Every year since 2006, in celebration of the many contributions that Caribbeans and Caribbean-Americans have made, the U.S. President officially proclaims June to be National Caribbean-American Heritage Month.
Here in New York the Caribbean Tourism Organization kicked the month off with a slew of events under the banner of Caribbean-American Heritage Week NY. I attended their Caribbean Diaspora Forum, an event aimed at exploring how those living in the diaspora can invest in the Caribbean.
A panel of tourism ambassadors from several Caribbean nations spoke about the many programs and opportunities available for folks living in the diaspora to give back, invest and contribute to the region. It was quite interesting but as the discussion continued I became confused as to who exactly they were referring to after this statement was made:
Huh?? Why was there a distinction made between diaspora investors and foreign investors? To be a member the diaspora means you are a foreigner, no?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, yes and no:
By this definition members of the Caribbean diaspora consist of both those born in the Caribbean who currently live outside of their homelands AND their descendants.
But according to the participants of this forum, the answer is a flat no.
As the conversation continued it became clear that the diaspora they were courting was not, in fact, the entire diaspora. The programs and opportunities we were discussing were targeting a very specific subset of the diaspora: Caribbean nationals who live abroad.
I’ve seen this exclusion of hyphens play out on a personal level but didn’t realize that the sentiment also informed the policy and programming decisions made in Caribbean tourism & business sectors as well.
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand the strategy of targeting Caribbean nationals for these programs. It makes sense to reach out to the native born as they would have the strongest sense of heritage and ties to the region. What I do not get is why a similar strategy targeting those of Caribbean descent is not in play as well. Many of us hyphens also have a strong sense of loyalty to and pride in our families’ home countries. Many of us are interested, not only in traveling throughout the region for fun and leisure, but in putting down roots, investing in and giving back to the nations that helped to make us who we are.
The failure of these reps to specifically court those of Caribbean descent, as well as nationals, does a huge disservice to both hyphens and the island nations from which their families hail. Hyphens wield a large amount of economic power. Caribbean nations seeking to revitalize their business sectors with foreign investments would do well seek us out. By failing to the recognize and court this growing segment of the diaspora, the region risks alienating us. With such a narrow definition of the term diaspora, tremendous opportunities for both sides to prosper are being left on the table.
What do you think? Who really makes up the diaspora? Should special consideration be made for those of Caribbean descent as well as Caribbean nationals? Are Caribbean-Americans /Bristish/Canadians, etc really interested in investing in the region? Tell me nuh!