History of the Jamaican Diaspora

Following the passage of the 1965 US Immigration Act which liberalized immigration to the United Sates, a new wave of migrants entered the US from Jamaica and the other Caribbean nations. The number of Caribbean immigrants was estimated at approximately one million between the 1970’s and the early 1990’s, with approximately half of these migrants coming from Jamaica.

During the 1970s a vast number of Jamaicans migrated to the USA, some claiming fear of a socialist government led by the People’s National Party’s leader, and Prime Minister Michael Manley; others fearful of an increasingly violent surge of crime, and others unhappy with very tight economic conditions. Several of these migrants sold their Jamaican assets, and moved entire families to the United States, where they were mostly sponsored by relatives. At the time siblings, parents, spouses and children could sponsor relatives, and a significant number of Jamaicans took advantage of this. One of the conditions to obtain a permanent visa in the 1970’s and 80’s was that the migrant should prove that he could support his or herself and not be a burden on the U.S. Welfare system. Most of the migrants were able to do this, and many had skills which allowed them to quickly find jobs in America. This was the peak of the ‘Brain Drain’ from Jamaica with the nation losing a large number of its professional and managerial personnel.

New York (particularly New York City) was the destination of choice for Jamaican migrants up to the 1970;s. However, in the later half of 1970 there was a gradual shift in this pattern with an increasing number of migrants coming to South Florida.

  • kids day indepedence 2012 064
  • DSC_1282
  • miss_lou_festival_2013_037_Copy

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s a large number of Jamaicans settled in South West Miami, mainly Kendall, Cutler Ridge and Perrine. Most of these people had sold their assets in Jamaica, and bought homes in South Florida, but except for a few individuals, they were not very involved in the building of a Caribbean community. Nonetheless, a (rather loosely knitted) Caribbean community evolved, and was to some extent held together by displays of Jamaican culture, found in a number of Jamaican restaurants and shops, like Island Delight in Kendall, Aunt I’s, The Pantry, and Dave’s in North Miami, and Bonoonoonos in Lauderhill; Caribbean radio programs hosted by radio pioneers like Eddie Edwards, Ron Burke, Don Daley, Mike Andrews, the late Clint O’neil, the Mighty Viking, and Winston Barnes, and newspapers pioneered by Peter Webley. Special reference must be made to Winsome Charlton who co-formed the company Hi-Class Promotions, that operated continuous hours of Caribbean program on WAVS AM radio, featuring other pioneers like “John T” of “Morning Ride’ fame, and Diana Wright.

Night clubs operated by Jamaicans gradually thrived, pioneered by by Denzil ‘JAMUSA’ Silvera’s “Studio 54” on US1 in South West Miami, and later the memorable Stinger Lounge in Miramar.

Not too long after that a viable Jamaican community began growing in North West Miami, and Miramar and Lauderhill in Broward. This gave rise to the development of a vibrant Jamaican business community consisting of professionals – doctors, attorneys, dentists, realtors, accountants, and a plethora of restaurants, more night clubs and Jamaican shops, selling most items that Jamaican migrants were accustomed to back in Jamaica, and crossing over to American customers.

Then in 1992, Hurricane Andrew, a devastating Category 5 storm, struck South Florida. While the storm devastated South West Miami, destroying the homes of thousands, including Jamaican-Americans, it did relatively little damage to Broward County. The immediate result was a spontaneous migration of thousands of Jamaicans from ravaged South West Miami to Broward County, particularly to Pembroke Pines and Miramar. Around this time expansion was taking place in West Miramar and West Pembroke Pines, and several Jamaicans bought homes, creating, until today, a very large Jamaican in both cities.

The expanding Jamaican community in Broward County became a magnetic force to other Jamaican migrants. Most of the earlier migrants left relatives in the Caribbean who they could now file for as permanent residence. Not only, were migrants flowing into South Florida from Jamaica, they came from Jamaican communities in the cold climes of Toronto and New York. From the mid nineties on strong Jamaican communities grew not only in Lauderhill, Pembroke Pines and Miramar, but in Sunrise, Lauderdale Lakes, Plantation, Cooper City, Coral Springs, Tamarac in Broward County; Boca Raton, Lantana, Lake Worth in Palm Beach County, and Tampa, Orlando, Winter Haven, and Melbourne in Central Florida. Within a decade the English Jamaican community in Florida had grown from approximately 150,000 residents in 1982 to approximately 350,000 close to a million in 2010, including first, second and third generation Jamaican-Americans; and to approximately 1.5 million across the U.S.

Although the Caribbean culture, depicted particularly in its music ad cuisine had taken roots in America, and was mostly evident in New York and South Florida; and Jamaican entrepreneurs, like Patrick Cha-Fung, Pamela Watson, and Basil Bernard, and developers like George Barber, were making their presence felt, Jamaicans were also becoming visible in American politics. Following the steps of Caribbean-American political pioneers like Shirley Chisholm, and New York Councilwoman Una Clarke, Hazelle Rogers was elected to the City of Lauderdale Lakes Commission in 1996, and ould later be elected to the Florida House. This paved the way for the election of other Jamaicans like George Pedlar, Fitzroy Salesman, Winston Barnes, Astor Knight, Barrington Russell, and more recently Alexandra Davis to represent county commissions, and Dale Holness to a former city commissioner to the Broward County Commissions.

Truly, Jamaican -Americans have taken advantage of the tremendous heritage established since Caribbean migrants came to the US in 1650. Today, the Jamaican Diaspora in South Florida, Florida and the US, is vibrant, making very significant contributions to almost all aspect of American life, and continue to serve the homeland. The community is increasingly respected and recognized as a viable political constituency and a vibrant business and cultural community.

The Jamaican Diaspora in the Southern US, and particularly in South Florida, has succeeded in building its own rich and proud identity. The Jamaican-American community has developed to be something of a sub-nation within the greater American nation. It remains distinctly Jamaican, but perpetually conscious of the developments in Jamaica, and always ready to play a part in those developments. Over the past 50 years several Jamaicans have played a vital role in building the Jamaican Diaspora in the Southern US, some of whom have been honored for their services and contribution by the Jamaican Consulate for Southern USA based in Miami in this Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence.

Although many residents in the Diaspora may not have returned often, or at all to Jamaica, since migrating they remain firmly Jamaican and are as proud as their compatriots in Jamaica at the attainment of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary since attaining independence in 1962.