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The West Indian Community in New York
Michelle Perna and Vallene Henderson
The West Indian community reported in this
study resides in the area of the Bronx
between 211th and 241st Streets on Gun Hill Road. Even though this is a
area, it is by no means too large for the West Indian population to fully
enrich with its
culture. This is due to the numerous nationalities that embody the term
Technically, West Indian refers to people of nations such as Jamaica,
Guyana, Barbados, Haiti, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, and St.
since not every island is represented in this community in the Bronx, this
mainly report on the most dominant ethnicities in the area. Those
being referred to as West Indian in this paper are principally from
Grenada, Dominica and Haiti.
What language is used?
In this West Indian community, the main
language used is in fact not a Language
Other Than English. All members of this community speak English, but in
dialects. For example, the Jamaican portion of this area speaks paṭis,
which is a dialect of
English containing bits of Portuguese and African terms. One exception to
English population is the Dominican use of Haitian Creole. Unlike paṭis,
is a Language Other Than English that formed initially as a pidgin
combination of Haitian
and French. Over time it developed into a Creole language that is used
widely among the
Dominican population today. However, even though Dominicans continue to
communicate in Haitian Creole, generally they speak English. When asked
circumstances paṭis and Haitian Creole are used, Jamaican and Dominican
residents in the
area responded by saying they only speak this dialect and language when
they are around
others of their own ethnicity. When they are surrounded by people of
other ethnicities, be
it West Indian or not, everyone speaks English. An interesting fact
revealed to us through
interviews with some community members is that many residential West
Indians feel their
dialects (i.e. paṭis) are slowly diminishing from daily culture. This
could have resulted
from the interaction with other ethnicities in the area and the influence
of other English
dialects on everyday life.
According to a marketing study done by
McDonald's Corporation on May 2, 2000,
it was reported that in this area alone live 200,000 people. Of this
population, 48.8% are
African American, 25% are white, 22.8% are Hispanic, and 3.4% are
classified as "other"
(this information was received from the owner/operator of the local
insisted on not providing us with any copy of the official paperwork due
laws). Even though this particular study is based solely on race and
ethnicity, it is clear
from witnessing the community first-hand that the West Indian population
makes up most
of the African American category in this study.
Spanish is also in use in the community, due
to the large percentage of Hispanic
residents. The type of Spanish spoken could range from Castellano to the
"Spanglish" code switching between Spanish and English. Other languages
French and various Arabic languages.
What is the linguistic situation in the primary schools? Are there
who are not native speakers of English?
Within the primary and secondary schools, it
is not necessary for West Indian
children to utilize the English as a Second Language program. This is due
to the fact that
English, with certain dialects, is the mother tongue of almost all West
Therefore, even though the majority of the population in local
neighborhood schools such
as PS 178, Christopher Columbus High School, and Harry S. Truman High
School is West
Indian and African American, ESL programs are offered mainly for the
Spanish and other LOTEs.
What governmental services are available in LOTEs, and what provisions
by the government agencies for people who do not speak English?
Due to the fact that all West Indian
residents in the community speak English, there
is no need for governmental services in LOTEs intended for the West Indian
However, for the small population of West Indians that also speaks Haitian
interpreters are offered by the court system. Unlike the Spanish
repeatedly within the court system, Haitian Creole is generally not used
in excess because
of the ability of Haitian Creole speakers to also speak English.
West Indians basically get the same
opportunities that African Americans get in
terms of governmental services. All people of darker skin color are
considered to be
African American and they therefore fill quotas and affirmative action
In the community we visited there was an Army recruitment center.
one of the sergeants who was on duty, Damon Glover, was West Indian
(Jamaican) and we
had the opportunity to speak with him. We asked him, "Do you feel that
the government is
doing anything for the West Indian community?" He replied, "I am here,
aren't I?" Mr.
Glover felt that by him having the opportunity to be in the ARMY, the
doing something for him. This is why he decided to become an ARMY
What is the percentage of West Indian medical employees in the local
In terms of medical services in the area,
the nearest hospital is Jacobi Emergency
Medical Center located on Pelham Parkway and Williamsbridge Road. This
only a ten-minute drive from the concentrated area of 211th to 241st
Streets. Since this
hospital is the closest to the West Indian community reported on in this
study, it can be
presumed that there would exist a high concentration of West Indian
working in the facility. To confirm this speculation, Janice Amato, the
for Facilities of Jacobi Emergency Medical Center, reported that 35% of
are, in fact, West Indian. No further information could be received on
What is the religious breakdown of the area?
Just as the West Indian community cannot be classified by one ethnicity,
cannot be restricted to practicing one religion. Within the 30-block
members belong to the Seventh Day Adventist, Catholic, Jehovah Witness,
Episcopal and Pentecostal faiths. A common bond shared by all West
Indians is their
devotion to Christianity. Again, because English is the principle mother
religious ceremonies are held in English. One of the two most popular
to residents is the Pentecostal church named The Church of Christ, located
on Gun Hill
Road. The majority of Church ceremonies are performed by West Indian
as Pastor Dumás in The Church of Christ. Pastor Dumás is Jamaican. The
church is Creston Babtist Church, a Baptist church located on Fordham
Are there any stores or restaurants in the area that are owned or
speakers of LOTEs ?
While walking along Gun Hill Rd. we noticed
a pizza shop owned by Italians, a
newsstand owned by Arabs, a Chinese restaurant owned by Chinese people and
station owned by a Pakistani. Though we saw other ethnicities that owned
businesses in the
community, many restaurants, grocery stores, music stores and travel
agencies in the area
were owned/operated by West Indians.
One business in particular that is heavily
operated by West Indians is the local
McDonald's on White Plains Road and Allerton Avenue. In this single
population of West Indians is 75% and 5 of the 8 managers are West Indian.
Are there any organizations of particular nationality groups or
that are active in the area?
Our evidence reports that there are no
official organizations existing in the area, but
there are many little "groups" that share interests and activities. For
example, one group
which refers to themselves as 216th Corner, meets weekly to socialize,
network, and play
their favorite game, Dominoes. In such social situations, they drink West
such as Jamaican White Rum, Red Stripe Beer, Rum Cream and Punchy Cuba.
practice that is kept very faithfully is the Su-Su. Each member
participating puts in a
certain amount of money per week. Each week, one person collects all the
money for their
own personal use. Everyone who added money to the pot takes a turn each
collecting the money. To emphasize the extensive use of the Su-Su, there
approximately 30 participants in the weekly Su-Su among the West Indian
one local McDonald's restaurant alone (West Indians make up about 75% of
What are the publications available to members of the West Indian
There are two major publications sold in
this district that are directed towards the
West Indian community. Both of these publications are written in English
West Indians in the area speak English or a variation of it. First, The
New York Carib
News, gives a complete neighborhood review/itinerary of the actions and
of the West Indians in the area. It also tells of the happenings of the
governments in the
home countries of people in the neighborhood. For example, in the October
page 4 displays articles dealing with the governmental actions of Jamaica,
Tobago, and the Bahamas. There are also sections devoted to Youth, Arts
Entertainment, Op-ed and Woman. There is a fifty-cent charge for this
The second publication, Caribbean Life, contains more articles than
The New York Carib News. These articles are much more opinionated,
and controversial than the family style of the The New York Carib
News. In this
newspaper there are classified ads, Op-ed and editorial sections.
Overall, this paper has a
more official look to it than the The New York Carib News, even
publication is free.
What are the individual reactions to this study?
Vallene Henderson - When this project
was assigned, I thought it was interesting
to research and study an ethnicity I previously had not known much about.
But in addition
to being interested, I was also uncomfortable because I felt like an
outsider trying to
dissect personal information. When Michelle and I arrived at our selected
took some time for us to dive into our work. As we began to talk to
people things began to
run smoothly. Due to my outgoing attitude and familiarity with the West
Indian culture, I
felt the people accepted me more and more as the day went on. Any
question that was
asked was gladly answered. In general, anyone I spoke to was very
friendly and generous.
Michelle Perna - As a native of the
Bronx, I was very pleased to have the
opportunity to do this study because it gave me a chance to explore a part
of my own
hometown with which I am familiar but not exactly connected with. My
parents work in
the McDonald's Restaurant included in this study, and I was therefore able
to learn about
West Indian culture first-hand, with many willing personalities there to
McDonald's employees did not care what color my skin was or how I spoke.
Jamaican manager in particular, Diane Abdulie, volunteered her time and
and I around the neighborhood. She even witnessed the interviews of some
members, such as the ARMY sergeant.
However, even though Vallene and I were
given equal opportunity to speak with
members of the McDonald's community, things changed somewhat when we
outside those familiar walls. In general, people in the community
favorably to Vallene rather than myself, even though I am the person who
is from the
Bronx. I believe that many of the community members thought Vallene was
Bronx due to the fact that her skin is darker than mine, making her look
more like the
majority of West Indians in the neighborhood. I found this to be very
enjoyed comparing it to the way I was treated by the members of the
community who knew me. However, in both cases, I found that if you make a
attempt to learn about their differing West Indian cultures, you can rest
assured they will
do anything in their power to support you.
Completing a Survey of LOTEs in New York
City Communities can become
difficult when the immigrant community being studied speaks English.
However, it is
extremely interesting to note the various dialects within the confines of
the West Indian
community and the way in which the speakers of these dialects define and