WHo are Indo-Caribbeans?

Images: Indian indentured laborers on West Indian sugar cane plantations

From India to the West Indian plantation colonies: the Indian indentured journey across the kala pani (dark water)

Overview

        Indo-Caribbeans are descendants of the girmityas, a population of over 

3.5 million largely low-caste, indentured workers who were brought from India to toil on colonial plantations across the globe after the British abolished the African slave trade in 1834. Indo-Caribbeans were the first – and until 1965, the largest – South Asian population in the New World. 

 

        Today, Indo-Caribbeans make up roughly 20% of the population in the British West Indies. They are the numerical majority in Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname and are visible minorities across the former colonies of the British, French, and Dutch Caribbean. Indo-Caribbeans are also a significant force in West Indian diasporas in the US, the UK, and Canada. In New York City -- a primary destination for West Indian immigrants -- Indo-Caribbeans constitute one of the largest "South Asian origin" groups.     

 

          After the 1965 U.S. Hart-Cellar Act, Indo-Caribbeans were joined in the West by a large influx of professional-class South Asian immigrants coming directly to the United States from the sub-continent. Indo-Caribbeans' history of racialization in the Americas is distinct from the experiences of these post-1965 South Asian immigrant waves, making Indo-Caribbeans a valuable contrasting case for examining Afro-Asian relations, as well as South Asian racial experiences in the New World. 

 

          In her dissertation, Anjanette examines how Indo-Caribbeans articulate identities in relation to New York City's Black (African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Latinx) and South Asian American communities. In so doing, Anjanette investigates how these diverse groups construct identity at the "Black" and "Asian Indian" interface.   

Indo-Caribbeans in the West Indies

Little Guyana, Liberty and Lefferts, Suz

Themes of labor, migration, and over-sea journeys loom large in Indo-Caribbean art. Photos (clockwise from top): (1) The Hindu goddess Mother Lakshmi on display at an Indo-Caribbean store in Little Guyana, New York City. (2) Cutlass (2011) by Indo-Caribbean artist Andil Gosine, depicts the machete Indo-Caribbeans used to cut sugar cane on colonial plantations (3) Shells and Shores by Indo-Caribbean artist Wendy Nanan references Indo-Caribbeans' connections to the Indian Ocean and to the Atlantic World. 

Indo-Caribbeans & Afro-Caribbeans

         The racial formation of Indo-Caribbeans and Afro-Caribbeans in the West Indies are intimately intertwined. Racialized as coolies, the girmityas toiled in the same fields  as formerly enslaved Africans. From the late 1800s, the West Indian plantocracy depicted “Africans” and “Indians” as mutually degraded, yet contrasting racial types and sought to instill suspicion between the two groups. Over the 180 years that Afro- and Indo-Caribbeans have shared societies, they developed complex relationships encompassing ethnic competition, anti-colonial collaboration, inter-racial friendships and marriages, and unique musical, dance, and religious cultural fusions.

 

           

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Photos illustrating inter-racial intimacies and cultural fusions between Afro- and Indo-Caribbeans. Photos (1) & (2) Indo-and Afro-Caribbean mixed-race families in the Caribbean, (3) & (4) Indo- and Afro-Caribbeans celebrate West Indian Carnival, (6) A mixed-race musical jam session, with an Indo-Caribbean man playing the sitar (an instrument from Indian classical music), and an Afro-Caribbean man playing the steel-pan, an instrument invented in the West Indies, (7) The Lion of Judah and Haile Selassie, two major symbols of Jamaican Rastafari religion. Indo-Caribbeans have seminally influenced  Jamaican Rastafari culture (8) Louma, an Indo-Jamaican Rastafarian and dancehall music artist.

Indo-Caribbeans in the United States/NYC

NYC, Brooklyn Bridge, Photo by Matteo Ca

Manhattan, from the N train to Brooklyn

           The Indo-Caribbean presence in the United States maps on to Afro-West Indian settlement patterns. Large Indo-Caribbean communities have been documented in New York City and Florida the two primary destinations for Afro-West Indian immigrants. Trinidad and Guyana (the two largest English-speaking West Indian societies after Jamaica) are the major sending societies for Indo-Caribbeans to the United States. 

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            The Guyanese and Trinidadian presence in New York City is substantial. More than half of all Guyanese immigrants and 40% of all Trinidadian immigrants in the US live in New York City; where they constitute the 2nd largest foreign-born population in Queens, the 3rd largest foreign-born population in New York City, and the 5th largest foreign-born population in the New York Metropolitan Area (288,000 persons).  

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

 

 

 

 

           

“Little Guyana” is the contemporary epicenter of New York City’s Indo-Caribbean community. The Indo-Caribbean ethnic enclave in "Little Guyana" began forming in the 1960s, centered around Richmond Hill in Queens and gradually extending into the abutting neighborhoods of Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, and Jamaica. 

Multi-ethnic street scene in Little Guyana, NYC: Indo-Caribbeans, South Asians, Italian Americans, Latinx, and Afro-Caribbeans share the Indo-Caribbean ethnic enclave

Map of Neighborhoods in New York City  with substantial Indo-Caribbean populations

Photos: An Indo-Caribbean pooja (Hindu prayer) shop and a Roti  (food) shop displaying West Indian national flags  in Little Guyana, Queens,  New York City

Divali motorcade, with Indo-Caribbeans dressed as Hindu gods in Little Guyana, NYC 

Afro- and Indo-Caribbean revelers standing under Surinamese flags at the Holi celebration, Little Guyana, NYC. 

Mural honoring KRS One, one of the three founding fathers of hip hop, in the Bronx, New York City.  West Indians have been pivotal to the development of this Black American popular musical form.

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Nicki Minaj: a global hip-hop star who is of Indo-Caribbean parentage

Indo-Jamaican dancehall music star, Super Cat, in the Bronx, NYC. Super Cat has been a seminal influence on  hip hop, via his music and his mentorship of major stars like Biggie Smalls, Heavy D, and Puff Daddy.

Members of Afrika Rhytmology, an Afro- and Indo-Caribbean drumming group who meld Indian tassa drumming with African djembe, and Puerto Rican bomba drums, in Little Guyana, NYC