic violations! Sometimes, they don’t even speak the language. Worse, we’re putting an unfair burden on these governments, many of whom can barely feed their people!

Haiti, for example, is forced to receive over 50 immigrants a month from the U.S. while food riots are raging, and millions are starving!

We refuse to give Haitians TPS (temporary protected status) after they have lived here for years and have been contributing.

The Caribbean countries could also come together en bloc to support CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington’s call for more investment in agriculture! 

In the midst of Haiti’s worst food crisis ever, President Rene Preval insisted that instead of food, Haiti needed help to revive its agriculture.

Last, Caribbean countries could collectively decide to accept from international financial institutions only packages that contribute to the economic empowerment of their people and reject those that perpetuate dependence and enslavement.

Instead of giving the presidential candidates (of either party) a blank check, present them with a fully written out plan that strengthens our respective nations, stabilizes our economy, and gives hope to millions.

Then, we can have a massive Caribbean-American Heritage Month Celebration in venues spread  throughout the U.S. while joining hands across the ocean with all our people in the Caribbean! 

What a celebration that could be!

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.