After a campaign waged since 2008, Caribbean immigrants and those with Caribbean ancestry will be able to self-identify on U.S. Census forms for the first time.
The development means that persons from the Caribbean region and those with roots there can now write in their nationality or ancestry while also choosing the race group they identify with.
Initially, Caribbean men, women and children were invisible on census forms, compelling them to choose from a list of racial and ethnic choices that do not identify them accurately.
On the back of this, a Caribbean immigrant and entrepreneur Felicia J. Persaud, in 2008, began an intense campaign for Caribbean immigrants to self-identify accurately on U.S. Census forms.
Founding the Carib ID lobbying movement, Persaud and her team lobbied the U.S. government to recognize Caribbean immigrants and Caribbean Americans in the country as a distinct identity group within the American society.
This resulted in a congressional bill, a U.S. Senate bill and over 10 years of advocacy.
Ahead of Census Day, April 1, 2020, the group says its demands have been met.
“Now for example, under the category “Black or African American” on Census forms, black Caribbean nationals will now be able to choose the race group while writing in for example Guyanese, Jamaican, Haitian etc. while those who identify as Asian or another ethnic group will also be able to do the same,” the group said in a statement.
Persaud, who is elated over the development, said: “Data on Caribbean nationals in the US is currently sparse based largely on the fact that this bloc has had no previous opportunity to self-identify in the past but have been lumped in with the African American, Asian American or Other communities.”
“Hopefully this goes a long way in making sure we count in 2020 so we can receive the respect we deserve as a huge economic and political bloc in this country and our communities and businesses that have been dismissed because of a lack of economic data, can begin to thrive. Let’s stand up and be counted.”
Results from the Census conducted every 10 years become the basis for government policies and allocation of funds for the next 10 years.
Specifically, the results help to determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities each year. They also determine how many seats in Congress each state gets.
Census officials say the current forms redesign was based on “a 2015 NCT research on race/ethnicity aimed at improving the question design and data quality for race/ethnicity, while addressing community concerns over the past several years, including the call for more detailed, disaggregated data for the diverse American experiences.”
The U.S. is by far the top destination for Caribbean emigrants outside of the region, followed by Canada (405,000), Spain (294,000), and the United Kingdom (232,000), according to mid-2017 estimates by the United Nations Population Division.
In 2017, approximately 4.4 million Caribbean immigrants resided in the U.S., accounting for 10 percent of the nation’s 44.5 million immigrants.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, the first wave of large-scale voluntary migration from the Caribbean to the U.S. began in the first half of the 20th Century and “consisted mostly of laborers, including guest workers from the British West Indies program who worked in U.S. agriculture in the mid-1940s, as well as political exiles from Cuba.”
At the moment, most Caribbean immigrants come from five countries: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago.