The Caribbean islands are known for their rich culture and exotic festivals, which were shaped by an unparalleled tropical setting. However, due to the migration from the Caribbean and the formation of large Caribbean communities in the US, Canada, and European countries, the carnivals were transformed and helped the diaspora shape its sense of identity.
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Many countries in the Caribbean saw their population leave in search of better employment opportunities. However, due to Jamaica’s size, it remains one of the main sources of migration in this region (Glennie & Chappell, 2010, para. 5). Even though Jamaica is a peaceful country located in a beautiful part of the world, it is a country with a weak economy, one of the slowest growing developing economies in the world (Jamaica Overview, 2016).
The fact that the country relies heavily on tourism means that there are few job opportunities outside tourism. In 2015, the unemployment rate was estimated at 30 percent for youth (Jamaica Overview, 2016, para. 5). The high unemployment rate and the change in the migration policies led to the mass migration of Jamaicans to the US, Canada, and the UK, which started in the 1960s. The largest Jamaican populations are now living in these three countries, although other European countries have their own smaller Caribbean communities. In the US, the largest Caribbean Communities live in New York City and Florida.
Over the years, Caribbean Americans contributed to the development of every aspect of the American Economy. Many skilled workers took important roles in medicine, teaching, and retail, and influenced political activity (Chamberlain, 2002, p. 23). The culture of the Caribbean is now celebrated during National Caribbean-American Heritage Month. Outside the US, the Caribbean migrants saw much more moderate success, mainly due to racial discrimination. However, nowadays Afro-Caribbeans are well represented in European arts, literature, and sports (Chamberlain, 2002, p. 24).
From a cultural standpoint, the Caribbean diaspora is very diverse since almost everyone in the Caribbean came from somewhere else. The culture of the Caribbean is a combination of European, African, Asian, and other influences, and continues its globalization through the ongoing migration. The prominent feature of the Caribbean culture is its carnivals, which started on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago and spread to other islands of the Caribbean and the diaspora all over the world.
In the late 19th century, the carnival was condemned by the whites as a violent and immoral activity. Attempts were made to stop the carnival from happening but were met with heavy resistance, which led to the acknowledgment of the carnival by the government. By the middle of the 20th century, the carnival was completely in control of the government, and the subsequent increase in funding and participation from the majority of sectors led to the popularization of the carnival and made it more commercialized.
Nowadays, the carnival is the main attraction of the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, although many other islands of the Caribbean hold their similar festivals. Also, the expansion of the Caribbean diaspora to the US, Canada, and the UK led to the creation and popularization of international Caribbean-style carnivals. Nowadays, the majority of the biggest cities in the US, Canada, and Britain play hosts to their carnivals. There are more than 60 festivals in the US, Canada, and Europe (Nurse, 1999, p. 674).
The most prominent ones include Notting Hill in the UK, Labour Day in the US, and Caribana in Canada. The international Caribbean carnivals became a popular transnational celebration (Nurse, 1999, p. 662). Also, overseas festivals helped unite Caribbean communities and keep their cultural identity. From the sociological standpoint, the festivals abroad serve as a bond for immigrants and their families, since millions of participants of the overseas carnivals come from the Caribbean islands.
The overseas Caribbean carnivals help the diaspora overcome the feeling of isolation and restore a link to their ancestral history. Since the overseas festivals are products of globalization and are not identical to Trinidad and Tobago festivals, many notable aspects of modern festivals are the products of other immigrant cultures. Some elements of the festivals, such as the Jonkonnu masks, are borrowed from the Jamaican culture.
Others, like Brazilian samba drummers and dancers, are elements of South American and Brazilian culture. Caribbean carnivals were formed as a result of the struggle against slavery and are by their nature participatory. Thus, white populations, Japanese, Arabs are found now to be active participants of the overseas carnivals, not only as administrators but as masqueraders and drummers. The carnival has developed into a multicultural activity with a much broader appeal. The festivals became an integral part of their host cities tourism. The overseas carnivals have influenced the carnivals of England and other European countries, which now draw inspiration from the Caribbean carnival.
The expansion of the Caribbean diaspora led to the integration of the Caribbean culture into the European and American culture. The Caribbean carnival helped the diaspora shape its sense of identity and merge with the white population while keeping the connection to its historical roots alive. Nowadays, more people can experience Caribbean festivals all over the world.
Chamberlain, M. (2002). Caribbean Migration: Globalized Identities. Abingdon: Routledge.
Glennie, A., & Chappell, L. (2010). Jamaica: From Diverse Beginning to Diaspora in the Developed World. Web.
Jamaica Overview. (2016). Web.
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Nurse, K. (1999). Globalization and Trinidad Carnival: Diaspora, Hybridity and Identity in Global Culture. Cultural Studies, 13(4), 661-690. Web.