Wednesday, June 27, was the day we had been imagining for weeks. The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) selected this day to commemorate Caribbean-American Heritage Month, and we were honored that Attorney General Holder had agreed to participate. We put in a lot of work to design an event that would be both substantive and cultural. Caribbean food, music, and colorful artwork would set the scene for a celebration of the multi-layered connections between the Caribbean and the United States -- connections of family, trade, education, and so much more.
When June 27 finally rolled around and Attorney General Holder walked through the doors of the Department of State, we were ready just in time. I had barely finished helping carry six steel drums and escorting the youth ensemble who would play them. As Deputy Secretary William Burns delivered opening remarks at the event, I escorted Attorney General Holder to the Exhibit Hall, where he addressed an expectant crowd of Caribbean diplomats, NGOs, think-tank members, and Department of State staff.
The Attorney General brought warm greetings to the assembled crowd and reminisced about his Bajan upbringing in Queens, New York. He described the impact of immigrant life on his viewpoint, stressing that upholding the values of the American Dream -- progress and opportunity; fairness and equality; and justice -- is a goal and responsibility that we all share. His inspiring remarks urged the audience to seize the opportunity and recommit themselves to building on the work of those pursuing the American Dream before them. Equality, justice, progress, and opportunity, are not just American values, but universal values.
Attorney General Holder highlighted how the U.S. Departments of State and Justice are working with Caribbean countries to advance these values by collaborating on areas of common interest like citizen protection, securing our borders, combating gang and drug violence, empowering women, promoting social growth, and strengthening economic diversity.
Another prominent Caribbean-American figure, Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, spoke at the event and shared her Jamaican-American heritage with the audience. She praised the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative -- President Obama's signature citizen safety partnership in the region -- and stressed the commitment of the Congressional Caribbean Caucus to represent the voice and sentiment of the Caribbean people, especially women, and to ensure that the region collaborates as partners not only in this hemisphere, but throughout the globe. The event also highlighted the Department's commitment to Caribbean diaspora engagement through programs such as the Caribbean Idea Marketplace, an entrepreneurship initiative that fosters collaboration between Caribbean diaspora and Caribbean countries to develop and expand innovative projects that will generate employment and economic growth in the Caribbean.
The event featured readings by Caribbean-American artists and diplomats, the celebration continued as participants chatted around festive country table displays, enjoyed the musical entertainment of a Bajan-American youth steel drum band, and sampled beef patties and rum cake. Saint Lucia's Ambassador Jacinth Henry-Martin was even spotted dancing with Ambassador Edmunds. Thank goodness we got those drums into the building!
The day's events allowed us to celebrate and reflect on the many contributions of Caribbean-Americans to the United States, while setting the stage for future Caribbean diaspora engagement that will lead to even more vibrant and cross cultural ties.
You can check out photos of the event here.