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Caribbean-American Heritage Month

David Turshyan, Librarian, International Languages Department,
Caribbean-American Heritage Month
Caribbean-American Heritage Month

¿A dónde vas, humilde trova mía,
así cruzando los extensos mares…?

Where are you going, friendly troubadour,
Crossing the vast seas with a long detour…?

These lines are from a poem entitled “Echoes of Exile” – in Spanish original “Ecos del destierro” – written by José Joaquín Pérez, a poet from the Dominican Republic. This poem, along with other poems, essays, plays and short stories can be found in a book of anthology, entitled Literatura del Caribe, Antología.

June kindly marks the Caribbean-American Heritage Month, giving us all an opportunity to celebrate, commemorate and to recognize the essential role of the peoples of the Caribbean and their rich multicultural heritage in the history of the United States. It is interesting to note that the first international acknowledgment of American independence took place in the Caribbean in 1776, when the Dutch Caribbean island St. Eustatius heralded the “First Salute” for the fledgling United States.

The peoples of the Caribbean are as diverse as the languages they speak. They are of Amerindian, African, Asian and European descent, speaking Spanish, Haitian Creole, French, English, Dutch, Chinese, as well as numerous dialects, known as patois, and Papiamentu, a creole language based principally on Portuguese and Spanish, containing elements of African languages, Arawak, Dutch, English and French. Some indigenous languages, such as Taíno, now considered an extinct Arawakan language, have greatly influenced and enriched other languages, including English, with such euphonious words as guava, iguana, papaya, savanna.

Each island of the Caribbean, while sharing pristine waters and perpetual sunshine, has a unique cultural identity and distinct wisdom, often finding its expression in the folklore of this multicultural and multilingual community. A Jamaican proverb, for example, says, “Alligator lay egg but ’im no fowl” – An alligator lays eggs, but it is not a fowl – which is simply a kind invitation or reminder for us all to view a subject not just from one point of view, but from every possible angle.
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