For Caribbean people of African descent, coming to America and blending into African American culture isn’t easy, but it isn’t as hard as you’d think. Some of your favorite African American writers, athletes, actors, and entertainers have Caribbean roots. There are some things that translate across oceans and cultures, and it usually starts in the home with family.
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1. “I’m not one of your little friends.” How many times have you heard this one? While most of us have been lucky enough to be able to talk openly and candidly about all kinds of things with our parents as times have changed, don’t get it twisted, you and your parents STILL ain’t friends.
2. “Not in my house.” There is a LONG list of things that you can’t do in your parents’ house. If you forget, you will be reminded. No sleeping all day, no eating up all the food, no cussing, no excessive drinking, no sexual activity, no smoking (even if your parents smoke), and no looking at your parents with a disrespectful tone (makes no sense, I know – but you know exactly what “tone of face” I’m talking about…
3. “That’s your cousin.” You probably come from a gorgeous family. Studies have shown that humans are attracted to people who look like them or people familiar to them. (Don’t worry, we are also wired with an aversion to our siblings, so this isn’t about to get too weird.) So at the family reunion, don’t even look at anybody. Go, eat the food, enjoy the egg and spoon race, but don’t go looking for love. The family historian (yep, we all have that aunt/uncle/cousin) will call you out.
5. The untouchable china cabinet. This cabinet is filled with commemorative plates, spoons, teacups, certificates, diplomas, shot glasses from their travels, plastic flowers, and somebody’s cadet or army photo. Nobody really opens this thing, but your mom/grandma knows exactly what’s in it.
6. Full names as nicknames. My dad’s name is James. His nickname is Carlton. Why? My American husband has an Uncle Kenny… whose real name is Greg.
Related: 200+ Popular Caribbean Baby Names
7. Seen and not heard. Do you have parents who were REALLY loud (surprisingly so) around friends, but you better be quiet? What about parents who were super serious day in and day out, but they were so much fun around their friends and other family that it scared you a bit…
8. Baked macaroni and cheese. Caribbean people call it macaroni pie, and you better not mess it up. If you aren’t sure of your recipe, work on it before you trot out something unacceptable at a family gathering.
9. Michael Jackson is the King of pop. That is the end of it. There’s nothing else to discuss.
10. Stories about spankings and what you did (or didn’t do) to get one. Many childhood transgressions ended in spankings (called beatings) a few years ago. Spankings were the cure all to all bad behavior. While it has fallen out of favor in recent years, it was quite the popular practice, and we all have stories. Sometimes you gotta laugh to keep from crying.
11. Alcohol in the cabinet that is not locked up or out of reach of children. Kids know better than to openly touch their parents’ alcohol stash, unless you just WANT a story to tell your kids and grandkids… See #10.
12. What’s in the medicine cabinet. Milk of Magnesia, pepto bismol, headache powder, and castor oil (this bottle may NEVER be used, and be old as time). I don’t really remember having any prescription drugs in the house, and my mother was a doctor. If I got up in the middle of the night with a problem, one of these would be the remedy.
13. What’s under the cabinet. Epsom salt, steel wool pads, bleach, and scouring powder are the basics. There is more, but THESE have to be there.
Photo: Modernica Props
15. The sitting room. This room is not for sitting. Also called the parlor, the furniture in this room is covered in plastic and off limits unless pastor or a family friend comes to visit. If your toy rolled into that room, you have to figure out whether to leave it and delay #10, or risk it all and retrieve it. Which one did you choose?
16. The family handy man. If something needs fixing, anything, you call uncle so and so. He may have no expertise in that area, but that is the one and only person you call. He likely has a friend who he will bring to fix it.
17. Church at the center of everything. For immigrant families, religion can be an anchor in a very unstable or uncertain time of transition. The black church in America is the cornerstone of a lot of African American communities, providing a sense of belonging – something that immigrant families need when they arrive in the U.S.
Related: Immigration resources
19. Dominoes at the cookout. While they might not be at every cookout or get together, games are a staple – card games especially. Our game closet is well stocked with all sort of games. I have a cousin who designs board games.
20. The family member that still races all the kids in the street and wins. Are you that family member? There’s always a family member who still has skills from his youth and is happy to show them off. Whether it is juggling a soccer ball, doing a back flip, or arm wrestling, the kids love this family member, and he always comes back in the house sweaty or holding his back after hanging out with the kids talmbout, “I still got it!”
21. Adulthood pending. Your status as an adult is not verified and respected until you are the oldest living member of the family. People still may call you “little sister,” if that is your nickname.
22. “Go outside.” Kids used to stay outside all day and only come inside to eat, clean up, do homework, and sleep. Not sure if it is still the case with video games, wifi, and streaming movies and TV like Hulu, but that used to be how it was done.
Related: My Caribbean Mom and 90’s TV…
What else do you find that Caribbean American families and African American families have in common? Share in the comments.