Exchange Caribbean Immigrants

Jamaican transplant Don Steele played a game of dominoes in August during the annual picnic in Minneapolis.

— Simone Cazares/Minnesota Public Radio via AP

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — Standing in a park in Brooklyn Center, Jamaican immigrant Don Steele basked in the culture he grew up in roughly 2,000 miles away.

“Look at the face of the people,” he said. “They’re happy, they’re joyous. If you notice something, nobody ever mention about cellphone use and stuff. People are engaging, talking to each other, and that’s unique.”

Steele and his community had gathered recently for the Jamaica Minnesota Organization’s annual picnic. The event is held to celebrate Jamaican Independence Day, but it attracts people from all over the Caribbean. It is a chance to come together and celebrate their heritage. Many of them look forward to it all year, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

In one corner of the picnic, an intense game of dominoes was being played. Steele was one of the players. He’s lived in Minnesota for more than three decades and sees the state as his home, but events like the picnic are important to him. They remind him of life back in Jamaica.

“I need this to refresh my mind and the culture, so it’s big,” Steele said. “Even watching the domino game ... Biggest pastime and stuff, just bring back so much memories. The music and dance (bring) me back, you know what I mean? You see people here you’ve seen for years come together, and you just have a fun time.”

The Caribbean community in the Twin Cities is not as large as in cities like Miami or Toronto, but it’s growing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly 8,000 Caribbean people living in Minnesota.

Brent Bidjou of Trinidad and Tobago is one of them. He said others may not always recognize a Caribbean person when they see one.

“We are probably a larger community than people may necessarily understand or appreciate, because we don’t fall within a specific box,” Bidjou said. “We are multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-racial.”

Yvette Trotman is a longtime member of the Caribbean community in Minnesota who helped start many of the Caribbean associations in the area today. She said most of the people who moved to Minnesota came for jobs and education. At first, living in different areas made it hard to get together. The community wasn’t as connected as it is today.

Now, decades later, the Caribbean community has come a long way. Trotman said the core group of immigrants still does a lot together, but she’s happy to see more of the community’s children and grandchildren. She hopes the culture will continue to be passed down for years to come. — (AP)

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